The power of a word: Ludovic's IronViz "weather memories.."

A perhaps blasphemous confession: I wasn't all that excited to watch the Iron Viz at Tableau Conference. It was my first conference, so I was already overwhelmed. I'm not a big fan of watching sports or people playing video games. I hate timed-based performance and large crowds. Add in the fact that, due to a health illness, my diet was restricted to the granola bars I'd brought (New Orleans culinary arts fit pretty squarely on my "do not touch list"), and I was tired and a wee bit grumpy. I really just wanted to go back to my hotel and sleep before I had to face a crowd of 17,000 in the Superdome that night. 

But I'd really fallen in love with Ludovic's work over the last few months, and he seemed like such a genuine person online that I wanted to be there and cheer him on, if just in spirit. (Disclaimer: by no means am I trying to make a comparison to the other Iron Viz contestants - they did fantastic work and also seem like great people. I just had more interactions with Ludovic and his work). So, I found a few friends in a quiet spot in Data Village, and I watched the big screens. 

 I'll admit, as someone that is more passionate about design than technology, I wasn't nearly as excited about the coding work and the calculations, etc. But as I started to catch glimpses of what he was making, I started seeing a beautiful viz appear. I thought the color palette was gorgeously comforting. The typography brought a feel of humble intelligence, the use of circular imagery was an elegant way of drawing out the cyclical themes of the data, and the way he replicated the circular elements through smaller, horizontal snapshots on the left created a brilliantly conversational interpretive guide. The entire piece was shaping up to be exactly the level artistic genius I had come to expect from his work. 

Here's an image of his work, but you should go play with it on Tableau Public



Now, I would argue that there isn't a story in this data. We have places, and we have weather events, but unless we heavily personify wind or rain or heat, we're lacking any characters. Really, we only have the setting of a story.

But notice that title. That title changes everything. I immediately loved the choice of the word "memories", and I'd love to say that I intuitively caught on to what Ludovic was going for, but I'll be honest - the true brilliance of that title didn't hit me until he was presenting his work. 

Ludovic didn't find a story in the data - he brought the data to our stories. There is a filter that lets us pick which city is visualized - and his titled frames this up as a memory. He built a visualization that was all about sharing one of the most core pieces of our identity - where we're from. It was probably the most common ice-breaker question when I met someone new at the conference.  It's such an important characteristic, because it's the setting of our stories. It orients our listeners with an initial picture to understand our world.

Essentially, Ludovic built us a way to visualize the setting of our memories, and invited us to share those with other people. The conversation is in the subheader: "remembering, sharing, and comparing weather stories from 2017". This isn't a viz meant to enjoy in isolation, this is something that is supposed to drive us to share our stories. 

We are the characters in this story. 

Another confession: I think that the word "storytelling" is often abused, and sometimes the thing we call a story is really just a coherent, logical analysis and flow of information. We toss around the buzzword when there aren't actual characters that we can relate to, and there is no real conflict driving an emotional impact. 

But sometimes, perhaps, we aren't supposed to be telling a story from the data - sometimes, we are trying to bring data to our user's story. And what I learned from Ludovic is that sometimes our work isn't about telling a story - sometimes, our work is just helping others tell their story. 

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