Nael Shiab

Country/area: Canada

Organisation: Radio-Canada

Organisation size: Big

Cover letter:

At the beginning of 2020, I set myself a new goal for the coming months: to create interactive 3D dataviz projects. And you’ll find in this portfolio the projects I’ve been able to publish while exploring this new way of explaining complex topics to the readers.

I started my career as a TV reporter in 2011, but after a few years, I decided to learn how to code. I wanted to apply a more scientific approach to my journalistic work. I first learned how to use Python for data analysis in 2015. After several stories, I realized that I needed to visualize my data to explain it more efficiently to the readers. So I learned javascript as well, in 2016.

After a few years of 2D dataviz, often animated in scrolly telling templates, I wanted to push further my data visualization skills. And I thought 3D representations could help me to create more immersive experiences for the readers.

I learned how to use the ThreeJS library at the beginning of 2020. It was challenging since I wasn’t able to find many examples of 3D representations of data, even less journalistic ones! But I persevered.

In the end, I am quite proud of the projects I was able to create. I think sometimes 3D interactive dataviz could help explain complex topics to the general public in a more interesting way. Not always, of course. But the 3D scenes have an extraordinary potential for immersive experiences and I hope more journalists will use them in the future.

From a technical perspective, ThreeJS uses WebGL technology which makes the dataviz very efficient, even on mobile phones. I suggest you try the projects presented here on both desktop screens and mobile phone screens. Since half our readership now uses a mobile phone to read our stories, I always work hard to optimize my projects for big and wide screens as for narrow and small ones.

Now that I know how to code 3D scenes, I plan on applying my new skills to explore AR and VR interactive dataviz projects in 2021. The digital world evolves quickly and we have to keep on learning and exploring new forms of journalism.

I hope you’ll find the projects in this portfolio interesting. Thank you for your consideration.

Description of portfolio:

This portfolio includes four interactive 3D dataviz projects. I conceptualized the experiences, gathered and analyzed the data, and coded the projects. I am helped by a designer to improve the look and feel of the experience.

I start my projects with a React.js custom template I coded. This template keeps the visualization visible at all times. With this template, I can trigger javascript functions when the user scrolls or clicks on a button. For mobile phones, my template can use the swipe gesture, which is more natural for touch screens. I used ThreeJS to create the 3D scenes and to animate them. Behind the hood, it’s using the WebGL technology. There are some D3 functions in the mix as well. Most of the time, I code Node.js scrappers to compile the data needed for my projects and Python scripts to analyze it.

All of these projects are optimized for both desktop screens and mobile phone screens. It’s very important for me that all readers have a complete and satisfying experience, whether they use a computer or a cellphone.

1) Two parts of a pandemic: How the coronavirus spread in Canada / December 16, 2020

For the end of 2020, I wanted to publish a geographical analysis on how the COVID-19 pandemic stuck the country. But in Canada, some health regions are very big and others are very small. So I decided to create a 3D data visualization of the country in which spikes coming from the health regions would represent the data. With this approach, the readers would be able to recognize the country areas while being able to see and understand the data.

2) The Economic Impact of COVID-19 in Canada / July 16, 2020

In this project, I coded myself, 4 economic experts, and 5 economic indicators in 3D. The idea was to invite the readers to explore with me the economic impact of the COVID 19 pandemic in Canada. Since economic numbers could be boring for the general public, I decided to create a video game-like experience to inform and entertain the readers at the same time.

3) Who has died from COVID-19 in Canada? / June 8, 2020

During the COVID pandemic in Canada last year, the general public heard every day about the number of people who died. But how old were they? Where did they live? I felt that we should publish a story to give the public a more precise idea of who died because of this coronavirus. I decided to create an interactive 3D dataviz in which each death is gravitating particle.

4) Quebec’s budget explained with Lego blocks // March 11, 2020

What better way to understand a government’s budget than with construction blocks? In this 3D dataviz, each block represents 5 million dollars. Governments’ budgets could be boring for the general public, but they are very important from a democratic perspective. With this project, I tried to transform a dry topic into an interesting and colorful experience.

In conclusion

These projects are among our most-read stories of 2020. The public enjoyed a lot these interactive and immersive experiences. They asked us to do more of them and I plan to continue to explore this way of doing data journalism in 2021!

Thank you for your consideration.

Project links: