Adding the polish

At the weekend, I suffered a serious bout of viz envy. It came at the hands of Jeremy Poole in the delightful viz below, an early response to this week’s Makeover Monday. I’ve embedded it at the end of this post.

The visualisation itself is delightful. I would like to think I’d have come up with a similar concept in terms of its visualisation. (I’d already started putting together a graph on similar lines when I saw his viz.) But beyond this, what strikes me most is the way in which the entire view sits together so beautifully as a single body of work.

The fonts, the callouts, the hover actions, the backdrop, they are all beautiful.

As I develop my Tableau knowledge, I think I’m plugging the gaps in terms of my ability to create evermore involved dashboards that add richness to information. I look back on old dashboards with a slight sense of shame, which I think is a good thing. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be learning and progressing.

However my prowess when it comes to this level of polishing needs work. I think my brother inherited the vast majority of the family’s creative genes. I am, I feel, more methodical, more analytical and certainly less creative.

With visualisations, I think I do well in getting the right objects on the page, and for them to interact well with one another. However I lack in making them look beautiful, making them sing. I would love to learn how to become better in this.

If anyone knows of any resources that might be able to help in this, please let me know. I can see what’s good and what’s not, so it’s not about learning how to spot goodness. It’s about learning the principles that will allow me to create things that are good in the first place.

How this monkey discovered Tableau

I started working part-time as a contractor for a small public service company associated with the telecoms industry in January 2013. My role was to lead on all aspects of reporting – internal reporting to understand the overall health of our operations; and external reporting to our stakeholders and shareholders against formally measured KPIs and SLAs.

At first, I cobbled together some stuff in the world of Excel that I know and love. But it was clear that something more strategic would be needed to allow more dynamic, automated and strategic reporting. So we conducted an evaluation of three packages that at the time were all unknown to me: Tableau, Qlikview and MicroStrategy.

Tableau came out on top against our requirements, and so we bought it in May 2013.

Perhaps the most grating aspect of the product was its use of the terms rows and columns. In the spreadsheet world whence I’d come, these terms had a very different meaning to their meaning in the new Tableau world. (In some respects, “across” and “up” might be more suitable terms. Maybe that’s for another post.)

We had two days of dedicated training from the inimitable Emiliano. This was useful to a degree, but in some respects things hadn’t yet gelled with the product. As a newbie, the package was rather daunting, and perhaps some of the training was too advanced for us at the time, coming so soon after we had started using the package.

That said, if nothing else it gave us a huge insight into what the tool was capable of. We went live on Tableau 8.0 and went through a couple of minor upgrades before upgrading to version 9.0 in summer 2015. (Note to self: Must get round to upgrading to 9.2.)

I was doing a couple of days a week with this client, the other three days of my week being spent doing business analysis for a large bank: specifying data feeds into a billing system, and managing various migrations onto the new system.

But about a year ago, I heard that the bank was using Tableau for reporting, and so I threw my hat into the ring and developed a very rudimentary dashboard to show what might be possible to report on their business area. (My having now used the product for 18 months, I think they liked what they saw.)

And the rest is history. Nowadays, much of the time I spend with the bank is focused on developing and enhancing dashboards, introducing new elements, pushing the boundaries (at least my boundaries) of the software. I find it thoroughly rewarding. And I continue to use Tableau daily on the Telecoms contract, enhancing the existing offering andintroducing new stuff. Having recently implemented Alteryx there, I’m keen to use this to enhance the way in which data is presented to Tableau to make things more efficient and to take the offering to the next level.

For the last 27 years (yes, literally), whenever I’ve received some data, my automatic instinct has been to open my spreadsheet package of choice and play: Lotus 1-2-3 for five years, then a short period of Quattro Pro, and 21 years of Excel. Nowadays, when I receive some structured data, I invariably throw it into Tableau and try to make it sing.

My view is that working in Tableau with two clients – operating in completely different fields – makes me better. I encounter problems producing something for the bank that I learn how to solve, and these then benefit my telecoms client; and vice versa.

As for Tableau, I adore the software. I adore the company and its ethos. And I adore its community. And long may I continue to use it.