Viz What You Love


If you’ve ever visited my Tableau Public profile page, it probably didn’t take you long to realize that sports are a very big interest of mine. While my profile currently sits at forty-two vizzes, twenty-five of those are sports related vizzes in which I had a particular interest or question, tracked down the data behind it and built a viz to display the findings. As I’ve previously mentioned, my Tableau Public journey began with some great advice from Ryan Sleeper. In addition to sharing his Top Five Tips, Ryan also shared with me that what keeps his fire alive is to practice using Tableau, in his spare time, with data that he cares about. Doing this provides him with hours upon hours of practice that in turn makes his day job much easier. If you know me personally, you know I am born and raised in Minnesota. You may also know that being born and raised in Minnesota means you’ve inherited a collection of some of the most frustrating sports teams on the planet, both professionally and on a collegiate level. This is where my love for Notre Dame Fighting Irish football begins. A love with plenty of history…bits and pieces of which have continued to live on in my head for years. With my latest Tableau Public project and this blog post, I wanted to share my story of becoming a Notre Dame football fan, bring together some of the data that fuels my memories as a fan and share a viz about the history of Notre Dame football, in the Associated Press Era (1936-current).

My Favorite Team

It’s pretty fitting for me that the Fighting Irish football player in the picture above is wearing a No. 5 jersey. That’s how old I was when I first discovered the sport of football. And for me, growing up in rural Minnesota in the mid-1980’s, I had just a few options of what teams to watch each weekend. Of course on Sunday’s I could watch the Minnesota Vikings and by default, they became my favorite NFL team. But what about college football on Saturday’s, who would I follow? Well, thankfully, for me that decision was as easy as choosing between cake and pie…let the record show that I would choose cake over pie 100 times, given 100 opportunities. That’s right pie people, you heard me!! Now for me, the exciting, flavorful, flashy looking cake was Notre Dame Fighting Irish football and the dry, crusty, boring old pie was Minnesota Gophers football. In my first seven years as a Notre Dame fan, the Fighting Irish (cake) posted a 70-13-1 record, they won a National Championship and finished second in the nation two other years, while also finishing fourth once and sixth once. They played in seven major bowl games winning five of them, boasted a Heisman Trophy winner and had a Heisman Trophy runner-up, as well as several other Heisman finalists. As for Minnesota (pie)…they posted a 28-47-2 record, didn’t reach one bowl game and didn’t sniff a Heisman Trophy.

Too Much Success, Too Early?

So, while the decision to choose the Irish over the Gophers was a no-brainer for the child that I was, little did my child-sized brain know that this wave of success would surprisingly NOT last forever. I mean things as a Notre Dame football fan/Minnesota sports fan were great in the late 80s/early 90s. In 1987, the Minnesota Twins won the World Series, follow that up with Notre Dame’s 1988 National Championship and a near repeat in 1989, the Vikings were playing well and making playoff runs, in 1989 the NBA came back to Minnesota after a 30-year hiatus and heck, the Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team even reached an Elite Eight and Final Four in back-to-back years. Then to cap it all off, in 1991 the Twins won another World Series. It was quite an incredible five-year run. My only mistake was assuming this wouldn’t change. Of course, I didn’t know any better, so optimistic little Jeff just expected the success to keep on coming…boy was I wrong. That optimistic, bright-eyed child has learned to expect disappointment and to be let down by his favorite teams. Aren’t sports great?!!

