The Art of Data Visualization


Monday through Friday, Nicole Klassen and Oana Tudorancea work on Emory’s Institutional Research and Decision Support team as senior decision-support analysts. On the weekends and after hours during the week, they work on data-visualization projects for fun, for competitions, and for the common good.

Data visualization involves bringing data to life visually and contextually. Through Tableau, an interactive data-visualization software, users can connect to almost any dataset and create visualizations, which make it easier and faster for people to explore and gain insights into their data.

In their work at Emory, Klassen and Tudorancea support the Offices of the President and Provost with data visualizations related to topics such as student enrollment. Though the information could be presented through a spreadsheet, according to Tudorancea, sharing a data visualization makes a faster, more powerful impact. “Data visualizations aren’t static,” Klassen added. “Users can engage with the information by filtering, hovering, or clicking through.”

With the Tableau platform supporting various “vizzes,” or visualizations, and the wider Tableau user community ever ready to share information and assist fellow members, users’ creativity stands as the only limitation.

Klassen and Tudorancea have partnered up in their spare time to create visualizations both whimsical and serious to enter in competition. The Dolly Parton Storybook explores the beloved icon’s cultural influence through her life, music, television appearances, writing, and charities. The process of creating this and other data visualizations begins with gathering research on the topic, collecting the data, and choosing how it will be visualized.

This summer, the Dolly Parton Storybook won three categories in the Atlanta Tableau User Group Iron Viz competition: best storytelling, best design, and best overall.

In data visualization, each graph or chart tells its own story. “Sometimes it’s as simple as a line graph showing enrollment over the past five years,” says Klassen. “Sometimes it’s more intricate.”

Enter Klassen and Tudorancea’s visualization A Woman’s Right to Lead, which recently took third place in the international Women in Analytics 2021 Data Viz competition. Pulling data from the United Nations and the Council on Foreign Affairs, the visualization lays out the facts to make a powerful argument: More women in government promises greater support for policy agendas that will strengthen and support bipartisanship, equality, and stability. “We put together an argument for why increasing women in government is important to everyone,” explains Klassen, “with [a call to action in our conclusion] that lets people help support the cause."

Up next for Klassen and Tudorancea? A new project about how climate change disproportionately affects women.