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jhcarrell

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Reply with quote  #1 
Having used Tableau Desktop/Server for a couple of years now, I'm still impressed with many of the features the software has to offer.  However, to date (v. 9.3) there's still a lot to be desired for design flexibility when it comes to dashboards.  I find myself frequently looking for workarounds to achieve things that are common place in MS Excel.

As good as Tableau is, are there other tools (specifically for dashboards) that we should be considering, or are we still left waiting for software developers to provide us the tools we've been so patiently calling for.

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"In the realm of data visualization, we face many challenges that are worth pursuing. Creating an effective radial gauge is not one of them. It is a fool’s errand. Do I strike you as a fool?" - Stephen Few
sfew

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Reply with quote  #2 
Jonathon,

Although several tools exist that can be used to build good dashboards with enough effort, no tool exists that is really good for building dashboards. This opinion is based on my definition of a dashboard as an information display that people use to rapidly monitor what's going on. Unfortunately, what software vendors call a dashboard varies significantly. Several tools make it easy to create charts and combine them on a single screen. That doesn't require a great deal of formatting and layout flexibility. Tools that we use to design information displays that are used for rapid monitoring, however, must do the following:
  • Provide a limited assortment of well-designed charts that are useful for rapid monitoring. Only about eight chart types are needed for rapid monitoring, with relatively few exceptions.
  • Provide good formatting defaults for every chart type and a great deal of formatting flexibility to customize charts as needed.
  • Allow everything that appears on the dashboard (charts, text, controls, etc.) to be sized and positioned precisely as needed with ease.

A number of other features are useful as well, but the three requirements that I listed above are the ones that no existing tool is able to entirely support.

There is a need for a good dashboard product. The vendor that creates one will be loved and richly rewarded in revenues. The primary reason why a good dashboard product doesn't already exist is because vendors are trying to support every possible reason why we might want to place multiple charts on a single screen with a single product. This doesn't work. Only a specific and limited set of features that are needed for dashboard will make it as easy as it should be to develop them effectively.

What Tableau calls a dashboard was not designed for building rapid-monitoring displays. Instead, the product was originally developed to support data exploration and analysis. When Tableau added the dashboard screen to the product, it was designed to combine charts that had already been developed onto a single screen so they could be seen together and could interact with one another. It worked relatively well for analytical purposes. The level of layout and formatting flexibility that is needed for rapid-monitoring displays, however, was not considered in the beginning. As users began trying to use the dashboard screen for this purpose, it became painfully obvious that the needed layout and formatting control wasn't available. Tableau has made attempts to provide more of this functionality by adding layout layers, etc., but adding this functionality to the existing platform will never work very well.


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jhcarrell

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Reply with quote  #3 
Broadly speaking, I agree with your three requirements.  I feel the first requirement has adequately been met (despite the inclusion of several unnecessary chart types by [insert any vendor here]).  With the second point we start running into a few issues, but on the overall we have a fair amount of flexibility to customize and format individual charts.  We still have a lot of room for improvement however.  

The third point is where I feel we are left very much wanting.  It is a tedious and time consuming process to create a cohesive, information rich dashboard.  Simply aligning each design element is typically an exercise in patience and frustration.

For Excel users, the work that Andreas Lipphardt (Bonavista Systems) did before his passing was a huge step in the right direction, and ,having built off of his contributions, products like XLCubed offers us some added design flexibility.

Purely from a design perspective, for Tableau to become a serious contender in the dashboard space, they may well have to abandon their current tile/panel approach, or extend the capabilities of individual worksheets.  Aside from design considerations , there are other obstacles to overcome in that Tableau wasn't designed to support real-time monitoring.  In my opinion, time spent on developing packed bubbles and treemaps would have been much better spent addressing the significant shortcomings of existing features.  I'm concerned that Tableau has possibly began caving to perceived "market pressure".  Based on recent posting, I wouldn't be surprised to see gauges and 3-D charts make their way into the product.  What a truly sad day that will be.

