11 Replies Latest reply on Jul 6, 2016 6:58 PM by Jonathan Drummey

    Common gripes/ wishlist



      There are a number of things that regularly cause me grief with Tableau, so I'm keen to understand whether there's scope for them to be changed/added:


      - Format lines to dashes

      - Preventing excel corruption when saving a file with out using the legacy connection workaround - could Tableau use a temporary copy to avoid the clash?

      - Filtering a blended data set

      - Quick table calculations on calculated fields


      Are there any formal views on why some of these can't be implemented?

      Often in the forums and kb articles, I just read 'Tableau can't do that' without an explanation of why



        • 1. Re: Common gripes/ wishlist
          Simon Runc

          hi Giles,


          Of course there are always limitations with any software...however, my general feeling, in Tableau's case is that they 'really' think about the long term. They have resisted the temptation to add requested features on demand, in order to keep the software consistent and simple. LoDs are a great example, this was a request that was there for many years, and they could have chosen to 'fudge' in a quick fix....instead they spent time really understanding the 'bigger' (overriding) problem (as opposed to individual use-cases), and came up with a solution that was so clever and flexible, we are still only just starting to understand their potential.


          ..Pre-Tableau I used a, little known, Viz tool which will remain nameless!! When I first used it, 8-9 years ago it was very good (for its time). However they would add features, on request, willy-nilly. Initially this was fine. We had a network chart type, which would link to FB and give you some cool views, want Line/Bar mixed chart, 'we have a button for that'!...etc.


          Last year I had do go and train this software to a customer who had recently bought a copy (we are still, in theory, official trainers). I hadn't used it for a year or 2, so was quite looking forward to having a bit of 'reminisce' of my old friend!!...It had become almost unusable (& even harder to train!), it had so many options (a button for line/bar [one for lines on Axis 1, and another for Bars on Axis one], another for line/circle, another to turn pie's into donut...etc). Basically each of the, now 20, chart types was like a separate piece if software, nothing was in the same place (even the chart formatting was in different drop-downs depending what chart-type you were in). It's very hard to maintain consistency/vision with so many bespoke options...and despite these 100s of options, you were actually very restricted in what you could do. Due to the amount of 'bespoke' options, the software had to take control, and so many of the charts were (semi) pre-formatted (which was great for the requester, for that problem, but useless for anyone else...

          • Their aim; to create a 'layman' viz tool, where you'd click an option to get they chart you want.
          • The result; an inconsistent, restrictive tool that you'd need an encyclopedic memory to use.


          So Although Tableau keeps its features/rules simple and consistent, the genius of the software (IMHO) is that it encourages people to use these simple rules in creative ways to create visualisations, that you wouldn't have thought are possible

          here are a few of my faves

          DIY Chord Diagrams in Tableau – by Noah Salvaterra – DataBlick

          Time to Get Hopping with Jump Plot by Chris DeMartini and Tom VanBuskirk – DataBlick

          Day-night map with twilight and marks

          Creating Coxcomb Charts in Tableau « Bora Beran


          OK Rant over!


          - Format lines to dashes

          I've seen a few ways to do this...but love Bora's one Quick tip : Creating your own dashed line styles in Tableau « Bora Beran


          - Preventing excel corruption when saving a file with out using the legacy connection workaround - could Tableau use a temporary copy to avoid the clash?

          Not sure on this, as I've not experienced it


          - Filtering a blended data set

          There are some limited ways now, but as of Tableau 10 (released very soon) we can apply quick-filters across multiple datasources (and can join/union disparate datasouces...so could join a .csv to and Excel and SQL view)


          - Quick table calculations on calculated fields

          Isn't this what this does?

          also coming in Tableau 10, is an awesome new Table Calculation dialogue...which makes Table Calculations a piece of cake (it really is very very cool...and another example of taking their time, and getting the solution just right)


          Hope that helps

          • 2. Re: Common gripes/ wishlist

            Thanks for your reply Simon

            I agree that taking the longer term view is prudent


            For something like dotted lines though, I don't yet see what the long term detrimental impact would be from a minor, but highly useful formatting addition?

