Welcome to the November edition of “What’s Good?”
Can you believe we have reached the penultimate “What’s Good?” blog. If you’ve read all 10 to this point, thank you. It means the absolute world. I have learnt so much from those that have shared their thoughts on this site, and appreciate how much effort they put in.
This month follows on from previous blogs on design but play on the idea of making data into art. This will be the first time too we cover off in greater detail a little more around adobe illustrator, where I’ve naturally had a steer towards Figma.
It’s with great pleasure to have Chimdi Nwosu, 3 x VOTD, Tableau Public Ambassador, recent Top 10 IronViz entrant to share his insights. When Chimdi posts a new visualisation I just know I will like it. Before we start, I want to share some of my favourites.
CJ: This is my favourite starting question as I love to hear everyone’s different story and where they take it. Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got into data visualisation?
C: 2016 is when I got into producing data driven visuals and reports. Prior to tableau, it was simply producing reports for work and school using MS Excel and Access, and then I learned power Bi, dabbled in Qlik Sense, and eventually landed on tableau where I really got to tap into my creative side. Before tableau, I was around many people who had learned to analyze data, so I felt producing reports that had pretty colors and nice clean formatting was a way to make my deliverables stand out. Over time in my career, I’ve mostly visualized operational support metrics and produced business type reports, so I guess you could say there was a lot of “priming” beforehand which made me ripe for tableau to utilize tableau how I currently do today.
CJ: Has design been something you’ve always been passionate for, or has it grown over time?
C: That’s a bit tricky. As a kid, my parents nudged me towards music and art, so drawing and panting is something I am/was good at. If you count that as design related, then it’s always been there. However, the intentional passion and interest grew after finding the #datafam and encountering the mind-blowing stuff being produced. As a matter of fact, The Flerlage twins, (@FlerlageKev and @flerlagekr), JR Copreros (@jrcopreros), and Vinodh kumar V R (@VinodhDataArt) were people that I’d found before the community, and in my quest to understand how exactly they made those vizzes on their profiles, I inevitably found the global community of data rockstars known as #datafam. It’s only grown from there, and casually looking at my vizzes you may notice a pattern of continual design experimentation.
Currently, I’m actually scouting out a good online design/graphic design class to take in my spare time at some point in the future. It would feel great to make things “official” on that front because I never thought of myself as one until actually trying to do things in tableau and noticing what my tendencies were. Here’s an example of something I did in illustrator. It has nothing to do with data but it was just as fun for me…so the appetite is there, even if it requires some exploring and fine tuning.
CJ: A huge congratulations on your top 10 IronViz entry! I love the opening text and how new jack music has personally helped you. Not to mention how this is beautifully reinforced throughout the vis. My favourite part is the use of circles in each section against more rigid charts. How do you go about planning and structuring a viz of this calibre? (Link)
C: Thanks so much CJ.
The iron viz outcome is still so surreal to me, because the process was more about having and I literally submitted it on the last day with only a few minutes left on the submission clock . I do confess it was done in the reverse manner of how we’re advised to create. The background was ~ 70% designed in figma and only then did I started thinking about what to show. IMO, because the viz was very “themed”, it was convenient to pick out colors etc. before chart building.
The Spotify attributes idea was low hanging fruit which had been explored by many, so I was hesitant to get into that, until the pattern in the data started to emerge when looking at the different attributes across the songs in the genre which was explored. A bit of research around the impact of music on humans confirmed some of the suspicions I had, and that’s how the story was born. Even though the research/impact side of things was presented at the end, it was indeed very foundational to how and why the overall design came to be.
In thinking about the New Jack Swing genre as sort of a blast from the past, ideas around time travel, spaceships etc. started to float around. Hopefully that makes it easy enough to see how the “Planet New Jack Swing” theme came about.
From that point, it became a bit easier to execute because the goal was simply to create non-standard visuals that looked like they would be from a different planet, while taking the viewer on a tour of the planet via the different sections like “ Notables”, “Battles”, etc. This was an attempt at storytelling.
Overall, the process went :
1 – Design layout > 2 – Add charts to show analysis > 3 – Iterate and Add functionality over and over.
Regarding #3, in my opinion, the viz technically tells a similar story even without the extra drill downs and added views, and it’s because those were added after the fact.
