What is Tableau’s Iron Viz?

people in the audience, cheering

The crowd during Iron Viz. The competition is held on the keynote stage at Tableau Conference.

Iron Viz is the world’s largest data visualisation competition. Three worthy contestants take centre stage in front of a global audience and have 20 minutes to deliver a compelling and awe-inspiring story using the same data set. How do they get there? Who decides the winner? Read on. 

How it began

Based on the world-renowned Iron Chef cooking show, Iron Viz started as a Tableau Conference 2011 breakout session with a mere 300 people in attendance. Eleven years later, it has become a highly anticipated world-class keynote event.

Who can participate in Iron Viz?

People of all skill levels can be a part of Iron Viz. From entering the qualifier to providing participant feedback to being a spectator, it’s for all data enthusiasts worldwide. And you are guaranteed to gain new skills and inspiration throughout the process.

Iron Viz 2022 qualifier vizzes

The top ten Iron Viz qualifier entries from 2022. Explore the visualisations here

Global qualifier contest

The three finalists are selected from a global qualifier competition. Each qualifier is centred around a different theme, and contestants are required to source their own data. The topics are intentionally broad and open to interpretation. Previous feeder topics include art, sports, environmental subjects and music. In the beginning, there were three qualifiers held per year, with one winner selected from each proceeding to the finals. Now there is one global qualifier per year, with the top three highest-scoring entries gaining the chance to reign supreme. The criteria in which our judges narrow down the best of the best include: 

  • Design – How appropriate is the design for the story being told?
  • Storytelling – Is there a clear story being told or a question being explored, and is there appropriate context?
  • Analysis – How sophisticated and appropriate is the data that is being used for the story?

Data sets and themes

The championship data sets have covered a range of topics, from weather to cinema to food-focused themes. The data sets are complex, consisting of millions of rows along with countless ways to analyse and tell a story with them. The three contenders are given the data sets ahead of time, allowing them to practice their build before the live event. The amount of skill needed to extract the meaning behind these complex data points goes beyond masterful, as the types of visualisations built under these nail-biting conditions are not only mind-blowing but provide a learning opportunity for everyone involved. 

Sous vizzers

The Iron Viz contestants are not alone in their journey. Each has a personal sous vizzer – not unlike a sous chef – to support them in the weeks leading up to the main event and when they take the stage. Sous vizzers are Tableau employees hand-selected based on their expert data visualisation skills, attention to detail and location relative to the finalists. They provide feedback and guidance on best practices, design and storytelling. They also share how-to resources, troubleshooting tips and encouragement. Sous vizzers are the contenders’ fiercest cheerleader, championing them until the final vote is cast.

Where contenders build and showcase their data stories

Iron Viz dashboards are powered by Tableau Public. Tableau Public launched in 2010 with the purpose of making data social and to ignite a new movement on the web. It was a bold new effort to offer a free online platform that anyone could use to explore, create and publicly share data visualisations, and drive compelling conversations around data – making data online fun, useful and beautiful. Twelve years later, Tableau Public is the backbone of Iron Viz. Its 1.5+ million authors are continuing that revolution of democratising data and changing the way people see and understand data globally, one gorgeous visualisation at a time.

Who decides the winner?

When the finalists take the keynote stage, the formidable contenders need to impress a global audience as well as a world-class panel of visualisation-savvy leaders composed of two Tableau employees and the previous year’s Iron Viz champion. The judging is again based on three criteria: design, analysis and storytelling. The judges' score makes up 90% of each contestant's total score, while the audience weighs in with the remaining 10% of the votes.

What is the reward for winning Iron Viz?

Anyone who enters Iron Viz gets the chance to build their Tableau Public portfolio, learn something new, get inspired and take their data skills to the next level. The finalists are recognised on a global stage and earn the humble-bragging rights that come with qualifying for the world’s largest data visualisation contest. The winner receives a $10,000 cash prize and $5,000 towards a non-profit of their choice. If you ask us, everyone that participates – including the audience – wins. Trust us when we tell you it is something you must see to truly understand. 

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