The Alphabet Project

D is for Dinosaurs


When we began planning for the Alphabet Project, Adam and I decided that we would each pick alternate topics. I knew I wanted to pick Beer, so Adam went first with Artists. I won’t lie to you, some of the choices were limited (X is for…??), but my first two were easy selections. I came up with a shortlist anyway, but the list went a little like this:

  • Dinosaurs
  • Diplodocus
  • Dinosaur history
  • Dogs??
  • Dinosaurs in film
  • Dinosaurs in tv

So it was an obvious choice. And why? Because dinosaurs are cool. End of.

Collecting the data

I knew what sort of data I wanted to get for this topic, but I couldn’t easily find a dataset with everything I wanted. So, rather than spend hours trying to stitch together datasets from various sources, I set about gathering it myself. A smarter person than I would have used Alteryx to scrape the data, but I was quite content copying it manually while sitting in front of the telly.

As I was collecting the data, I kept thinking of my favourite viz…Endangered Safari by RJ Andrews. This viz was one of the featured vizzes when I first got my hands on Tableau and it’s been a favourite of mine ever since.

My Viz

I wondered what it would look like with dinosaurs rather than endangered animals, so I started to come up with ways we could visualise the differences. First off, I put every dinosaur onto the canvas and sorted them alphabetically. Size was an obvious mark type to use so I popped length onto size and the viz started to take shape.

I then downloaded images of the different types of dinosaur and used PowerPoint to create png files for each with transparent backgrounds.

Top tip: PowerPoint is a brilliant tool for creating and editing images if you don’t have anything fancy and only want to make minor (or very manual) changes

I began playing around with colour and tried using it to indicate diet. I wasn’t very keen on the look of the three colours, so I tried period on colour and was much happier. But that left me stumped as to how to visualise diet.

It was time to go back to the drawing board, or in this case, the inspiration.

Looking back at the viz, I remembered that RJ Andrews used the direction that the animals were facing to indicate population growth or decline. I wondered if I could do something similar with diet, even though there were three categories. I started playing about with the images (again, in PowerPoint) and came up with facing forward, facing backward or looking over their shoulder to represent the three diet types.

I built a map to show where remains had been found, created a few extra sheets to use in the tooltips and a few small tweaks later, the viz was complete!

D is for Dinosaur – a viz to show details of 288 dinosaurs that have been discovered around the world

What’s next? 

Next week we’re onto letter E and it’s Adam’s choice again. Make sure you check his blog and viz next week!

And if you can’t wait until then, do check out his past #AlphabetProject vizzes on Tableau Public.

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