Visualizing’s Answer to My Concerns with Marathons

As promised yesterday here is the answer I received from Visualizing after sending them a draft of my post. Given their answer and the whole bunch of controversial but constructive comments I received (check them out, they are full of insights) I am really glad to have started this. I have the feeling this can in a way help all of us, regardless our opinions, make the whole field at least a tiny bit better.


First, thanks very much for taking the time to share your feedback and for your thoughtful suggestions. We’re all committed to advancing the field of data visualization and healthy debate towards that goal is always useful.

The aim of the Visualizing Marathon program, which we started in 2010, is to encourage design students around the world to take up data visualization and generally to use design to help improve our collective understanding of complex world issues. The structure and format of the event is constantly evolving in support of this aim based on what is working and not working (we collect surveys from the students, for example) and so we’re most grateful for any and all feedback!

To your specific points:

1. Judging: All Marathons (and challenges) are judged based on three criteria, which we’ve previously shared on Visualizing:

  • Understanding: How effectively does the visualization communicate? How well does it help you make sense of this issue? (out of 10 points – we agree with you this is most important and that’s why it gets the most weight)
  • Originality: Are the approach and design innovative? (out of 5 points)
  • Style: Is the visualization aesthetically compelling? (out of 5 points)

Our global jury selected 1 Winner and 2 Honorable Mentions in each of the 5 cities. These are the top 15 projects based on these metrics.

Importantly, however, the Grand Prize was selected by us out of the top 15 based on a different metric: how well does the project help illuminate new insights to the complex problem the students were given (in this case, sustainable development). Because data visualization is not only a tool for communication but also a tool for exploration, we sought to highlight and amplify the latter with this particular prize. It’s why it comes with a $10,000 grant to support further research and education. We felt the winning project best delivered on this metric (the approach and analysis detailed in their accompanying essay is particularly noteworthy). And as we noted in the prize announcement, we hope very much that the students use the additional time and resources they have been granted to take the visualization further (including putting their 3D shape to work as outlined, and perhaps evolving a simpler overall design). Also, we’re sure they would enjoy hearing suggestions directly.

We have been exploring how we might incorporate a “People’s Choice” aspect into the program, though there are some potential complications with this format that we are trying to be mindful of.

2. Time: There is no question that time (usually) improves quality – and our Visualizing Challenges, for example, typically run 4-6 weeks based on that logic. With our Visualizing Events, like Visualizing Europe and the Visualizing Marathons, we want to create the space and opportunity for people to come together in a shared and collaborative environment where they can meet, learn from one another, and develop new partnerships/relationships. We hope that after each event, the conversation continues in a way that can push forward the field of data visualization. We know from direct feedback from students and their professors that there is a tremendous didactic, creative, and inspirational value in working together with 2-3 of your friends in a common space with other students for 24 hours towards a common goal (we are also mindful that there is a real limitation to the amount of time students can commit to an extra-curricular activity). As you rightly pointed out, there are high quality projects among the entries, so clearly it is possible to produce something of quality in the allotted time. We also believe that overall quality from students will improve year over year as the professional field and its accompanying science mature and codify what works. That said, we are in fact experimenting with time this year to help improve overall quality and welcome any suggestions.

3. Training: We agree that training is important. In the spirit of openness, we allow students of all levels and disciplines to participate in the Marathons and learn by doing. As you mentioned, data visualization has become mainstream only recently, especially in some of the cities where the marathons have taken place. To provide greater training before the Marathon, this year we just have started providing registered students with various resources and helpful links (including this one) well in advance to encourage them to learn more about data visualization. And since the beginning of the program, we have been running data visualization lectures and workshops hosted by design professionals during the Marathons to teach best practices (based on feedback, we recently moved these lectures and workshops to the start of the marathon program so lessons can be incorporated from the outset).

Again, thanks Enrico for all your support. As we are ever committed to developing the best possible Marathon program, we’re very much open to ideas.

The Visualizing team

Thanks Visualizing for accepting openly my criticism. I think this is simply great!


2 thoughts on “Visualizing’s Answer to My Concerns with Marathons

  1. Pingback: How Do We Achieve the Right “E-Cube-Librium” in Visualization Marathons? — Fell in Love with Data

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