0 Replies Latest reply on Mar 4, 2015 9:23 AM by Miranda Li

    The Magic Sauce for Great Visualizations

    Miranda Li

      I am humbled to receive many compliments regarding my visualizations on Tableau’s corporate website and my Tableau public profile page. The truth is: I am just a normal person like you and my intensive usage of Tableau only started two years ago. People say it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. I am almost there in terms of hours, but I still don’t feel like a master due to the unlimited possibilities you can do with Tableau, with your data, and with your visualizations. In fact, I usually have anywhere between 10-50 iterations plus several rounds of reviews before I publish any of my visualizations.


      The fortune I have here at Tableau is to be surrounded and critiqued by many masterminds in the industry including executives, data scientists, data analysts, user experience experts, developers and other product experts. In this post, I am going to show you a few examples on how these people have helped transform my visualizations from good to great, and hope you can do the same too for your visualizations.


      Use the Right Metrics and Right Chart Types

      I am sure you hear about this millions of times: ask the right questions, using the right metrics, and choosing the right chart types. But in reality, even experts have to go through many tries and iterations before they get them close to right.  This is where a panel of reviewers can really help.


      Below is a sample I built to showcase how investors could use Tableau to track stocks. I used daily close price at the top view and the daily trading volume at the bottom view, both of which are expressed with line charts.


      Stock Previous.png



      Well…not bad, right? But what if I only have 10 seconds to capture an investor’s attention? Are there better metrics and chart types I could use?   Let’s look at what my reviewer did to transform this visualization:


      Stock After.png


      This is just a 5-click operation. First, he pulled out the table calculation window from the close price measure I used in the row window and changed the top view metric from close price to annual return.   Oh, yeah, of course! I instantly realized that the true bottom line for any investor is the annual return. Close price, open price, trading volume, market condition, and many other factors are the means to get to there. Of course I need to include this very important measure if I only have 10 seconds with an investor. The second thing he did was to change the bottom line chart to bar chart because the latter is more commonly used in the industry.  So with only 5 clicks, he made this visualization much more useful, easy to read, and more visually appealing.


      Smart Use of Color and Formatting


      Color and formatting can make a big difference on your visualizations, particularly from the user experience perspective. Personally I spend a ridiculous amount of time on color and formatting. Even so, I still benefit from my reviewers’ excellent tweaks.


      Here is an example in our corporate visual gallery and also as one of the samples that are embedded in our software start page. This was originally built by a Tableau master and industry expert to show the S&P returns in the past 100 years.


      S&P Before.png



      I love this visualization very much and kept it as it was for quite a few years until a recent revamp when one of my reviewers came up with this:


      S&P After.png


      Wow, this really opened my eyes for different ways to improve an already awesome view:  More meaningful color choice, use background shading to divide the panes for easy reading, highlight the best and worst years by turning on labels selectively, and give more flexibility to the users by changing one of the filters from decade to year range.

      What I am trying to say here is that the world of visualization is unlimited, and there is a huge value to open up and let other people help you improve your visualizations.  Or better yet, you can also help other people to improve their visualizations.  I will be hanging out in the viz talk forum.  So come on in, bring in your visualizations, or just watch us talk about other people’s visualizations.

      Attached are the workbooks I used here. Feel free to download and play around.  Any questions, comments and suggestions are welcome! I will also post some of my dashboards for discussions going forward. Stay tuned!