            There are often workarounds, but they're clunky, take much longer and may not work well.

            I'm just intrigued what the reasons might be for not adding this option?

            A dotted line may though involve many more challenges than I understand in my ignorance?


            Re the quick table calcs, that doesn't seem to work for calculated fields.

            I guess the routing for applying the same process to calculated fields is trickier, but the Tableau team working this out once seems more efficient than every other user having to find work around solutions or go without?

            • 3. Re: Common gripes/ wishlist
              Simon Runc

              On the dotted line...I'm pretty sure this is a Viz-best-practice choice on Tableau's part (rather than a technical challenge). In some viz-circles (if such a thing exists!), it is thought that dashed/dotted lines are distracting, and that only solid lines should be used (reference lines excluded). Tableau have invested heavily in data-viz-science guru's, which is why, for example, the 'shipped' colour pallets are what they are...these pallets are tried and tested [as in proper neurological research] best practice, for colours that work together. This is why you won't find thing things like 3D bars, speed dials...etc. in Tableau (although as always people have found ways to build them!). Personally, I think they should make dashed formatting available (any viz can be mis-used/misleading in the wrong hands!, and similarly there are times when 'breaking' best practice is a good thing)...but can live with the work-arounds for the few occasions I've wanted to use them. So I think this one is more philosophical, than technical!


              Quick Table Calc option should be available for Calculated fields (it certainly is in my version of Tableau!). The only exception I can think of is where the calculated field, is itself a Table Calculation (Table Calcs are aggregates of aggregates, so Tableau won't let you do aggregates of aggregates of aggregates!)...interested if you can post an example of a regular calculated field which doesn't have this option.


              Historically (IMHO) Tableau *haven't* been great at communicating where they are with new features, and explaining why certain features are trickier than others (and even if they will never be released as they are just impossible). They are certainly aware of that and seem to be getting better. I've also notice a lot more Tableau employees on the forums in the last 6 months. We (as Tableau Ambassadors, along with the Tableau Community team) are also trying to figure out the best way of organizing/prioritizing/getting-feedback...etc. on the vast entity that is the ideas section (there are many duplicate/overlapping ideas...etc.). You should start to notice that ideas are now marked when the feature is in beta and then released (if the community managers can find all the disparate ideas that relate to a particular feature)

              • 4. Re: Common gripes/ wishlist
                Steve Martin

                I agree Simon with the points you have raised especially as regards Tableau's general direction on best practice although, this often leads me to query whether it is Tableau's place to judge as to what is best.


                We (me, you, Tableau users etc) spend much of our time creating charts to spec, often, our customers know what it is they are looking to communicate, and if it is the case that a heavier line weight or differing line style is how the customer wishes to view the report, who are we to say "no - this is not best practice".


                It should not be down to us as developers to educate on best practice - well, not all of the time and especially not on something that is as intrinsic as line style and weight. Further, I fail to see what place Tableau have to dictate a specific type of reporting; as developers, employed because we have a natural talent for producing excellent dashboards and reports people love to use, I feel that Tableau should simply provide the tools and we as developers will find the best methods to put them to work.


                Finally, whilst I can see where you are coming from, I cannot buy the argument "best practice" from a company that includes pie charts as one of its key chart styles.




                ** Edit: Opening line - sounded as though I was disagreeing with Simon's post, rather supporting it. Corrected **

                • 5. Re: Common gripes/ wishlist

                  I've deleted the case where I was trying to run a moving average on a calculated field, but it was certainly the case - the table calc option wasn't available in the dropdown


                  I'm thinking that Tableau's best practice gurus possibly spend a lot of their time on weird and wonderful approaches, such that they lose sight of some of the more standard things that people are trying to do?

                  I have a chart with several lines on. I can use different colours, but it would be hard to argue that dotted lines are not often notably clearer.