Overall, I’ve been really eager to do more personal projects as a means to explore a few more styles. However, life gets in the way, so I’ve settled for being inspired by all the personal projects/vizzes we constantly see coming out of the #datafam. Which reminds me…I truly hope tableau decides to develop something similar to the previous “Activity” tab we had on TP because it’s gotten a lot harder to keep up like before, now that this stream of viz updates is gone, and especially for those of us who can’t really be on twitter every day to see the tweets on what people are putting out.
CJ: Tableau ambassador is a real milestone in your journey. What does it mean to you?
C: It’s pretty significant and has forced me to think about doing more for the community than produce vizzes. When I look at past and present Ambassadors, it’s humbling to think that I’ve been invited into this space. Being able to do things like speak out more and try to share some of what goes on behind the vizzes, has been fairly fun and also nerve racking at times but there’s a desire to do more things like that now.
The mental switch really happened when it started to become clearer that if we make it about us, then our fears and insecurity will always hold us back from giving more of ourselves and whatever we have to share…but reframing the mind to try and understand that this is about the people on the other side, makes it easier to open up more and give. Dealing one on one with people who’ve had questions and reached out for help is also not sustainable so I see this as a platform to provide value to anyone who can benefit while also helping to promote and support a great company like Tableau that has brought so much into my life.
CJ: What visualisations have you liked recently from some of the newer members of the community and why?
C: I tend to like a variety of stuff but in terms of newer members, or at least new to me, 3 that recently stood our were :
1) Fertility Rates – The Decline – 1960-2019 by Luke Abraham for its creativity, design, content progression, and everything about it was really well done. He really went crazy ( in a good way) with this one.
2) The 20 Largest Solar Power Plants in the World by Capacity by Arshad Ejaz stood out because I’m a huge fan of trying to recreate stuff in tableau, and aside from the fact that it’s good looking, detailed, and equally informative, the amount of effort it takes/took to create it is worthy of great respect and admiration. Hat’s off to him.
3) My state of mind : a 4-day visual journey by Shazeera Ahmad Zawawi stood out because 10/10 for her creativity and design. It’s easy to follow along her story as I’m sure she intended, and more importantly, she/the viz really vulnerable, personal, and openly speaks about a subject which many are still afraid to talk about. Fantastic execution on her part, and the #VOTD was well deserved.
CJ: Two real show stoppers in terms of abstract art have been the Incarcerated in America and Organization Sunny Street Viz. You recently did a course by Federica Fragapane. How has this changed the way you approach your designs?
C: It’s really a big change, and I’ve had to try and hold back from going too crazy with it. It really makes you understand that visualization has no limits. To keep it simple, I’d say – It showed me that as long as you can imagine a design or unique way you want to show something, you can certainly create it or something close to it. Even if that means you need to look up tutorials and ask for help to bring your ideas to life.
Provided you don’t leave the viewers behind in terms of adding context to what they’re looking at, there’s an opportunity to produce some nice-looking visuals that are not only artistic but have impactful messages embedded in them.
I recommend it to anyone who wants to explore a different side of visualization that’s not confined to the availability of pre-defined chart types.
Here’s a link to the course again , for those who want to check it out.
CJ: Talk to me about the thought process of too little or too much? How do you know when you’re overcrowding your dashboard?
C: I think it varies based on what type of visual we’re creating. If it’s a data display or business dashboard, then it’s a bit subjective and depends more on what’s being asked for by the stakeholder. We may advise on what we think, however if they want 20 charts, they want 20 charts.
In general, though, you need to have enough space around everything. This makes a world of difference for visual perception and being able to catch the main insights presented. We’re normally much better off having too much negative space and few charts than too little space and many charts.
Taking cues from professional level visualizations in data driven journals and publications really shows that less is more, and I often try to emulate that.
1 or 2, charts per point or message, plus the added context needed to enhance understanding seems to be a common theme.
If it’s a viz style dashboard, there’s a little trick you can try – I actually touched on it in my TC ’21 presentation called Minimal Designs for Maximal Communication ( Shameless Plug! Ha-ha)
Identify any object on the dashboard that has meaningful info and fits with the overall theme of your message. Now remove it.
Continue this until you’ve identified everything that helps support the main message in the dashboard.