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"In the realm of data visualization, we face many challenges that are worth pursuing. Creating an effective radial gauge is not one of them. It is a fool’s errand. Do I strike you as a fool?" - Stephen Few
sfew

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Reply with quote  #4 

Jonathon,

As you probably know, I share your concerns about Tableau. They actually began caving to perceived market pressure long before version 8 when they introduced packed bubbles and an incomplete implementation of tree maps. Long before then, when they first introduced pie charts, they explained to me that they were doing it for one reason and one reason only--to allow bubbles that appear on maps to be subdivided into parts. At the time, I accepted their explanation (silly me) and warned that they should discourage people from using pie charts for anything else. Instead, they designed "Show Me" functionality to recommend pie charts with abandon, encouraging people to produce charts such as the following. Rather than giving me an excuse for introducing an ineffective form of display, I would have preferred an honest explanation: "We're losing deals because some potential customers are insisting on pie charts."

Attached Images
Name: pie.png, Views: 144, Size: 437.06 KB



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Stephen Few

acraft

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Reply with quote  #5 
Stephen - of course that chart is hard to read, you omitted the legend
jhcarrell

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Reply with quote  #6 
Not to stray too far off topic but to further your point on pies in Tableau, while they haven't included them as a native feature it's quite easy to create donut charts in Tableau as illustrated below.  This is something that several within the Tableau user community have been showcasing as examples for executive dashboards.

TableauDonuts.JPG 
While there are many that would argue that these are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, their shortcomings from an analytical standpoint cannot be denied.  Given the fact that you can't readily compare across the categories (teams in this example), the text labels eliminate the need for the graphics at all.  At this point, they serve more as eye candy than a visual aid.

Don't mean to preach to the preacher (or the choir), but this is a negative secondary effect that introducing pie charts has caused.



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"In the realm of data visualization, we face many challenges that are worth pursuing. Creating an effective radial gauge is not one of them. It is a fool’s errand. Do I strike you as a fool?" - Stephen Few
sfew

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Reply with quote  #7 
acraft,

You're absolutely right. I'll give the pie chart a fighting chance by showing the legend. Unfortunately, I can only provide a screen capture of the first 10% of the full legend, because that's all that fits on a single screen. Here it is.

Attached Images
Name: Pie_Legend.png, Views: 151, Size: 48.29 KB



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Stephen Few

sfew

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Reply with quote  #8 
Jonathon,

Perhaps the fact that you can now create donut charts in Tableau explains a claim by Robert Kosara of Tableau in a recent research paper: "Donut charts are fine." What he actually meant by this, however, was that donut charts are no worse than pie charts. That's a far cry from "fine."

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Stephen Few
acraft

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Reply with quote  #9 

Stephen - Before judging any chart as a success or failure, I think it's important to understand the purpose of the chart.  Clearly the purpose of this pie chart was (solely) to necessitate the kind of interactivity that the product offers, at which I'm certain it is hugely successful.


Regarding donut charts: I like to ask people who defend pie charts how they would compare the lengths of several bits of string, the assumption being that every single one of them would immediately lay the strings parallel vs. lay them end-to-end in a circle.  The idea is that when people stop thinking in terms of "which chart to use today", they naturally prefer bar charts over pie charts.

However, given the increasing popularity of donut charts lately (and some of the awful things people do with them - donuts within donuts, mapping slice thickness to another variable, "arc charts", etc.), I'm starting to worry about my assumption.

sfew

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Reply with quote  #10 
acraft,

The actual purpose of the pie chart, which I created, was to show how far you can be led astray by Tableau's "Show Me" recommendations. I've talked to the folks at Tableau who are responsible for "Show Me" and expressed my concern that the way that they're classifiying chart types is confusing and that some of their recommendations encourage bad practices. Unfortunately, "Show Me" strayed far from the good intentions and clear vision that Jock Mackinlay had when he first designed it.

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Stephen Few
acraft

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Reply with quote  #11 
Stephen - Make no mistake, the first part of my comment was no more serious than my comment before it.  Suggesting that it was "hugely successful" at "necessitating interactivity" was intended to be a disparaging jab at both how BI vendors push their products and bad data visualization in general.

Even so, I appreciate the clarification.
sfew

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Reply with quote  #12 
acraft,

I actually did assume that you were kidding about the pie chart, but wasn't sure that others would make the same assumption.

Thanks

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Stephen Few
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