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2017: A Year of Learning

I’ve enjoyed reading people’s 2017 “year in review” blogs, so I decided to write one myself, partially because I’m proud of my work this year and want to brag a bit, but also because I think there’s a lot to be said about taking a step back and looking at your body of work over the course of a year. In fact, this is one of the things I actually like about year-end reviews at work—on a day-to-day basis, it’s easy to feel like you’re not making that much progress, but it’s always amazing to look back at a full year and realize how much you’ve accomplished. So, I’m going to do that here. Quite honestly, this post is probably more for myself than anyone, but I’d love for you to join me on the journey!

When 2017 began, I was still very much a Tableau newbie. I had been working with the product for about six months and had learned a lot, but clearly had a long way to go. My goal for the year was simply to learn as much as I possibly could and create some nice data visualizations along the way. And, looking back, I think I accomplished those goals.

January: Superheroes
My first project of the year was an analysis of the most powerful superheroes and supervillains. At the time I built the viz, I still hadn’t quite mastered dashboards—I tended to build a number of different sheets and made them all available via tabs. While that isn’t always bad (and I think it can work quite well on business dashboards), it didn’t really make that much sense for a more infographic type visualization like this one. Thus, my superheroes viz was sort of a disconnected set of 5 tabs. The main one is below.

It looks pretty good and I was happy with it at the time, but looking back, there was a lot more I could have done with this and there are many flaws in the methods used to create it (please don’t download it and take it apart!!). But, I was still learning, so that’s okay.

February: UFOs
In February, I started playing around with UFO data and made an attempt to create an incredible visualization by John Nelson. This visualization took me weeks to create, both because of the density of visual components and the complexity. And, without people like Jake Riley and Josh Tapley, I would’ve never been able to complete it. But, I persevered and created a fairly good replica of the original. More importantly, I learned a lot in the process.

For more, see UFO Sightings of 2016

March: Gerrymandering
In March, I entered my first ever Iron Viz competition, exploring the problem of gerrymandering. I participated with the sole purpose of enhancing my skills, thinking that I’d have absolutely no chance of winning. I didn’t win, but I feel like I created something really good. The visualization was eventually added to the Tableau Public Greatest Hits gallery and was went viral on Reddit, getting over 200,000 views.

Like the UFO viz, I spent a ton of time on this one—probably at least 20 hours—but it was an incredible learning experience and represented a huge leap forward in my development.

June: Rhinos
In June, I entered my second Iron Viz competition (I actually entered all three contests, submitting 4 vizzes in total—2 in the final feeder). Since the topic was plants and animals, I decided to try my hand at a “Jonni Walker Style” visualization, creating a viz on the rhino poaching problem. The goal was that the visualization work as an infographic while also having some additional interactive components. I wanted it to be “in-your-face” and not shy away from the brutality of rhino poaching. Most importantly, I wanted it to tell a story that led to a final call-to-action.

While I’m proud of all my work this year, I’m probably most proud of this one. I poured my soul into this visualization because I really wanted to create something that could help make a difference.

July: Sacred Texts
My most popular viz this year was my analysis of word usage in sacred texts. It won Viz of the Day, then Viz of the Week, then made it into the Tableau Public Greatest Hits gallery. It’s also my most favorited viz, at 30, and my most viewed with nearly 300,000 views. And it also made it into the Information is Beautiful Awards longlist.

October: Art
In October, after being inspired by a few other data visualizations, I create some art based on the digits of Pi.

For more, see The Beauty of Pi

This was my one of my first adventures into “data art” but it led to continued exploration of the subject, resulting in some of my favorite projects, including Loom Art and Geometric Art.

For more, see Loom Art in Tableau

One thing I really loved about these two projects is that I not only created nice visualizations,  but I also shared detailed step-by-step instructions on how to create them, which led to people creating some fantastic works of data art.

November/December: Beyond Show Me
After posting my Pi data art, I received a lot of comments about how difficult it must be to create these charts. Ultimately, they weren’t that hard as they just required a little trigonometry. But, I found that math scares a lot of people, so I decided to write a series of blog posts that attempted to dive into some of the math required to build more complex charts. I set the stage with my first post, Beyond “Show Me” Part 1: It’s All About the X & Y, which detailed my discovery that Tableau is just a data-driven drawing tool. I then jumped into trigonometry in Beyond "Show Me" Part 2: Trigonometry, which attempted to give a lesson in the basics of trigonometry, then show how it can be leveraged in Tableau. Finally, I took those trig skills one step further and detailed use of parametric equations in Beyond "Show Me" Part 3: Parametric Equations.

Throughout the year, I had shared various how-to’s, but I am particularly proud of these post as it was a wonderful opportunity to share my knowledge and skills with others in the community and, hopefully, help to demystify the math required to create some of these more complex visuals.

What’s Next?
I have a number of things I want to accomplish in 2018, but I won’t be sharing them publicly at the moment. However, my primary goals remain the same as 2017—to continue to learn and develop my skill set and to share my knowledge with others. I came a long way in 2017, thanks largely to the incredible Tableau Community, so I can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring!

Ken Flerlage, January 3, 2018

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