In 2018 I had the honour of competing in the final of the European Iron Viz competition. It was an incredible experience & one which I will never forget. However, it very nearly never happened.

I had been debating about entering an Iron Viz feeder competition for some time. However, I found multiple excuses why I shouldn’t or couldn’t do it. My excuses ranged from “I’m not good enough” right through to “I don’t want to compete on stage”. I know I’m not alone and many other people choose not to enter Iron Viz for similar reasons. Despite this, I decided to give Iron Viz Europe my best shot in an attempt to encourage other people, in particular women to enter.

However, I still faced a problem. Finding my data set!

I dedicated a lot of time & effort to finding a suitable data set to fit the European Cities Iron Viz theme. In fact, I spent hours searching for data and got nowhere. A lot of the data sets I came across online were either in messy formats or were embedded within clunky websites. Back in March 2018 Tableau Prep didn’t exist, nor did I have access to Alteryx or anything similar & I didn’t know where to begin with web scraping. As a result, my data set options were quite limited. Thankfully, my good friend Lorna Eden was able to scrape some web data using Alteryx for me. However, by the time I asked Lorna for help I was very close to giving up & almost didn’t enter at all.

I don’t want anyone else to experience a similar struggle & this is partly why I’m starting Iron Quest.

Busting Iron Viz feeder myths

2017 Iron Viz Champion Tristan Guillevin wrote a fantastic blog post last year which busts some Iron Viz feeder myths.

In this post, Tristan describes these myths as:

  1. You need to find a great data set; You don’t necessarily need a huge, impressive data set. You could actually create your own data set using your own personal data (a la Ann Jackson). 
  2. You need a great idea to start; Ideas involve and it’s rare that your final viz will resemble your initial idea.
  3. You need data prep skills; You don’t need data prep skills to build an impressive viz. 
  4. You are not good enough; You have nothing to lose by entering an Iron Viz feeder. 

These are all true.

However, I believe data sourcing and preparation skills will expand your options when it comes to Iron Viz and could help you to find more interesting data sets. There are many fantastic data viz projects already in existence like #MakeoverMonday or #WorkoutWednesday and while these projects are excellent for helping people to improve their data viz or technical skills, they don’t often require participants to undertake any data sourcing or preparation. As a result I think this is a weaker area for some people and these aren’t skills many people have the opportunity to practice as often.

So, quoting Tristan Guillevin,

“the only thing you’ll lose if you start participating in the Iron Viz Feeder contests is the fear of participating in the next”.

That’s why I’m launching Iron Quest.

Let me tell you more about Iron Quest & how to get involved.

What is Iron Quest?

Iron Quest is a monthly community-led data visualization project which follows a similar format to the Tableau Iron Viz feeder competitions. Participants have a calendar month to source a suitable data set and then design, build and submit a data visualization. Every submission should use a data set that somehow touches upon the chosen theme for that month and every viz should aim to showcase best practices & skill in design, storytelling & analysis.

If desired, participants can opt-in to receive feedback along the lines of design, storytelling and analysis (the judging criteria for Iron Viz) from myself and other guest hosts. Once the submission period has closed we will review the visualizations submitted together and provide feedback to those who have requested it. There will also be a wrap-up blog post after every round.

What is the objective of Iron Quest?

Iron Quest aims to give individuals an opportunity to practice both their data sourcing, data preparation and data visualization skills without the pressure that comes with participating in a competition like Iron Viz. With Iron Quest there are no winners nor prizes, thus removing the competitive element.

Currently it can be quite daunting for people entering an Iron Viz feeder for the first time. Not only are participants under pressure to build impressive visualizations but they also need to source & prep their own data which can be challenging. If participants can become more comfortable with sourcing their own data and visualizing a specific theme through participation in Iron Quest, hopefully they will be more likely to enter the main Iron Viz competition once the feeders are open. This will hopefully help to encourage a broad pool of Iron Viz entries from a diverse group of participants.

The Iron Quest feedback option also aims to help first-time participants to understand where they should focus on improving their skills before entering the main Iron Viz competition, thus improving their chances of success in the main competition should they decide to enter.

How might Iron Quest help with Iron Viz feeder participation rates?

