In December last year we got to see the results of the IronViz Feeder for 2023 and the Top 15 visuals from around the world. These included finalists Nirosh Perera from EMEA, Paul Ross from APAC and Brittany Rosenau from AMER. I’m so excited to see them battle it out on stage! Wishing them all the best of luck, and I would urge you to take a look at each of the winning entries.
Check the full 15 out here.
Whilst the three finalists are probably putting together their workflows, filming their introductions and settling their nerves prior to presenting live to thousands of people, I want to wind the clock back to look at what it took to get their in the first place.
Now, I have the pleasure of working with Brittany over at JLL and we have a bit of a running joke about the JLL curse and always the bridesmaid never the bride when it comes to winning IronViz. So who knows we will see….. but for now I’ve had the chance to catch up with her to dive a little deeper into her feeder viz.
I’ve really seen Brittany come into her own this year, frequently sharing new tips and ideas on the forums, promoting content for upvotes to help the product teams as well provide her own tutorials both internally and in the wider community. If you’d like to check out Brittany’s viz you can find it here. If you’re not already following her, she can be reached on Twitter here, and Tableau public here.
CJ: Hi Brittany, Congratulations, Let’s start with the visual at a high level. Why did you land on visualizing Spiel des Jahres? Was this your first idea when the topic was released?
B: It was not my first idea – at first I wanted to visualize data from just one board game, but I struggled picking a game or coming up with a sort of story. So I took a step back and thought about why I had bought the games I owned in the first place. In 2020 I was living at home for a bit, and needed new games to play. Board games can be expensive, so I wanted to make sure I was getting a good value game that would be fun for everyone in my family. I noticed a number of highly rated games advertised that they won Spiel des Jahres, so I wanted to dig into not only why those games won, but also why they might appeal to a broad audience.
CJ: Data collection can always be tricky for personal projects from scratch. What did this look like for you in terms of data collection as well as data availability?
B: At one point during the build, I laughed to myself and thought one day I’ll actually enter a competition where I’m not sourcing the data myself. Data collection for this was a lot of copy and pasting into Excel (I’m sure I could have learned something like Python to make this easier, but I had limited time).
Once I had the game list, I need to enrich it with more data. I got most of this from the website Board Game Geek which has loads of stats. The tricky part there was to be selective- I was tempted to grab all the details but had to remind myself to keep focused and not fall into the trap of just showing a bunch of data without much meaning.
One piece of data I wish was more readily available was board game sales, whether that’s in dollars or units sold. I was able to find some data on a handful of games from press releases, but I couldn’t find solid sales data overall. I think that would have strengthened the story showing the impact of what winning the award does for a game.
CJ: You have some really nice design effects that are so subtle but help elevate the visual. Elements such as the title having a chess piece, and your pudding chart including dice of varied rotation and numbers. Are these things that you will consider early on in the design of your work, or after multiple iterations?
B: The chess piece in the title was pretty early on. The Spiel des Jahres website has their title with a red letter I, and I wanted to put my own spin on it by incorporating a game piece.
The pudding chart went through several iterations. At first I had only one dice type, with all the same rotation and it just didn’t look that great to me.
While it took more time to apply different shapes and rotations, I was really happy with how much more polished the final result looked. Big shoutout to Lindsay Betzendahl’s blog post on pudding charts, and her collaboration viz with Kevin Flerlage – they have a plum pudding chart with cheetah spots rotated at different angles. I was able to crack open how they did the rotated shapes and learn how to apply it to my own viz.
CJ: You ended up using just the primary colors, in addition to white black and gray. Were these colors chosen with specific intent?
B:They were! From the start, I knew I wanted to work with a limited set of colors. A previous year I needed 8 colors across categories, and it was difficult to come up with that many that looked good together and were visually distinct. This time, I started by going to the Spiel des Jahres website. They used the red, blue, and dark grey for their awards and website, so I grabbed the hex codes and called it a day. Knowing I only had a few colors to work with helped me focus on keeping it as simple as possible.
CJ: From a storytelling perspective it was great that you introduced what Spiel des Jahres really was for those unsure. How important is it to give context before diving into the details? It’s interesting to see how you transition from context to impact through to how it impacted you and the reader getting to select a game. Why did you choose this route?
B: A lot of the structure came from the sort of classic funnel method for writing papers in school – you start with something general, narrow in on specifics, and then reverse the funnel to zoom back out into something more general.
A big piece of feedback that I got out of the Iron Viz Feedback Initiative was I needed to actually get my explanations into the viz. I’d go into zoom calls and find myself talking about a lot of context that wasn’t on paper yet – but since I wouldn’t get the chance to talk to the judges, I needed to make sure whatever I thought people needed to know made it on the page.
The middle gets into more specifics – including details about games I purchased and why. I like vizzes where people show a personal connection to the data, so I rolled the dice and hoped people would enjoy anecdotes from my own experience.
Finally, the last part zooms back out to the general pool of games, with a sort of “so what” ending that lets people interact with and see themselves in the data. Maybe someone wants a game they can play on their own, or maybe a parent wants a game for their kids that doesn’t take forever to play. Bouncing off ideas with Zach Bowders led me to using another plum pudding chart to bring it back full circle (and thanks to Nicholas Pillsbury for helping me understand some functionality logic).