Despite the Struggles, the Love Remains

The Minnesota teams are a discussion for another day, but coming off of their late 80s/early 90s success, the mid to late 90s and into the 2000s were pretty bleak times for Notre Dame and their fans. The team would go fifteen years before winning another Bowl game and to this day haven’t won a major Bowl game since 1993. Following their five Top 6 finishes in six years, from 1994 to 2011, the Irish would finish in the Top 10 just once…just ONE TIME!! Coaches came and went, losing seasons became common ground and some historic streaks were even snapped, like in 2007 when Notre Dame lost to Navy for the first time in forty-four contests. The good, the bad, the ugly, this is all part of what I’ve gone through in my time as a Notre Dame Fighting Irish football fan. I love sports, I love many different kinds of sports, I cheer for a lot of different teams and players, but I do not love any sports team quite like I love Notre Dame football. I even remember my little girl’s first ever Notre Dame touchdown. She was exactly one-week old, she had been home from the hospital for five days and was laying on my chest snuggled up in the Notre Dame onesie, beanie and blanket we had gotten for her on a road trip earlier that year, which had required a detour to the Notre Dame campus. Malik Zaire to Will Fuller, a 12-yard TD strike against LSU, in the Music City Bowl. That was her first ever Fighting Irish TD. I remember getting chills down my spine when the Notre Dame marching band struck up the Notre Dame Victory March after that score…it may seem silly, but some things you just never forget. I would never push anything on my little girl or baby No. 2 (due Jan 21st 2018), but I do hope that some day the opportunity arises for me to share my love of Notre Dame football with them. However, for the time being, I’d like to share this love with you the reader in the form of a five-page story that captures the history of Notre Dame football during the AP Era.

The Viz

I’m not going to spend much time on the design and technique, as the viz is very basic. The key takeaway here is to use Tableau Public to practice with things you love and that you are passionate about. For me, it just happens to be sports and in this case, Notre Dame football. By this point, if you haven’t felt my passion for Notre Dame football, I’m either a lousy writer or you’re reading to yourself in a very monotone, Ben Stein voice. Your passion could be any number of things other than sports. But, I bet you that whatever it is, you can likely find data and you can sure have a lot of fun building a viz to help tell the story behind it.

Back to the viz. My main goal was to keep it very simple so that anyone who understands football, even just a little bit, could understand and follow the story. The story has five parts. They are;

  • Win/Loss Record by Season

In the 81 seasons since the AP Era started, Notre Dame has won 8 National Championships. The point of this page is to provide an overview of Notre Dame’s success or lack thereof each season, while providing a little commentary regarding key points along the way. The green bars in the “Wins” column indicate seasons in which the Irish won the National Championship. A tool tip on the Wins bar also provides Notre Dame’s point for and points against for the season.

  • Game by Game Results

I believe the first time I saw this done was by Matt Chambers, but I love the idea of viewing game by game results in a column chart with point differential representing the bar length. Here, I used navy blue to represent wins, gold to represent losses or ties and green to represent wins during a National Championship season. The view is broken down in rows by decade and a tool tip provides the date of the game, the score and each team’s ranking heading into the contest.

  • Results by Opponent

Earlier, I mentioned that Notre Dame had beaten Navy forty-four straight times, from 1964-2006. Taking the same approach as the previous page, I wanted to view their success versus each opponent. This is sorted by number of games played. It’s interesting to see who they’ve played and when they’ve played them. For instance, despite being located just a few hours away from one another, Notre Dame has only played Northwestern once in the last twenty-three seasons. And Notre Dame hasn’t faced Minnesota since 1938.

  • The Record Books

It’s absurd how many random sports stats are floating around in my head. This page displays Notre Dame career leaders in 11 offensive categories. I hope to add defensive categories, but at this point, do not have data to support that side of the ball. A few simple parameters allow the user to select the stat they’d like to view and then pull in the Top 10 to Top 50 in steps of 5.

  • Career Coaching Records

Lastly, I didn’t want to leave out the coaches. Three legends jump off the page; Lou Holtz, Ara Parseghian and Frank Leahy. Notably absent is Knute Rockne, who coached Notre Dame prior to the Associated Press Era, from 1918-1930. Rockne compiled a 105-12-5 record while winning three National Championships.

So there you have it. Clearly, I’m very passionate about Notre Dame football and it is a wonderful feeling to be able to share that passion in the form of this blog post and the viz that goes along with it. My hope is that this post can inspire others to Viz What You Love and share that love with others. Thank you so much for reading and have a great day!

Overcoming the Fear to Share

In this week’s #MakeoverMonday blog review, Andy Kriebel had just one lesson: Don’t Be Afraid to Share Your Work. He said that during #MakeoverMonday live from #TC17, he heard a lot of #MakeoverMonday participants say that they are intimidated to share their work to Tableau Public and Twitter. Well, for those of you who feel that way, I get it…I’ve been in your shoes. There are a lot of ultra-talented folks in the community who regularly submit the type of work you and I could only dream of putting together. Well, guess what? Dream and dream BIG, because overcoming our fear is the first step to joining those ultra-talented folks!! Here’s my journey to overcoming the fear to share.