If you have done this and there are things left, then delete what’s left and add back what you removed. These are you core components. Keep them only. No unnecessary fluff.
This isn’t a fixed science, but something that helps me, which others can try and see if it’s valuable to/for you.
CJ: I like the way you use the natural Tableau formatting tools to frame some of your visualisations. How do you go about this process?
C: Over time it’s happened through experimenting and realizing that tableau has a LOT of formatting options available to us. I personally feel that with tools like figma and illustrator out there, people don’t think of tableau as very design capable in comparison. I can agree with that. However, it can certainly help achieve some cool effects that help enhance the way we choose to show our work.
If I may use the “NBA Foul Calls” to illustrate…
The grey rectangles and border lines are just grey colored cells and borders set up in tableau. Doing this in figma or illustrator would be so hectic ( I tried in figma ) and then aligning in tableau would be another task in itself. So, I simply tried it out in tableau, and it worked great!
Overall, if we think of doing something in tableau, it helps to go with the mindset of “it can be done” and only after trying and seeing that it can’t be done should we start looking elsewhere. There will be certain things that are more easily done outside tableau so it’s great that tableau software can be combined with other tools. Going with whatever tool does it best and easiest, has worked well and seems like a logical strategy in this regard.
CJ: Your profile shows such breadth in chart types. Was this something that you focussed on or came naturally with each topic type from the Makeover Monday datasets?
C: It was definitely a focus, mainly because I think Makeover Monday lends itself as a sort of training ground where we can basically do whatever we want viz wise. It is tool agnostic so this also adds to the message that everyone can come out and play in any capacity they choose. I’ve always found satisfaction in being experimental, and it feels like creativity flows naturally in my designs so I can never be too grateful for that.
In general, we must remember above all to be attentive, and listen to the feedback from viewers and fellow vizzers, to understand the strengths and weaknesses of using different chart types for different use cases. There are many standards out there which is great, and it never hurts to tweak these standard charts a bit in an attempt to add our own flare to things.
Once we get the basic idea of what needs to be noted, and how to use different charts, it seems logical to put a particular chart aside and try something else, rather than confining ourselves to a specific small set of charts that we feel comfortable with.
CJ: To temporarily diverge away from abstract art – It seems like you make even business dashboards so elegantly. Is there anyone else in the community you think does this particularly well?
C: Absolutely – I’ve always admired Ellen Blackburn’s business dashboards. There’s a chance I may have all of them favorited. She really stands out with her deep technical expertise, and functional designs. At the same time, her layouts and pastel colors keep things fresh and visually appealing.
Gandes Goldestan is also someone I recently discovered who does this so well. She covers a wide range of insights with very well thought out user experiences, and she’s got the design skills to balance it out too. All her #RWFD dashboards are lovely.
In this area, I’m really partial to the clean, modern UI look, with functionality built into it. So, people like Ludovic Tavernier, Lindsay Betzendahl, and Samuel Parsons are some others that come to mind in the moment.
CJ: You tend to flicker between light and dark backgrounds. How do you go about deciding what works best for your viz?
C: It’s usually a decision around what looks better for the particular viz, and so trying out both to see what fits the bill helps make the decision. The dark backgrounds seem to work really well with the bright color palettes which I enjoy using to make vizzes grab attention, and the light backgrounds often work great for a cleaner professional look.
It’s worth mentioning that when going through my process, 9/10 times, it starts with a dark one until trying out a light one and seeing that it works better. A lot of times, if the dark background is a hit from the get-go, I won’t bother trying anything else.
CJ: Most people naturally steer towards Tableau Public Profiles, Pinterest and Behance for visualisation inspiration. Is this the same for you?
C: Yes! TP is the #1 because a lot of the stuff is Tableau based and we can benefit from directly digging in to explore how people do things. A lot of times, we have access to the authors if we have questions, and It’s also nice to be able to connect and simply let them know how much we admire them and their work.
Lately, Behance has been a big one. I’ve got the app on my phone and often get so lost in it, so I admit that recently my attention has been skewed towards it. Frederica is also on there and I follow her so nuff’ said. Overall, I pay a monthly subscription for Adobe and Behance is integrated into it so it’s really convenient.
