IronViz Tips from a Top 15 Finisher

Nicole Klassen
5 min readDec 21, 2022

IronViz 2023 just released the 15 IronViz Qualifiers, and they are incredible! When I saw my name on the list as fourth in the America’s I was thrilled! But by virtue of my placing it means someone else didn’t, and that sucks. This is my third IronViz, and my first time placing. Each of my three IronViz experiences were incredible, even with the disappointment of not placing twice, so I want to take a moment to share some tips on what I do to create incredible IronViz.

Ascent — The Rise of Women in Rock Climbing
  1. Viz something you’re passionate about. Tableau announces the topic each qualifier round, but they don’t prescribe a data set or a specific question within the topic. This gives you leeway to viz what you love within the topic. This year the topic was “games,” and I actually already had two vizzes about board games I did a while ago. I would have saved myself a lot of time and stress if I had taken one of those and re-vizzed it for IronViz, bit I wasn’t super passionate about them. I am passionate about geeky fandoms and social justice. So for this qualifier I decided to focus on women’s triumphs and struggles in rock climbing, a sport that means a lot to me personally. By picking something I’m passionate about I was excited to spend an obnoxious amount of time creating my viz, and the storytelling, analysis, and design came much more naturally than if I had forced a re-viz. Side note: by obnoxious amount of time, I spent at least 60 hours on my IronViz. It’s not a small task, and I know I am privileged to have the ability to spend that much free time on a viz. Not everyone can or wants to spend that much free time on a viz, and that’s ok! Be kind to yourself.
  2. Find your community. Part of the magic of IronViz is the community of support. We’re all either struggling with our vizzes or know the struggle even if we’re not participating. This means there’s a broad community who is willing and eager to be your cheerleader and provide feedback. Myself and some others started an IronViz support group and we still chat regularly about anything and everything. I love them all and it’s my favorite outcome of this IronViz.
  3. Use your voice. Think about reading a scientific book like Invisible Women, compared to a research brief from the UN. It may have the same information, but the book with a narrative is going to draw you in and make you care about the research. Storytelling is a third of the points; make your viz a fascinating story! When I help with Office Hours feedback and with Sarah Bartlett’s IronViz feedback, most people start by excitedly explaining why they chose their topic and then why they chose certain elements to include. Add that narrative to the dashboard! I want to hear your voice, your thoughts, and your opinions; the judges probably want to as well. I want to read your thought process so I can understand and appreciate this topic you love. If you picked a topic you are passionate about that narrative will come even easier. For this year I wrote out my thought process in my viz. Every time I had a question I wrote that question on the viz, answered it with charts, and then wrote out my reaction. I think as analysts we tend to fall into our business hats where we can present data in an unbiased and low-text format. IronViz is a time to break that mold and use your voice! Also, people are like to see themselves in stories. If you can use your voice to bring them in and show how they fit by adding a way for them to see themselves in the data, even better!
  4. Solicit feedback. The great part of participating in IronViz is most of the community is aware this going on and is happy to support you — take advantage of that! Viz Office Hours still run weekly through IronViz and Sarah Bartlett puts together an amazing feedback program for IronViz specifically. I participated in both of those and got individual feedback from some people I trust as well. Seeing how people react to your viz can help you see where the design, analysis, and storytelling are strong and where they are weaker. I love my unit chart in my viz; but that thing took at least 8 iterations to get to a point where people could understand what I was trying to say! I probably should have scrapped it (and some of the feedback I got suggested I should just scrap it), but I loved that chart and wanted it to work. Getting feedback helped me reach that goal. Besides getting help with my viz I got to reconnect with people I hadn’t had a chance to chat with for a while, which was lovely.

At this point you may feel duped because you were expecting “do this thing and you’ll place in the IronViz finals,” but honestly these are the best tips I can give. Last year I focused a lot of the judging criteria for IronViz and was focused on placing in the top 10. In the end, I didn’t place; to say I was disappointed is an understatement. This year, I focused on following my tips above and having a fun experience, not the judging criteria, and not only did I have way more fun, but I was able to place in the top 15.

Data viz, especially IronViz, is a combination of art and science. At the end of the day, your score depends on your judge, and even with a rubric the scoring can be somewhat subjective around the “art” side. These tips will help you have fun during a grueling project and create a stunning viz, regardless of what the judges score. Also, if you want to participate in IronViz but don’t have the time to go all in on a 60+ hour viz, by following these tips you can still participate and have fun, even if your goal isn’t placing in the top 15.

Even though I was pretty disappointed last year, because I vizzed what I loved I wouldn’t change it based on the judge’s feedback, and that really helped. I can look back now and be happy because I built a viz I loved, about a musical that is deeply personal to me, and I made friends that I still chat with today. I also had multiple people reach out and let me know that my viz touched them, even though it didn’t place, because they could feel the passion and see my voice in the viz. In the end, that is what you have control over, not how your judges view your viz.

This year I am so grateful to have placed, but I am also so grateful for the amazingly supportive group of friends I made, for the opportunity to provide feedback to others during the process, and to create another viz that I love about something deeply passionate to me. I hope others can come away from IronViz with similar experiences, regardless of the score at the end.

My 2022 IronViz on Next to Normal



Nicole Klassen

A data viz lover, passionate about always learning and helping others.