Early Tableau Public Work

As I shared in my first blog post, I had been using Tableau at work, for a little over a year before I learned about Tableau Public. Looking back, while things haven’t unfolded particularly quickly by any means, I still feel that moment in February of 2016 was groundbreaking for me. Tableau Public allowed me to practice using the tool with data sets (mostly sports related) that were of great interest to me. So, from March-June of 2016, I created a total of seven vizzes and boy was I proud of them!! I couldn’t look at them enough. But one part was still missing…sure I was publishing my work, but who was looking at it besides me? It was easy to publish it when there was virtually no audience. Fast forward several months after some time away from the tool (we’ll explain why at a later date) and enter Twitter.

Data Viz Twitter Account

In April of 2017, yes A FULL YEAR AND TWO MONTHS after first hearing about Tableau Public and its community, I finally decided it was time to get serious about joining this community. First off, DON’T BE LIKE ME!! Don’t wait around…don’t be afraid and don’t put it off!! Just join the community and start getting involved, you will be happy you didn’t wait!! Ok, so anyway, I created a new Twitter account, @JtothaVizzo. This was intended to be used for Data Viz purposes only…no following ESPN, no ProFootballTalk, no Bill Simmons, no other distractions period. The sole purpose of the account would be to follow the community, learn about Tableau/Data Viz, share my work and eventually become more involved. So, for the next few months I mostly sat back and observed, while sharing about a dozen vizzes. Although my posts weren’t receiving much feedback or attention, I was practicing Tableau and could feel improvement with each passing week, especially since getting involved in #MakeoverMonday, on May 1. In May and June, I submitted several vizzes and continued looking on, in awe, of the talent participating in #MakeoverMonday. As the breathtaking work rolled in week after week, there was one thing I knew for sure…at some point, I wanted to be able to produce the quality of work I was seeing!! Throughout the month of July, my work began getting a bit of feedback and I was feeling more confident in myself. Then came August and #IronViz Silver Screen.

#IronViz Submission = Fear!!

By the time the third and final #IronViz 2017 feeder contest came around, I had 28 vizzes on my Tableau Public profile. Although most of them had not garnered much attention, some of my more recent ones had. Were people starting to learn who I was? If so, did they like my work or think it was lousy? If I competed in #IronViz, would people expect anything from me and who would judge it?? These thoughts were scary. I mean, this would be my first ever viz that was going to be officially judged. What if the judges think my entry is the worst one in the competition? Enter…fear!! Determined to overcome the fear and submit my first #IronViz entry, I now had another issue to deal with. What would my entry be about? The category was Silver Screen, far from a strong suit of mine. If my eyes were on a TV, it was typically one of four or five things; sports, whatever toddler show my daughter was watching before daycare in the morning, The Real Housewives of whatever city my wife was watching, HGTV, or Family Guy. Ok, so my options were limited. Would the community enjoy an #IronViz about Sid the Science Kid, Mother Goose Club or Word Party? Uh, yeah probably not. So, after some careful thought, I landed on The Simpsons. It was my favorite show as a kid and honestly I couldn’t believe it was still on the air, after all these years. Having not seen an episode in at least a decade, I was curious to see if the show was still performing well. The goal for my viz was to answer that question, while trying some cool stuff in the process.

The Fear Disappears

I remember finishing my viz, filling out the #IronViz form and then sitting there staring at the button I would click to submit it. I was scared…flat out scared. Although I felt my viz was decent work and pretty cool, it was so easy for the doubt to creep back into my mind. I took a deep breath and then remembered something. I had been so excited to be a part of this #IronViz contest, so why was I afraid now? I told myself, “screw it, what’s the worst that can happen?” I clicked the button. There was no going back now, my first ever #IronViz submission was out there. I added a post to Twitter and then steered clear of Twitter for awhile, occupying myself with whatever game was on that night. An hour or so later, I checked my Twitter feed and to my relief, saw great feedback of my viz. People liked it, I was ecstatic!! From that point on, the fear has been absent.

