How Visualizing Data Helped One Boy ‘See the Connections’

Rob and Ben Radburn.

With some help from his dad, 9-year-old Ben Radburn visualized the most thrilling roller coasters around the world.

The dashboard, which includes a filter for the "drop(est!)” rides, is both impressive and endearing. But it’s only half the story.

A Little Help from ‘Data Chauffeur’ Dad

Ben was assigned what his dad calls a “boring piece of homework”: gather some facts about roller coasters and organize the information in a table. Ben found a flat file of roller coaster data, which he combed to cherrypick random facts as he came across them.

“He was going to put it all into a table, maybe in Word,” says Ben’s dad, Rob Radburn. “And I said to him, ‘That’s a little bit dull, so why don’t we do something in Tableau?”’

Rob, a self-described “data chauffeur,” helped Ben paste the entire data set into Excel and visualize it in Tableau.

Rob had a heavy hand in creating the viz, but he followed Ben’s directions on data and design choices. It was Ben’s idea to add a map and to use what he describes as “a variety of different colors.”

“I certainly wouldn’t use Comic Sans or those colors in my work,” Rob says half-jokingly. “I suggested doing it another way, using a slope chart. And I realized I was taking over.”

‘He Began to Instinctively See the Connections’

When the viz came together, an amazing thing happened with Ben: “He began to instinctively see the connections; ‘that one’s second fastest, that one’s fourth,’” Rob says.

Ben, at the mere age of 9, was using the dashboard to ask and answer questions of his data.

“Before, he was picking up random facts,” says Rob. “Having all the data there, he was able to find connections between roller coasters.”

And doing so helped Ben find the answer to this question: which is his favorite on the list?

“There was one called Kingda Ka, and it was really fast and really high,” says Ben. “I like the fast ones.”

Rob hopes the project gave Ben a glimpse into the boundless potential of data.

“I just think it really is great to work on a piece together. And I think it’s really great that it shows him how data works, how Tableau works. They’re things that might be ubiquitous in 10 years,” he says.

Plus, says Rob, Ben’s viz has already gotten more views than Rob’s last Iron Viz entry.

"I'm getting him to enter the next Iron Viz to get me to Vegas," Rob says.

Check out Rob Radburn's data visualizations on his Tableau Public page and on his blog, Adventures in Viz.

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