CJ: Your hand drawn images are very complimentary to the visual without being overpowering. Can you tell us a little more about the considerations taken in terms of placement, balancing against the charts and the style of these drawings. Also, How did you create them!?
B: A big part of why games win Spiel des Jahres is the build quality of the game itself, and I really wanted to show what some of these games looked like because that influenced my own purchases. But, I have to admit I was terrified of accidentally disqualifying myself by using copyrighted images that I didn’t have the rights to.
What I ended up doing was taking some product shots I felt were good representations of the game, traced the outline, and added my own embellishments. I actually used a whiteboarding tool, InVision Freehand for the drawings. I’d used the tool before in a work setting to make visuals for presentations, and it was quicker for me to use that than learn how to draw properly in another tool. What I really like is as you draw, it automatically smooths out the lines a bit. You retain the hand drawn look but it’s a little more polished than what I could achieve with just a mouse.
CJ: I would say your pudding chart, stacked dice and even perhaps the gantt style bar aren’t the standard types of charts. How come you landed on these? Were there other ways you considered showing the same metrics?
B: I’m not sure why, but I’m really drawn to unit charts. Some of it might come from work situations where data is aggregated, but stakeholders inevitably want to look at record level detail. The gantt bars, pudding chart, and stacked dice not only let me see the larger shape of the data, but also make it easy to inspect an individual element without using a table. I was lucky my data sets were small enough for that to work effectively. If I was working with thousands of records that would go out the window pretty quickly.
The real origin of the pudding chart was I hadn’t ever done one, and I wanted to learn how to do it. Iron Viz – with the theme of win or learn, you can’t lose, seemed like the perfect time to try it out, and it seemed to work well enough for what I wanted to show. I hoped that by using it at both the beginning and end of the viz, the story would come around full circle (ba dum tss haha) and provide a sense of completeness or closure.
CJ: Do you have any previous iterations of the visual that you can share? I’d love to see the different considerations taken along the design process journey if you have any.
B: I sure do 🙂 Last year I saved an image each time I hit a new iteration of my entry, and this year I tried to do the same. I find it helpful to have different versions saved in case I need to revert back, but also it’s really satisfying seeing the progress throughout. My first iteration of the viz, I thought I was going to do a horizontal style viz. I blocked out the dimensions of the Ticket to Ride board game, and wanted to move the story along through the tiles of a board game. I abandoned that pretty early for a long form vertical viz.
through to this..
Playing with alignment, text and images,
Adjusting height and framing, introducing softer imagery,
And finally looking at flow and whitespace,
After this you’ll see the final touches to reach the end visual on my profile. It’s a bit of an iterative process.
CJ: Long form visuals can be a tough process in terms of laying them out on the page. Do you have any tips for formatting your viz and giving the visual alignment in charts, text and appropriate spacing?
B: Containers and blanks! For me, containers help keep everything organized. For anyone new to containers or intimidated by them, I’d recommend watching Curtis Harris’s video “things I know about containers” as it completely changed how I develop.
Putting in blank placeholders as well lets me swap in sheets or other elements fairly easily without disrupting the structure of the viz.
I’d also recommend adding padding fairly early on – Tableau’s default of 4 pixels make things look cluttered fast. I’d start with adding 20-30 pixels of padding to the outside of the dashboard and adjust from there. It’s easier to adjust the size of things down the line if you’ve given yourself some breathing room in the beginning.
CJ: Having received feedback from the judges system, combined with your own reflections, is there anything about your visual you’d actually re-visit?
B: Reading the scores and feedback was really interesting – obviously I knew I must have scored well, but I was curious to see what they thought worked or didn’t work. I don’t think I’d change anything about my actual charts – other than perhaps adding some more ways to interact with the data. I really wish more sales related data had been available as well.
From a less technical standpoint, I created almost all the text in PowerPoint and loaded it in as images…that bit was kind of painful. I probably won’t repeat that effort for a while unless I’m really committed to using a custom font again. It’s also quite a large viz – I’d maybe see if I could make it a little more friendly for smaller screens.
CJ: Were there any other visuals this year you’d like to call out in appreciation of?
B: There were so many great entries this year, I’ll inevitably leave someone out. But a few personal favorites include Ann Pregler’s Going for Broke, the The Friendship Ruining Power of Monopoly, Michelle Frayman’s Games Prestons Play and Ali Tehrani’s Steph Curry.
What really interested me was even though this feeder came quicker than folks expected, there was still a great turnout. Of the 209 entries, 111 of them were submitted by folks who had 10 or less published vizzes, and 25 folks published their Iron Viz as their first Tableau Public viz. I think that’s incredible, and I hope everyone who looks at the gallery in the future is inspired to throw their hat in the ring.
Thank you so much for joining Brittany. It’s been a long time coming to try get you on the blog. I hope others reading this feel inspired by your work, can resonate with your build process and the iterations in design.
I would love to close out this blog with the same sentiment as you, I whole heartedly agree that I hope this piece motivates more individuals to get involved in coming years. Welcoming someone new can be the start to something quite magical.
Wishing you all the best come May, alongside Nirosh & Paul. Cherish the moment, you deserve it.