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Directing Darwin - Iron Viz Feeder #2 2017

It’s been a while since I last posted, but i couldn’t say no to another shot at the Iron Viz competition! The second feeder of this year had a plant or animal theme. I really like having themes that are not centered around new functionality related to data sources. Specifically, the shapefile challenge last feeder was EXTREMELY difficult to find good data to utilize. Not to say that finding data this time was easy (data is always always the hardest thing in these competitions), but I was pleased to have such a broad topic to choose from.

1) Find the Data

I went through various ideas for this feeder including the below:

- Coral Reefs

- BP Oil Spill

- Mythical Creatures

- Deforestation

- Migration Patterns

- Darwin, Mendel, Pavlov

Eventually, I settled on a story that i had seen on an online video once before. One of the keys to winning an iron viz is the story. I know that the judging says that its only worth 25%, but in my opinion its closer to 70%. Reason being, when someone is interacting with your viz, they don’t want to have to figure out why they should pay attention. Just like a good book or movie, the story should grab you immediately so you CAN’T look away!

Taking the logic above into account, I chose the topic of the Russian Fox-Farm experiment. The 2 minute version is that during the late 50′s a Russian scientist started a study to determine if and how domestication could be influenced by selective breeding specifically tailored towards “tameness” traits. After 50 years the experiment had yielded almost completely domesticated animals which closely resembled dogs in personality and visual traits.

2) The Build

For the build I knew that I wanted to have a dashboard that was long and scrolling. Honestly, one of the main reasons for this was because I knew that I would have so much content that it would be incredibly hard to pack it into anything besides a 4000 pixel long dashboard! After some tinkering I figured that my dashboard would be split into two main pieces. The first section would be dedicated to explaining what domestication was and which animals were domesticated. The data around the fox experiment itself was fairly sparse and I felt that having more robust data to investigate would be great for background info and functionality

I wanted to keep the visuals very clean for this dashboard and kept the colors to 3 (yeah three colors) for the entirety of the dashboard. It’s the least amount of color variation i’ve used in a dashboard, but I tend to get lost in dashboards that have too much color and I really wanted to direct users’ attention to the most important pieces of the viz!

The middle of the dashboard is the most dynamic functionality-wise. It breaks down the taxonomy groups of animals who are either fully domesticated or semi-domesticated. The user has the ability to click into each portion of the treemap (sized by number of animals) and it will impact the full listing of animals (in timeline form) on the bottom left. This listing will change the picture displayed by hovering over the line. When you hover over the box to the right it will give you more information including why the animals were domesticated and where they come from.

The meat of the story comes from the Fox Timeline which has points running through the last 50 years of the experiment. The key point of design here was the double helix. This took me a little bit to determine how I was going to accomplish it, but in the end it wasn’t too bad!

The basic steps were:

1- Find png of double helix

2- Stack them together in powerpoint, save as image

3- Import as background image, annotate points, save coordinates in excel

4- Map points background shape

The timeline continues and gives various details about the fox farm experiment. I tried to vary between charts and visuals to keep the reader entertained without “mathing” them to death.

The final visually interactive piece of the dashboard is the diagrams of the foxes. Obviously, everyone interested in the story to this point wanted to see what the foxes looked like after domestication. I found some really great drawings online of what the foxes looked like before and after the study and it was stunning. You can really see the transformation into a dog-like fox! Originally, I thought about having traditional bubbles to annotate the visuals, but in the theme of keeping it simple, I kept the icons as simple shapes with tool tips that give further detail.

The final touch was a conclusion paragraph to wrap everything up! All and all, I feel really good about what I created and I hope its an interesting story that everyone can gain some insight from!

Best of luck Iron Viz competitors! (especially my wife who is competing for the first time in this feeder!!!)


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