If I can do it, you can do it. Whether it’s #MakeoverMonday, #IronViz, or any other viz you’ve created with your own data set, listen to Andy’s great advice and Don’t Be Afraid To Share Your Work. Like me, you’ll be glad you shared it!! Oh and as if you need another reminder, DON’T WAIT A FULL YEAR AND TWO MONTHS to become involved in the Tableau community, like I did!!

#MakeoverMonday – Week 41

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After missing Week 40, I was back at it for #MakeoverMonday Week 41. Although creating my viz from #MakeoverMonday live at #TC17 would have been lovely, here’s to hoping #TC18 becomes my first conference!! Over the weekend, I came across a twitter conversation around creative outlets and where people get their artistic side that they bring into the Data Viz world. For many, naturally, the outlet was drawing or sketching, but for me the creative outlet has always been writing. In fact, for the better part of three years, I cranked out a weekly sports article for several small-town newspapers throughout the state of Minnesota. However, at the end of 2014, with a baby on the way, I decided it was time to give up this hobby. But, while writing, I enjoyed the freedom I was given to make each article my own. Tableau absolutely provides us with that same kind of freedom. On to my Week 41 viz…

When I first saw the data set, Adult Obesity in the United States, my initial thought was to find some large discrepancies within each sub-category. It was clear pretty quickly that one of the biggest would be the difference in obesity rate between those with a college education and those with less than a high school education. For design, with state being a dimension, my mind immediately went to the fact that I hadn’t yet created a hex map. This post from Matt Chambers helped me quickly put my hex map together. I also used this post from Charlie Hutcheson, so thank you to both Matt and Charlie for their excellent posts!! So now that I had my very first hex map, something struck me…”why don’t I use stars instead of hexagons, to represent the stars of the U.S. flag?” Now, I’ll be the first to admit that hexagons look much cleaner and prettier. However, this IS Tableau and with the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do, stars just seemed to work. With the map, I wanted to simply show the total 2015 Adult Obesity Rate for each state and feel that was accomplished.

As was the case in Week 39, this time I also wanted to go for simplicity, which is why I left out the Income category from the bottom part of my viz. My feeling was it ties fairly closely to Education, so seemed redundant. I chose to compare 2011, the first year of data, vs. 2015, the most recent year. Again, I didn’t want to overcomplicate things, so I left out 2012-2014. To visualize the data, I put all states on the same row for each sub-category and used a dot plot. Here’s another great post from Charlie with several links to help build one. Using a hover action from the map, your state of choice is highlighted, so you can quickly view the change from 2011 to 2015. Probably most alarming to me is the fact that in New Mexico and Mississippi, the obesity rate of both 18-24 and 25-34 year olds is higher than that of the 65+ age group!!

#MakeoverMonday – Week 39

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Since first learning of #MakeoverMonday back in May of this year, I’ve been a participant roughly one-third of the time. While that percentage definitely needs to improve, my approach, when participating, has been to use #MakeoverMonday as an opportunity to not only practice my Tableau skills, but also try new chart types that have sparked my interest and may even take me outside of my comfort zone. Prior to the Week 39 data set being released by Andy Kriebel and Eva Murray, who do such a remarkable job with #MakeoverMonday, I found myself browsing Andy’s blog and came across a Tableau Tip Tuesday post titled How to Create Ranked Dot Plots.

I recalled seeing a #MakeoverMonday submission of a dot plot from Matt Chambers several months earlier. In fact, seeing Matt’s viz was what actually led to me digging into and submitting my first #MakeoverMonday viz the following week. So, after watching Andy’s video, I knew trying a dot plot would be in my near future. To my delight, I would get a chance the very next day! When the data set was released, although it wasn’t a ranked set of data, I felt a dot plot would still work nicely.

The Thought Process

The data set, Restricted Dietary Requirements Around the Globe, was a simple one with 11 different diet types, 5 regions and then percentages of people surveyed from each region who said they followed a given diet. My initial thought was, “Is there a meaningful way to group the diets?” While, I felt there was, I ultimately decided to let them stand alone instead and sorted them from highest overall percentage to lowest.