Participation in Iron Viz could be better than what it is currently. While things are improving & Tableau Public are going to great lengths to implement measures that make the competition as inclusive as possible, there is still some way to go. There hasn’t been a woman participate in the main Iron Viz final since Kelly Martin in 2013 & I am the only woman to have ever participated in Iron Viz Europe. Likewise, there has been little ethnic diversity or regional representation among Iron Viz finalists with the majority of contestants originating from North America or Europe. This needs to change.

While there are many reasons why we see less participation in Iron Viz from minority groups, I hope that Iron Quest will help to grow people’s skills & confidence enough make Iron Viz less daunting and will help to open Iron Viz to a wider, more diverse audience. Even if it doesn’t achieve this, Iron Quest will still give people a reason to practice and improve their data visualization skills.

How are the themes chosen?

Every month the community will have the opportunity to vote for a theme to visualize (from a choice of 4) on Twitter. The winning theme (the one with the most votes) then becomes the theme for the project for the following month.

Who can participate?

Anyone! I encourage everyone to enter Iron Quest; whether you are complete beginner to Iron Viz or even if you have entered multiple Iron Viz feeders in the past. There are no restrictions on participation in terms of geography or skill level. In terms of feedback, preference will be given to first-time participants who opt-in to receive feedback. However, I would still like to see a wide range of people at different skill levels / levels of Tableau expertise participate in the project. The feedback element is optional.

When can I enter?

Iron Quest is a monthly project. Participants have an entire month to build and submit a data visualization for each round (month) of the project. All months will run independently and there is no obligation to enter every round. Iron Quest will officially launch on January 1st 2019 and will run on a monthly basis thereafter.

Note: Currently the plan is to only run Iron Quest outside of Iron Viz season (i.e. if there is an open Iron Viz feeder or pending Iron Viz competition, Iron Quest will not run). This includes the European Iron Viz competition, as well as the main Iron Viz competition held at the Tableau Conference in the US. The first Iron Viz feeder competitions of 2019 are likely to begin in March and will most likely continue right through to the summer months. Iron Quest will not run during these periods.

How can I enter?

The process is simple:

  1. Source your data and build a viz that somehow touches upon the chosen theme for the month.
  2. Upload your viz to Tableau Public or somewhere where it can be openly viewed online.
  3. Post your viz on data.world to the relevant discussion thread. View the threads here. Please note I’m still building the Data.World page so please bear with me!
  4. Fill in the submissions tracker here so we can keep track of who is participating.
  5. If desired, the guest judge(s) and myself will provide you with some constructive feedback on your viz after the submission period closes.

Continue the conversation by joining the Iron Quest Slack channel here.

What data visualization tools or software can I use?

Given that Iron Viz is a Tableau-run competition and Iron Quest aims to get you prepared for Iron Viz, I would prefer for participants to use Tableau for their data visualizations. However, you are welcome to use a tool of your choice as long as you can openly share your visualization online once complete.

What is the Iron Quest theme for January 2019?

For the first month of Iron Quest (January 2019) I’m excited to announce the theme will be crime, as selected by the community via a Twitter poll in early November 2018!

Crime as a theme is broad and presents an enormous opportunity to find your own angle on this topic. If you are not sure where to start, I have gathered some data sources which may help to immerse you in the theme and you can view these here. I will be adding to this list so please check back for more options soon.

Remember, you can submit a viz on anything crime-related whether that be true crime, fictional crime, illegal acts, the justice system and so on. The list is endless!

What is the deadline for submissions for January 2019?

The deadline for submissions was originally Thursday 31st January but has been extended until Sunday 3rd February.

Who is the guest host for January 2019?

For month #1 I’m excited to announce that I will be joined by reigning Iron Viz Champion Timothy Vermerian as my guest co-host! Together, we will provide feedback to participants that opt to receive it in early February.

Depending on the number of requests for feedback I may also enlist the help of other Iron Viz finalists, Tableau Zen Masters, Ambassadors & Community members along the way too. Watch this space!

Can you help me with data collection?

Yes! I reached out to the Tableau Community on Twitter and have gathered a list of tutorials to help with data collection. You can view it here. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the list so far. If you know of another data collection method or tutorial which isn’t listed, please get in touch so I can update the list. Remember, data collection doesn’t need to be difficult. Sometimes all you need is Excel!

That’s all from me for now. I can’t wait to see the submissions for Iron Quest in 2019!

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.

Thanks for reading.

For details of the #IronQuest February 2019 challenge, click here.