Meet the Penguins!



OK here we go. Iron Viz competition time. I don’t viz that much so pleased to dust off Tableau Desktop and have a go. This competition is all about the natural world. A very interesting theme for me being a massive nature fan.

1. The Idea

I love nature. Thinking of a theme I reached back into childhood memories and for some reason I thought of long afternoons with my family at the zoo. Aside from the usual animals we always used to make a beeline for the penguins, something that still happens when I take my own family to the zoo. Everyone loves penguins!

However, I don’t think that many people know just how many different flavours of penguin there are. They live in varied locations, come in a host of different sizes and looks and not all of them live in cold countries. They do all stink though.

So I thought I’d use Penguins of the World as my subject for this viz. And here it is.

Go take a look at the viz!


2. Data

I got the data from a single source-

References to sited data is always good to see

Although I didn’t conduct any lengthy data validation exercise I was given some degree of confidence that the website has a detailed references section, siting the data sources. That’s always good to see and something that is mandatory in scientific papers and such like.

Now there’s tons of penguin data available out there. But I really didn’t have the time to spend days looking for that perfect data source. I also didn’t want to spend days transforming the data before I started vizzing so I settled on this one pretty quickly.  Then it was a copy and paste into Excel and I was off.

Always be on the lookout for good images to incorporate into your viz

One thing I did like was the fact that this page had some cool drawings of each penguin species. That instantly got me thinking of using them as Tableau shapes. It’s always a good idea to be on the lookout for images and drawings that can you can incorporate into your visualisations.


3. Viz Design

Now I’m probably not the only person in this competition to be heavily influenced by the master of these kind of visualisations, Sir Jonni of Walker. (@jonni_walker). And with that I thought I’d steal like an artist and try to emulate him.

Key design choices were to use a black background, with plenty of large images and the use of BANs (Big Assed Numbers) as callouts. Things that Jonni does all the time and that really create a visual impact. I also wanted to utilise the penguin images as a “penguin picker” to create some interactivity.

I also wanted a map to be a main feature of the viz as maps are not only informative, but visually striking, highly customisable and also act as a canvas on which to overlay images (in oceans etc.). I had a problem at first with the fact that Antarctica was one of the main locations, and that meant the bottom of the map had a straight edge, which looked ugly. This meant the map would have to meet the bottom of the viz to draw attention away from the abrupt edge.

The IUCN scale

I was pretty pleased with the highlighted IUCN status of each species. The icons looked nice and almost acted as a traffic light theme. Jonni thought they should be greyscale but I overruled him. Pfft – what does he know anyway?

In terms of Tableau content, only a couple of charts to show population, location, height and weight; but that was fine. It didn’t really need anything else.

I also wanted to include a section on famous penguins but it ended up overloading the viz and spoiling the theme. Although it did make me smile. Bonus question – can you name all of these famous penguins?

How many of these famous penguins can you name?

I also considered the use of an embedded YouTube video but decided against it.

I had fun choosing the title font, something that I think can make a huge difference to the viewer if chosen well. Regular fonts were somehow boring, and fonts with penguin characters looked too cluttered. I finally managed to settle on an Austin Powers style font, and then had the idea of alternating the colours to give that penguiny feel. I like it!

In the end I think the final result was ok. However this wasn’t one that I enjoyed. See below.


4. Challenges

This was my first viz in a while. I’ve spent the last 3 years knee-deep in Tableau Server and have a crazy busy job building a Tableau Centre of Excellence, supporting thousands of demanding users so I’m the first one to admit I don’t have the Tableau Desktop skills of people like Adam Crahen, Neil Richards, Pooja Gandhi et al.

The standard of skill out there in the community is crazy good. And that really was the main challenge. I found this viz a fairly stressful experience, it made me feel like a newbie all over again, simply because I’d be putting this out there against some stunning competition. I even considered not entering for a while. But hey, that’s not what the Tableau community is all about so I thought I’d have a go at it.

As mentioned earlier, I was deliberately trying to emulate Jonni’s style. Now that proved to be pretty difficult. I managed to create something reasonable, and fairly quickly, and began thinking to myself that hey this is a piece of cake, Jonni who?? But then it got harder. My ideas began to dry up and I found myself staring at an okay-ish viz but being unable to take that next step to make it better. Felt like vizzers block.

And that’s when I realised that the people who create these REALLY good vizzes have a lot of inherent natural skills and imagination that folks like me lack. So I gave Jonni a call and asked his advice. He came back with a number of suggestions, none of them earth-shattering, but much more subtle and delicate. Making the map larger, bringing highlight colours out from the penguin plumage were a couple of suggestions that made a huge difference to the impact of the viz. My point here is that the real geniuses of visual design have these thoughts occur naturally and without significant effort, folks like me have to learn them, or at least work a little harder than some others.

But hey, IronViz (and any vizzing) is all about learning. So I’m good with that.

Another challenge was that the Tableau part of this was pretty easy. That’s obviously great and what we want from our favourite application, but in terms of this viz I spent more time in image manipulation tools than in Tableau. And that really did detract from enjoyment. Come on Tableau! Make it harder for us to complete our vizzes!


5. Analysis & Story

So what can we take from this story? Here are some of the key observations that Tableau has allowed me to glean from the dataset.

  • All penguins live in the southern hemisphere, and some in hot countries
  • There are some seriously big populations, although some are endangered
  • They range from massive to teeny tiny
  • Main predators are Leopard Seals & Sea Lions
  • There are not one, but two penguin days in the calendar

So that’s it. I hope you enjoy the visualisation. If you do then please consider voting for me in the IronViz competition. And thanks to Jonni Walker for providing advice for this viz. Top man.

Good luck to all the other entries this year. Especially blinders like this from Ken Flerlage. – The Killing Fields – Viz / Blog.

Hmm. After all that writing I could do with a chocolate biscuit. Now which one……

Regards, Paul

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One Response to Meet the Penguins!

  1. Great entry mate, best of luck

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