Data science duo use comedy to win local data storytelling competition

Ms Goh Pei Wing (left) and Ms Jamie Soo won the first prize in the XDS Data Storytelling competition that took place on Nov 14, 2019.
Ms Goh Pei Wing (left) and Ms Jamie Soo won the first prize in the Experimental Data Science (XDS) Data Storytelling competition that took place on Nov 14, 2019.PHOTO: SYNTHESIS

SINGAPORE - A pair of data scientists earned the top prize at a local data storytelling competition for their clever use of Singaporean humour to tell the story of two singletons navigating the tricky world of dating here.

Ms Goh Wei Ping, 32, a data analyst at Shopee and Ms Jamie Soo, 29, a data scientist now running a startup, walked away with the $500 prize money at the Experimental Data Science (XDS) Data Storytelling Challenge last Wednesday (Nov 13).

Members of the local data visualisation community were asked to submit projects for the month-long data storytelling competition in October.

The theme was on love, and in total, 19 projects were submitted.

The winning duo said they are both from the technical side of data science, and their day-to-day work rarely involves storytelling and illustration.

After experimenting with data from Spotify and searching for articles from The Straits Times on love, they decided to create something "digestible and punchy" that could serve as a “social commentary for parental and societal expectations”, Ms Soo added.

With the help of comics, they told the story of 28-year-old Sean, who is under pressure from his parents to get married, and 25-year-old Grace, who had just broken up with her boyfriend. Both are depicted navigating their personal lives while looking at statistics on marriage, fertility and male-to-female ratios among singles.

Ms Goh said that they initially did not plan to use this format. She first began sketching the idea out using stick men, but went on to develop it further, with much success.

The competition ran from Oct 31 to Nov 9, culminating in a prize-giving ceremony and showcase on Nov 13.

Attendees at the prize giving ceremony view the winning work by Goh Wei Ping and Jamie Soo, entitled “The single files of Sean & Grace” on Nov 14, 2019.
Attendees at the prize giving ceremony viewing the winning work by Ms Goh Wei Ping and Ms Jamie Soo, titled “The single files of Sean & Grace” on Nov 14, 2019. PHOTO: SYNTHESIS


Team Visters, which was short for "visualisation sisters", won second place for their data storytelling piece that weaved statistics on inter-ethnic marriages into a seamless, easy-to-read narrative. 

The team comprised ST developer Sujin Lee, freelance graphic designer Yoonji Ha and Ms Bessa Nicoletta, a former ST data journalism intern. 

They used a commonly used storytelling device, called “scrolly-telling”, to help convey some of the more complicated data elements in a simple way that was also easy for those reading on a mobile device.

The most interesting take on the data was the use of bubbles to represent marriages, divided in half depending on the race of the pairing, said Mr Chi-loong Chan from local data visualisation firm VslashR, who was one of the judges of the competition.

A screenshot of the data visualisation that won second place at the XDS data storytelling competition.
Team Visters won second place for their data storytelling piece that weaved statistics on inter-ethnic marriages into a seamless, easy-to-read narrative. PHOTO: BESSA NICOLETTA, SUJIN LEE, YOONJI HA

Local media startup Kontinentalist came in third, thanks to their interesting take on Singaporeans' love for queueing.

The team - comprising Ms Joceline Kuswanto, 27,  Ms Isabella Chua, 25 , and Ms Siti Aishah, 26 - analysed all the ST articles with the word "queueing" using the application programming interface (API) exclusively for registrants of the competition.

Their project was littered with hilarious data gems, including how those in Generation X were often reported queueing at the Registry of Marriages and how millennials often queue for bubble tea.

They also found that food was the most common reason that attracted queues.

The illustration used to represent queuing in the third prize submission from Kontinentalist.
One of the illustrations created by Kontinentalist's team for their third-prize winning submission. PHOTO: KONTINENTALIST

Organised by Synthesis, the competition's aim was to encourage data scientists and data visualisers to apply their skills to open and unstructured data in creative ways.

Ms Harriet Robertson, the founder of Synthesis, which specialises in human-centred data science, said: "This initiative built momentum across a series of events from an inspirational panel discussion, to a technical workshop to the competition itself."

Harriet Robertson, organiser of the event and founder of Synthesis, opens the prize giving ceremony on Nov 14, 2019.
Ms Harriet Robertson, organiser of the event and founder of Synthesis, speaks at the XDS Data Storytelling Challenge prize giving ceremony on Nov 14, 2019. PHOTO: SYNTHESIS

"The quality and creativity of the entrants blew us away with their humorous and insightful perspectives on the way Singaporeans understand love," said Ms Robertson, who was on the judging panel.

Singapore University of Technology and Design assistant professor Ate Poorthuis, who was also one of the judges, said of the winning entry: “It showed a wonderful combination of simple charts, comics and humour. I appreciate the eye for detail in this work including the well-chosen emojis, and especially the chart annotations."

The other judges were Mr Simon Scarr from Reuters, Ms Rebecca Pazos from The Straits Times and Mr Vipin Pal Singh from dating app Paktor.


The competition was part of a series of events hosted by Experimental Data Science, a group started by Synthesis to bring those interested in applying their data skills creatively to open source data and real world challenges.

Local groups Hacks/Hackers Singapore and Data Viz Singapore also collaborated with Ms Robertson and her team to spread the word among the community, while ST and Paktor were event partners.

Would you like to know about future data visualisation events in Singapore? Sign up to join any of the meet-up groups: Experimental Data Science, Hacks/Hackers Singapore, and Data Viz Singapore.