                  I could for example use a dark blue line for one series and a dotted for its related series, then do the same with colours for other series and their related ones. A spread of colours allows no grouping in this way, or doesn't allow one series type to stand out from another. Simon, note that Tableau does at least allow custom colour palettes to be added.

                  • 6. Re: Common gripes/ wishlist
                    Simon Runc

                    Thanks for your thoughts Steve...interesting discussion developing here!


                    I agree, btw, on the dashed-lines...even with the 'Best Practice' argument, I can find very few people vehemently opposed to them (unlike things like 3D Pies!)...and I've never seen an issue using them.


                    We (me, you, Tableau users etc) spend much of our time creating charts to spec, often, our customers know what it is they are looking to communicate, and if it is the case that a heavier line weight or differing line style is how the customer wishes to view the report, who are we to say "no - this is not best practice".

                    It's an interesting one (and will have many opinions depending on peoples jobs/use-of-Tableau)...from my perspective, it is absolutely our clients who know their business/ business-problems better than anyone. However they have hired us as visualization experts (as well as data/statistics...etc. experts), so are paying for our advise on how best to 'visualize' their business/problem. We tend to phrase it that way, so we are only interested in their problem/hypothesis-to-test...etc. and (try) to avoid any specifics on the best visualisation to use....here an couple of posts from a similar discussion we (myself and Toby) had a few weeks ago here Re: Help me Obi-Wan Kanobi, you're my only hope!  Calling for a Jedi to help tweak the appearance of my bubble charts.  I've looked everywhere and see the strong feeling against 3D, but I only want a 3D/Bevel type effect.  Please see the comparisons below



                    ...but for someone who job it is to make "this" in Tableau (the "this" being a request/order from their CEO/VP!) I can appreciate a different view!


                    I think one of the things is that Tableau has ended up with is a very diverse user-group. This was their aim, to allow business users, who know their business, to create fast/easy(ish!) visualizations/BI without the need for coding/IT. As such I wouldn't use the word 'dictate' so much as, they make 'keeping' to Best Practice the default (such as the blue 'recommendation' box in the 'Show Me'). However the flexibility of the software, means that we have a huge amount of flexibility to create, when that is appropriate....for example, I'm not a huge fan (generally) of sanky charts. They are beautiful, but are generally too busy to allow easy reads of the data...however when used at the right time (this is one of my all time favorite vizes)...


                    | Tableau Public

                    ..btw I'd check out Niccolo's other vizes...just awesome!


                    I'm, by no means, a stickler for (so called) best practice (as you'll see from the links above I'm a big fan of these more creative approaches to visualisation), but for the more casual user it makes creating good visualizations easy (and harder to make a monstrosity!).


                    ...and on Pie Charts...are they always bad? (here's an interesting look at the subject) datavizmyths (personally I don't really like them, but do occasionally use their cousin the donut chart!)

                    • 7. Re: Common gripes/ wishlist

                      Just now I'm trying to have multiple mark types on a single axis

                      (more specifically, I have a bar chart on one axis and a line on another. I now want to add more lines from the data set that uses the bar)


                      again, the response to a similar query is

                      'There is currently no way to do this AND have them all on the same axis. This is a good one for the Ideas section!'


                      These are surely fairly simple asks for Tableau to do? Replicating some of the basic options that Excel features, seems a quick win?

                      • 8. Re: Common gripes/ wishlist
                        Simon Runc

                        ...yes in full agreement on the dashed lines! (but at least there are work-arounds, so it's not impossible)


                        On your other issue...the attached shows using measure names/values (which Tableau generates) so you can have multiple measures of one mark type, and then dual axis that with another mark type. So 2 sets of mark types, where one can use multiple measures...but yes if you want a 4rd your stumped (although I sometimes use Reference bands for a 3rd pseudo-bar!)...otherwise you can re-shape your data in a technique known as data-scaffolding.


