The 2015 SF Count

The purpose of doing the SF count is to draw attention to the lack of inclusivity in SF book reviews. It's been running since 2010, but this is the first time I've been involved, and I wanted to design something that was simple, engaging and easy to share.

These days, the simplest way to do that is to put the critical information in gifs. They look great on any device, they play automatically, people love to share them, and they loop over and over and over until at least some of the information is taken in!


However, for those who were interested in knowing more, I also wanted to create something that let them explore the data in a guided way. Tableau was perfect for this, as I could publish the dashboards on the Tableau Public site, and Strange Horizons (or anyone else) could embed them on their site with all the interactivity retained.

How I did it

In animation and Tableau dashboards, you can create virtually any view of data you want to, and it's easy to get lost in the desert of 'what about this? what about this...?' It's important to figure out the story you want to tell first, to guide you and keep you focused.

The critical questions I wanted to answer were: what does the data show in 2015? how has it changed since last year? how has it changed over time? and how do I satisfy the few users who will want to see the granular detail of the data? Lastly, my client (Niall Harrison, Strange Horizons editor) was rightly concerned to put the results in the context of the size of each venue. Some venues review 300+ books a year, and some less than 30. A percentage change in these different venues has a vastly different impact on the overall market.

I always advise clients to design their visualisations with the audience in mind, and in this case Niall was not only the client but also my first audience. He had a lot of questions and feedback during the design process that helped shape the output and make sure the story was complete and understandable by anyone who wasn't me! This kind of role is necessary in visualisation design to minimise the assumptions you make about what is on the page vs. in your head.

Pictoline inspired the animations. They do a great job of explaining news issues in simple bold graphics. I built the gifs in Illustrator and animated them with After Effects. After Effects doesn't output to gif format, so I got around that by opening the .mov files in Photoshop, and exporting them as gifs.

The Tableau's online community is brilliant. It has so many enthusiastic analysts sharing their tips, I couldn't have done it without them. The main posts I used to help me build the dashboards were:

Slope charts
Filtering with Parameters
Small Multiples
One Parameter, Multiple Formats
Hover for Instructions

I also used the free tool Chroma.js to put together a new diverging colour palette for the 2015 tree map, based on the bright green from the animations.

Explore the data for yourself below, or see the results in the Strange Horizons post.