Fifth Grade Data Visualization Tip FeatureIn many places it’s Spring Break, so I thought what better time than now to write the final two posts in my series about data visualization tips I learned before I was a teenager. If you would like to catch up, review the data visualization lessons I learned in sixth grade, seventh grade, and first grade.

When I was in fifth grade, I attended a special field trip where each student chose an occupation and ‘went to work’ for the day. This wasn’t a ‘bring your child to work’ type of day. This was a district-wide event where the faculty set up an imaginary town, the students were assigned roles, and we ran things for the day. You could choose from positions such as police officers (making sure peers didn’t walk on the artificial grass), post office workers (delivering messages across the town), and retail workers (selling products to customers who had earned money), among many other options.

Being the ambitious eleven-year old that I was, I set my sights high and became…. a factory worker. It was slightly more prominent, I guess; I was a factory manager. My instructions were simple: create bags of varying sizes by attaching handles and give them to the other students who could use them to carry around all the cool stuff they were buying (didn’t these people have jobs?!).

Come to think of it, this was probably the second or third worst job I’ve had in my lifetime, but I learned an important data visualization lesson.

In addition to the captivating role of attaching the handles, our team of factory workers also had the invigorating responsibility of writing the recipients’ names on the bags. I think out of sheer boredom, the idea to customize the bags for a fee was born. We would draw on the bags or take custom requests, and in exchange the recipients gave us money. Turns out the bag factory was a non-profit service supported by the town’s fake government, so after the teachers caught wind of what we were up to, our efforts were frowned upon.

But I learned an important lesson: There is almost always an opportunity to add value.


3 Ways to Add Value to Data Visualizations

This lesson was similarly reinforced again when I was a graduate assistant in college. One of my favorite professors told me something that has stuck with me ever since: If you don’t make your boss’ job easier, they don’t need you. Since that day, I have looked for ways to make my stakeholder’s lives easier, and the principal is certainly true within the practice of data visualization.

At its core, the mere effort of visualizing data by using the power of preattentive attributes adds value to data. In Practical Tableau, I share the example of retelling a century-old ‘story’ of soccer’s ‘table’ by reinventing the standings as a data visualization. Just by bringing old spreadsheets to life by converting them to highlight tables or more complex visualizations adds a tremendous amount of value. In addition, here are just a few more tactics for adding value.

1. Use Comparisons

By now you’ve likely heard Edward Tufte’s, “At the heart of quantitative reasoning is a single question: Compared to what?”. Bar charts, line graphs, and scatter plots are some of my favorite choices for introducing comparisons, but each of these can be taken a step further. Consider enhancing bar charts by converting them to bullet graphs or pace charts. Add value to line graphs by including period over period comparisons. Just about any chart can be made richer by adding dimensions to the Rows Shelf or Columns Shelf to create small multiples.

2. Guide End Users

Even “self-guided” style dashboards can be made better through your attention to user experience and user interface design. In order to help your end users maintain their focus on answering the business question at hand, break views up into separate dashboards in intuitive ways. Link views together by providing a user-friendly cross-dashboard navigation. Link separate workbooks together by passing filters and parameters between Tableau Public / Online / Server workbooks.

3. Provide Alerts

Depending on your audience and if you know the story you are trying to tell, it may make sense to boil insights to the top of the dashboard. For a few of these ideas, see 3 Ways to Add Alerts to Your Tableau Dashboards.

Thanks for reading,
– Ryan