My two main goals in building this viz were; a) keeping it very clean and free of clutter and b) building it so that no scrolling or filtering was needed. I’m also a big fan of dashboard actions, but managed to resist the temptation this time! I was pleasantly surprised with two font choices I hadn’t used before and once the decision was made to not group the diets, it was a no brainer to put them in the rows and regions in the columns in order to stick to the no scrolling goal. It took awhile to settle on the darker background with black bars, as I tried several different combinations, but none seemed as easy on the eyes as the gray/black combo. As for the dots themselves, the purple has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a Minnesota Vikings fan, I just thought it looked nice.

What About the Axis?

With the axis set at 100%, but the highest percentage of people dieting being 48% from Africa/Middle East following Halal, the dots seemed too crowded on the left side of the bars. Therefore, I changed the axis from 0%-100% to 0%-50%, labeled the bottom of the first column and added a reference line at 25% (the new mid-point of the bars). While it seemed to work well at spreading the dots out along the bars, it also brought some valuable feedback from Chris Love, that I hadn’t thought of when creating the viz. Chris had initially provided feedback to me on Twitter, but after Andy recreated the viz on his blog, Chris felt it was worth a blog post in reply, due to Andy’s huge following, to point out what he felt was a small best practice failing in the chart.

When it was all said and done, #MakeoverMonday Week 39 was a fun and valuable one! I inspired Andy to recreate a viz he hadn’t built in awhile, received some great feedback from Chris regarding best practices, got my first mention in the #MakeoverMonday blog review written by Andy and Eva and to cap it all off, watched my first #MMVizReview webinar!!


The Message That Changed it All

February 6, 2016…this date marks the most important day in my data viz journey. With a little over one-year of Tableau experience under my belt, one thing was certain. I loved the tool!! It made my job much more fun, while making it far easier to do and allowing for plenty of creativity along the way. I was working as part of a demand planning team (of two) that was tasked with transitioning the business unit I worked in, from one that had digested data in spreadsheet form for decades to one that would now leverage the power of data visualization. So, throughout that first year using Tableau, I purchased a couple of books on, watched training videos, and even attended a few Tableau User Group meetings in Minneapolis to learn as much as I could about the tool. And then, after several searches on LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, you name it, I had an idea.

“What if I find somebody who’s really good with Tableau and send them a message asking what steps they took to get to where they are today?” I know, such an amazing, out of the box idea!! But, it scared the hell out of me…what if the person I chose didn’t reply or worse yet, replied, but was unwilling to help me? What would I possibly do then? Could I ever recover from something so horrific? On the afternoon of February 6, 2016 I sent my LinkedIn message to Ryan Sleeper, whom I had identified as the ideal person to contact. Not only were Ryan’s Tableau accomplishments unmatched, but he was also a huge sports fan like myself. So, I figured if nothing else we could chat about how his Kansas City Royals consistently beat the tar out of my Minnesota Twins!! I’m pretty sure my heart stopped momentarily when I clicked the send button, but thankfully my wait was not a long one. Before noon the following day, I had a message from Ryan. A message that would change everything, opening up a Tableau world I had not yet discovered!!

In his message, Ryan wrote about how he would practice using Tableau in his free time, with data of interest to him. He also shared this link of his top five tips to learning Tableau. At the time, I had no idea how important that link would be. #5. Follow the Tableau Community and #1. Tableau Public have been game changers for me, as I haven’t yet taken a training. I have Ryan Sleeper to thank for introducing me to Tableau Public and to the Tableau Community (at least through Twitter). Now to just meet all of these wonderful people in person…unfortunately, TC17 isn’t going to happen for me, but I’m optimistic TC18 will!! Since setting up a Tableau Public profile and joining the Tableau Community through Twitter, I have learned more about Tableau and Data Visualization than I could have ever imagined and I still feel like the surface is just being scratched.

So, if you happen to be reading this today and find yourself in a similar situation to what I was in back in February of 2016, just go ahead and send that message!! The community is full of wonderful people eager to help you and there’s no reason to be hesitant or scared…just click send!!