                        Excel and Tableau are very different tools for very different jobs (I spent, before finding Tableau, 10+ years as an Excel developer/geek)...and I certainly wouldn't look to Excel as a 'place to start' on visualization (dashed lines apart!)...but neither would I use Tableau for 'text table' reporting, or SPSS for data visualization!


                        Personally I'd rather have a tool where 80% of what I most need is very easy/quick, and happy to spend the time on the 20%...than the other way round.


                        ...As you come across things you can't do (find hard) in Tableau, happy for you to post as a question on the community and ping me. We're (as in my company) are trying to pull together a "That can't be done in Tableau...yes it can" type blog, so always keen to get more examples (which might well go in the camp "That can;t be done in Tableau...you're right it can't"!!)

                        • 9. Re: Common gripes/ wishlist
                          Michael Hesser

                          Hi Giles;


                          If you haven't already, you may want to check out the Ideas page for your thoughts: this will not only get you the kind of feedback you receive in the Forum but:


                          Allows others to quantitatively support your ideas, letting Tableau know what might be a must-have vs. a nice-to-have

                          Still grants you the ability to see work-arounds, etc.


                          You might also reconsider splitting your list into individual questions. My thought process here is that there may be workarounds for some of the conundrums you're facing, but it's probably unlikely a single post would solve them all


                          Thank you for posting. I hope you're as charged as I am to see so many positive, in-depth responses the Tableau Community produces: this is really a community that cares about others.

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                          • 10. Re: Common gripes/ wishlist

                            Many thanks Simon, Michael and others


                            I'll post the wishes over in the ideas section

                            Simon, your blog sounds interesting - over the years, blog articles, the Tableau kb and threads on here, have been a huge help. I agree that the strong Tableau community is very much a part of it's appeal.

                            • 11. Re: Common gripes/ wishlist
                              Jonathan Drummey

                              Hi Giles,


                              Some responses:


                              dashed lines: Years ago one of the Tableau devs posted on this, there wasn't research showing dashed lines helped comprehension, so Tableau hasn't added that as an option to line marks (though we do have for reference lines and trend lines).


                              Excel file corruption: no idea, I haven't run into this. If you haven't submitted this to Tableau support, please do.


                              Filtering a blended data set: Not sure what you mean here, we *can* use dimension & aggregate filters on secondary data sources, as well as data source filters. We don't have context filters available for secondary data sources nor can we target secondary dimensions with Filter Actions. Tableau v10 has a couple of options that could help deal with some of these issues with secondary sources: 1) cross data source filters and 2) cross data source joins.


                              Quick table calculations on calculated fields: We *can* do quick table calculations on calculated fields that are record-level calculations like IF [Region] = 'East' THEN [Sales] END, and we can do quick table calculations on regular aggregate calculations like SUM([Profit])/SUM([Sales]), including 'blended calcs' that use fields from multiple data sources. Where we can't do quick table calculations is on other table calculations. Tableau is aware of this (and other issues) and has a team working in this area, Level of Detail expressions in v9 are a shipping example of Tableau working to give us more control over the calculation pipeline. With Level of Detail expressions we can do a number of table calculation equivalents  and return the results as record-level values that can be used in other aggregations, table calcs, etc. The "drag a reference line to be a filter" that was demoed at TC15 is another example. 


                              Also in this thread you mentioned bars and lines. A few years ago I got tired of answering forum posts on this so I wrote this: http://drawingwithnumbers.artisart.org/bars-and-lines that has a flow chart because there are dependencies on your data and what you are trying to display. Please note that combo charts with bars and lines very often are harder to read and are not an ideal viz type for many situations. Something to keep in mind about Tableau is that Tableau is based on the science of data visualization with a bias towards what has been shown to improve comprehension and retention, whereas what is common practice is often there because "it's just been done that way" or that Excel (the most commonly used data visualization tool by far) makes something easy to create.


                              Finally, lines and polygon marks will let us draw anything we want in Tableau, they "just" take more work to set up. In some cases the juice isn't worth the squeeze, tho.



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