The Chart Gallery 1/17: An interview with Zach Bowders

Posted by Maddie Hall on 1/16/20 2:29 PM

In collection, insights, Newsletter, The Chart Gallery, interview

Welcome to a special edition of The Chart Gallery! Every Friday we're highlighting members of the data viz community, their favorite projects and sources for inspiration. Today we're excited to introduce another Tableau superstar...

Zach Bowders!



Q & A

What do you want us to know about you?

I’ve been in Data Analysis for about 5 years, sliding in from an IT career as a Dev and BA.

In many ways, it’s the inevitable conclusion of a lot of my passions and interests. I have degrees in MIS and Marketing as well as an MBA, so data visualization is an excellent hybrid of these. Likewise, Freakonomics opened my eyes to exposing the hidden/unexpected sides of stories through data, while comic books showed me how to tell sequential stories via color, shape, and iconography.

What makes you passionate about data viz?

I’ve always wanted to be an artist, perpetually doodling during class, meetings, and downtime, but data has given me a new set of tools. Data is my ink, and Tableau is my canvas.

How long have you been creating visuals?

 I’ve been making data viz for approaching 4 years. In the last two and a half year I’ve begun creating public work, over 105 vizzes to date.74cb75bab2243992e98fab5156007185827084cf97936f24c0c66a651388df90

Recently I’ve become a lot more invested in getting to know the stories BEHIND the vizzes, so I’ve launched the podcast and blog Data + Love where I have casual, low format, conversations with data visualization professionals about how their passions and data intersect in their public work.



Zach's Creations


I was really inspired after reading Blake J. Harris’ book Console Wars and wanted to visualize the home video game marketplace over time.

What were some pain points in creating the graphics?

Everything I make is in Tableau, and I’m very comfortable with the tool, so that’s rarely the hardest part of putting together a new viz. Likewise, finding the dataset wasn’t hard, there was some really nice game sale data on Kaggle.

The challenge with this was finding the chart type I wanted to use and then actually executing it. I needed to demonstrate the changes over time in game sales and have a unique, eye catching visual that shows both the expansion and contraction of the overall market while still allowing the individual console manufacturers to represented uniquely as they enter (or exit) the marketplace.

I chose the Stream Graph because it’s an exotic chart type that draws the eye, but still accomplishes the same functionality you’d want from an Area Chart. It took me, legitimately, about 10 tries to get the chart to generate. You’re stepping through multiple levels of trigonometric manipulation to get the pretty “flow” appearance. In the end, it was definitely worth it, the viz really benefits from a unique chart that then draws the reader in to read the rest of the story.





I was recently listening to the Audible Original “It Burns” about chili heads, the hot pepper chasing enthusiasts. I knew there was a visual in there somewhere to lend some context to the relative heat of some of the common peppers people encounter like Jalapeño compared to the absurdly spicy Carolina Reaper.


What were some pain points in creating the graphics?

I’m not very comfortable with curved data, there’s a lot of Trigonometry involved, so any time I’m entering that arena it’s a more time consuming proposition than if I were working with more conventional chart types. In this case, the chart type chosen can potentially be deceptive. The half-circle portion of each line is irrelevant to the overall score, the only part that’s actually measuring Scoville heat is the straight line portion.

But when creating an infographic VS a actionable dataviz you sometimes make design sacrifices to get the initial eyes-on, only to sell the data story afterwards. There are clearer ways of communicating this, but this is so much more fun.

Happy Birthday


Happy Birthday


The data is based on birth statistics I found on Kaggle. At first I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to take the viz in, but I knew I wanted to make something beautiful and legible to a total lay-person.

I know my wife is very into lovely invitations to birthdays, showers, weddings, so I built the viz around the idea of a birth announcement. The colors are soft and blend well together, and the icons in the upper corners change relative to the total birth populations of the names entered, creating unique combinations for every two names compared. You can even change the header from “Happy Birthday” to anything you like, giving th
e ability to use this as an ACTUAL invitation.

The best vizzes are often ones people can find themselves in, so I embraced that idea. Literally. People can enter their name and gender and see the relative popularity of their name over time with the peak year being called out. The ability to compare that name against another adds additional context and fun. I wanted to make sure to incorporate gender as well, so that common unisex names like Jesse can be compared across gender.