CJ: How come you have a preference for Adobe as opposed to other products? Is there anything in particular that makes it stand out in your eyes?
C: I think it’s because my design aspiration transcends tableau and dashboards. Earlier I mentioned wanting to take a graphic design course, and it seems Abobe tools are commonly used in a lot of them. I’m huge on mastering as many tools as possible, and it was once a more challenging tool than figma but now comes much easier to me.
It’s chart/ data functionality also seems superior to figma and so it’s actually possible to seamlessly build a viz from A to Z in there. It’s been difficult doing this in figma, though I’m sure it’s probably doable with the right plugins.
Also, a tool like figma starts out simple and let’s you add extra functionality by adding plugins as needed, while Adobe usually gives everything out of the box.
This is preferable to me, and it’s based on my learning style – give me all the info upfront and let me figure out how to compartmentalise in memory. I can then extract what is needed based on each situation at hand.
CJ: What are some top tips for those just starting out with Adobe Illustrator?
C: I actually suggest following along with simple exercises and tutorials to get familiar first, and then venturing out to try your own designs. If you google “illustrator tutorials”, a lot of them pop up. It’s not so easy figuring it out on your own and learning by doing works well for this.
CJ: Is there a short tutorial you can personally outline for those wanting to start using adobe illustrator, reflecting on your work?
C: Yes – I think I’ll go into a portion of my Incarcerated in America viz, because looking back, it may not be as obvious how it was done, even after someone may have gone through the work book to try and replicate it.
How to import shapes on an angle to use in a radial pattern in tableau.
The above picture are shapes in illustrator.
This second picture is the same but resized.
If we simply import the shapes as is, tableau places them on a central point like the third pic below and this is not what we desire.
The trick is to import the shapes with the proper orientation, i.e., on the correct angle.
Here’s how it was done using the radar chart tool in illustrator:
Technique + explanation.
Pic 1 is actually the same as this first pic below, but with the radar chart tool used to align the shapes. Afterwards, we then set it to 0% opacity. The idea is to import each shape together with the radar tool while it’s set to 0% opacity, so that it stays on the angle because of the radar tool, but the radar tool is invisible. The result is that we only see the shape on an angle since the radar tool is invisible when it’s brought in to the tableau repository.
This radar chart tool shown here, is set to 0% opacity when exporting each individual shape which will be used to represent each race. So, when we import it, tableau won’t show the radar chart.
This is what it looks like when we select a shape together with the radar chart at 0% opacity. Notice that we only have the green outline of the chart, but we can’t actually see the radar chart.
When importing this into tableau, the effect is that the shape remains on the angle because we’re actually importing both shapes, but the radar chart is invisible. We’re then left with the shape on the correct angle which we can then use in tableau.
The 1st picture above shows the setting (in the layers panel) that we used to make the radar chart invisible, the 2nd pic shows the invisible chart, and the 3rd shows how the shapes look when imported into tableau with proper orientation.
Hopefully this clears that up and helps someone out there.
I still hope to be able to start writing more about specific techniques once I find the discipline to fit that into the current chaotic schedule.
CJ: Awesome thank you! Finally, what’s next?
Well, I just started a role as a Data Visualization Manager at one of Canada’s largest media networks so it’s pretty exciting. I also get to pick up two more visualization tools which are used with tableau over there, and I can’t wait to see what we accomplish. The team so far is vey solid. There’s also a lot more volunteer type stuff going on in the background with tableau and I Look forward to doing more of this kind of work.
Thanks a lot for having me, CJ. I really admire your work and blog posts – PS your Geometric Pattern viz still leaves me in awe. Keep up the great work, sir!
I first messaged Chimdi back in December of 2020 when he was named a featured author. To have seen his growth within the community and the sheer quality of the visualisations he puts out really inspires me, and I’m sure many others, for their own content.
I loved the whole of this blog but if I was to pick out one special moment, it would be where Chimdi refers to what being an ambassador means to him. His take on reframing the mind and our fears holding us back really resonated.
Chimdi shares some fantastic tips on both adobe illustrator and design more generally for formatting. There are some absolute treasures in this write-up. Chimdi mentions wanting to find some new online design/graphic design courses… so if you have any suggestions drop them in the thread.
Thank you Chimdi, and hope the new role continues to be a success.