#IronViz Recap Part 2: Pushing the Limits

Jul 15, 2018

Klaus Schulte

Five minutes before showtime, we were already waiting behind the huge stage of the ICC Auditorium for the grand #IronVizEurope final to start. I was taking a deep breath and Jade Le Van asked me: “Are you ok?“. I said “Yes, I am. But why am I doing this?” And she answered: “You are pushing your limits.

#IronVizEurope was a fantastic experience for me and it certainly did push my limits. I did not feel uncomfortable on stage, not at all. When I was done with my presentation I could even enjoy the moment and do childish stuff like photobombing Andy’s selfie (what I only remembered when I saw it on Twitter):


But of course, I had my doubts before the conference. Would ‘my best’ be good enough? I don’t mean good enough in the sense of would I be able to win the contest but in the sense of justifying my nomination for this final. You don’t want to do a bad job or do silly things when you are sharing your screen with so many people, including countless Zen Masters, the Tableau devs-team, practitioners and consultants from all over Europe, who use Tableau every single day. Failing on stage would have felt like stealing away a spot for the final from someone else.

Preparing for IronViz

What always helps me to fight down my doubts is to be really well prepared. I think the dataset on the Big Mac Index was quite challenging (and a little bit boring too 😉). The topic (over-/undervaluations of currencies) is not that intuitive to many people. So I was trying to come up with a story that is easy to understand, but is also having some analytical ambitions.

I discussed my story and my analytics with my colleague Manuel Rupprecht from Münster School of Business for hours. I talked about my design with several people and it was for example their feedback, that led me to change my background color from white to black. And of course, I was also chatting a lot with my sous vizzer Tom Christian to get his feedback. Eventually I finished my viz one week before the competition so there was one week left to practice building and presenting it. In this week I went through 15 test-runs reducing the time needed from approximately 50 minutes to around 17 minutes by changing little things in the viz, optimizing the sequence of my clicks and just learning everything by heart. I will probably never forget how to build this viz. However, I don’t plan to ever build it ever again 🙂

I wrote down my presentation too and practiced it whenever possible. Already being in London I also showed my viz to a few people from the Tableau community and got some good feedback. So, in the end I felt really well prepared and confident and that’s why even some technical problems in the last rehearsal shortly before showtime didn’t throw me off track.

My viz

My dashboard consists of

  • 5 sheets,
  • 3 images,
  • 2 text boxes and
  • 1 blank object.

I think it was a big advantage for us that we were allowed to use Tableau Prep. So I was able to do nearly all my data cleaning, pivoting, calculations and joins beforehand in Prep. In Tableau I only had to create 6 calculated fields related to my 5 parameters and the parameters themselves.

It is said that people on a big stage always need a little bit more make-up, a little bit more of lipstick. That’s what I did with my viz too. Normally I avoid too bright and too many different colors, but I think in this case it was the right decision to go for a more colorful viz. And with a black background my highlight action worked way better.


I went for a tiled layout and used a horizontal container for my parameters. To give each of the elements some breathing space I used inner and outer padding. A highlight action on countries helped me to tell my story. Due to the limited time I went for rather simple tooltips.

If you are interested in how I put this viz together you can watch the following YouTube video (Tip: you can change the playback speed in the settings).

My Story on the Big Mac Index


In my viz I focused on Europe and my main idea was to deconstruct the Big Mac in its parts. The first section in the top left corner is showing the raw Big Mac Index in ranges by coloring the countries in a trapezium tile map. I went for a map because I wanted to show the regional pattern: low indices in eastern and south eastern countries, average indices in central and western countries and high indices in northern countries and Switzerland. For the grey shaded countries there weren’t indices in the data.

In the second part in the top right corner I’m deconstructing the Big Mac and I’m looking at identical indices of goods related to the ingredients of a Big Mac. What can be shown is that these indices can differ from the Big Mac Index by country, they can differ within a country by ingredient and they can differ over time, for example in France, where meat is more expensive, and milk & cheese have become rather cheap recently compared to the Euro Area.

In the third section in the scatter plot I’m bringing together both. By doing this I expect a weighted ingredients index based on the Big Mac recipe on the y-axis to be more or less similar to the Big Mac index on the x-axis. However, that’s not always the case. For example in Austria all dots for all years are lying above the 45 degrees line (watch this video by Andy Kriebel to learn how to create a 45 degree reference line in Tableau) meaning that a big mac in Austria is relatively cheap compared to its ingredients. In Turkey on the other hand, a big mac is relatively expensive, the dots are lying below the 45 degrees line.

In the fourth section I created something actionable for the user of my dashboard. A Big Mac might not be everyone’s favorite, so here it is possible to change the recipe in the parameter section. The scatter plot is showing directly how weighted ingredients indices based on these ‘personal recipes’ compare to the Big Mac index.

My Tips for future #IronViz participants

My co-contestant Sarah Bartlett already shared some tips in her great blogpost, where she is also referring to blogposts by previous IronViz winners and contestants.

So I want to share only a few more tips in addition:

1. Tableau Prep is your friend

If you will be allowed to use Tableau Prep, use it as much as you can and do calculations, joins etc. beforehand. I only had to bring in a single .hyper-File to be ready to viz.

2. Don’t worry too much about the time constraint

I think by extending the time to prepare from four days to four weeks, the time constraint becomes less important. I almost didn’t care about the time constraint when I was creating my viz and working on my story. You will be surprised how much you can click together in 20 minutes when you have time to practice. I even haven’t used all of the tips Daniel shared in his blogpost on his IronViz experience.

3. Enjoy the conference

I really enjoyed the conference. Attending all keynote sessions helped me to get used to the stage and the big hall. I went to other sessions too, met a lot of people from the Tableau community, had fun watching England winning a penalty shootout [sic!] and at Data Night Out.

4. Hang out with your Co-Contestants

It was great to spend time with Daniel and Sarah at the conference. We also had a twitter chat before the conference where we shared tips and tricks, links etc. and both would have been worthy winners with their fantastic vizzes.


Thank You!

As I said before: this was a fantastic experience and thanks again to all the people that made IronViz happen for me:

  • Eva and Andy from #makeovermonday who helped me to develop and grow my Tableau skills,
  • Florian and Jonni from Tableau Public for running and organizing the contest,
  • Louis and Jade for hosting the show and making fun of my brothers and me,
  • Sarah and Daniel for sharing this experience with me and
  • the whole Tableau community for being so open and welcoming!