I showed Tiffany and she spend a good 45 minutes playing with it on her ipad. That, to me, makes this my best viz.

The one thing that bums me a little but will be revisited later is not being able to animate it automatically. Tableau is beta-testing animations (or animated transitions) and should be available for public use sometime this year; the animations on this viz would be more complex due to using parameters (it will be fun to try once it MakeOverMonday becomes available for public use).


Hope for Alice


This viz is clearly an homage to Banksy’s “There is Always Hope”, which was originally painted on the Waterloo Bridge in London.

Many might argue this is the least “Dataviz” of anything in my portfolio since it leans so heavily on graphics. The viz elements that ARE on there (the barcode, the balloon string,the bleeding heart) are all interactive and lend greater context to the overall story.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This was part of #ProjectHealthViz, a public health data project started by Lindsay Betzendahl. In this particular month the data was related to the healthcare costs for Baby Alice. Alice, the daughter of my friend Rodrigo, sustained a severe traumatic brain injury when she was 6 months old, and has spent years on the long journey to recovery.

I wanted to make a tribute to the bravery of Alice and her family, and Rodrigo telling me how much he loved it meant everything in the world to me.


Inception is one of my favorite films, but it has a notoriously complex plot with dreams within dreams. I wanted to make a single infographic viz that could walk someone through the plot of the movie.

This is mapped with Cartesian coordinates (x,y point mapping) that I drew out in a rough design on paper and then attacked in Excel and Tableau.

The hardest part of this viz was actually making sure I understood the full structure of the Fischer Job being performed in the film. Beyond that it’s a design piece and was a huge amount of fun to create.


Zach's Favorite Visualizations on the Web
Eight Years & Six Months

Eight Years & Six Months - Kimly Scott

This wonderful piece is by Kimly Scott. It’s the single most classy, amazing, beautiful example of a resignation I’ve ever seen

She encapsulates the people and memories she had within the fractals of the flower petals, and the timeline of her work journey is described in the stem and leaves.

This belongs in a museum.


Companion Planting Wheel

Companion Planting Web - Will Strouse

Will Strouse created this amazing farmers almanac inspired chord chart in his own efforts to efficiently plant crops on his home farm.

It’s both a masterpiece of design and functionality. Hover over any particular crop and it’ll show the plants best to plant with and well as ones to avoid. He put a meticulous amount of research into the science behind this and then hit it out of the park with an eye catching design that makes you WANT to use it.



Jeni's Quick Facts - Bridget WInds Cogley

Tableau Zen Master Bridget Cogley created this viz in honor of her favorite ice cream shop. It’s interactive and blends organically into the wall as if it were actually painted on it.

I love the creativity and passion that went into this, it could easily be the default image on the Jeni’s web site. The data itself isn’t incredibly complex, and that’s one of the wonderful things about this.

Something doesn’t need to be difficult to be well executed and beautiful.


Population Animation

Population Distribution by Age Group - Sean Miller

On its surface it may look mundane and the title isn’t going to draw a ton of attention. Sean Miller really elevated this #MakeoverMonday dataset by very strategic use of animation.

If you download this workbook and press play, you can see the US population shift in waves across the page as generations shift through the age brackets.

It’s brilliant! The ebb and flow of humanity comes to life and you can see the size variances in the different generations as they flow across the page.


Sorry Sweetie

Sorry Sweetie - Ivett Kovács

Ivett Kovács made this masterpiece of design showing the rates at which college art departments hire women. It’s beautiful and that only serves to contrast with how sad it is. At best we see 40% female professors and we see some with none at all.

The gradient technique she used is attractive and eye catching and the parts-to-a-whole method of a circle within a circle isn’t something you’ll find in the Big Book of Dashboards, but it’s perfect for a social art piece.

Check out Zach's Grafiti Collection! 

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That's all for today's edition of The Chart Gallery.

These charts and more are all available at Grafiti - the search engine for charts, graphs & data!

Email us at with any questions, feedback and especially more charts.
Have a great week!
- The Grafiti Team