The Best Data Visualization Tip I Learned in Third Grade

The Best Data Visualization Tip I Learned in Third Grade

Master of Checkers Tableau Data Visualization FeatureThis is the fifth and final post in a series of important data visualization lessons I learned while in grade school. Other tips include know how you’re being measured, trust your intuition, don’t jump to conclusions, and always add value.

Believe it or not, I’ve never lost a game of checkers. I admit that I stopped putting my streak on the line after a couple years of playing, but I’ve never lost a game of checkers! I think the reason I was able to succeed with checkers is that I learned how to play chess first. When I was seven years old, I was lucky to have a babysitter that taught me how to play. I think the only reason I was interested in learning is because they had these one to two-foot chess pieces that I was enamored with.

Having learned the game of chess a couple of years earlier, picking up checkers in third grade came very naturally. For a time, checkers was the game of choice in my third grade after-school program, and there was a rule where the “winner stayed” (or got to keep playing). Maybe I didn’t lose because I NEVER MOVED MY BACK ROW. Joking aside, I don’t remember what strategy led to my success, but I do remember that it was pretty great being a master of checkers.

This is a theme I’ve attempted to carry on in my career, and I credit most of my biggest successes with a relentless dedication to the fundamentals. This post shares some examples, data that supports why this might be important to your audience, and a few tactics to consider moving forward.


It’s okay to be a master of checkers

Being a Tableau Zen Master, I am often stereotyped as knowing everything there is to know about Tableau. I can assure you this is not the case. One of the main reasons I enjoy Tableau so much is because the daily learning keeps the work fresh and fulfilling. Tableau is so flexible that you can literally invent new approaches, so how can you know everything if everything doesn’t yet exist?

The real secret to my success, in my opinion, is that over the course of several years, I have become very good at understanding and executing on the fundamentals. A sort of “master of checkers”, if you will. I then do my best to share what I am learning with the community, which helps further cement the principles for me.

The tutorials and simple thoughts you find throughout this blog have led to several notable achievements with Tableau. For example, my winning entry in the 2013 Iron Viz Championship was made with nothing but callout numbers, bar charts, and a line graph. My Odds of Going Pro visualization, which was my most viewed for a time, took me about two hours to create. Most importantly, I see day in and day out in my consulting practice that the visuals that get through to an audience and cause action are simple (bar charts, line graphs, highlight tables, and scatter plots).


Some telling data

The focus on fundamentals is so ingrained that the original name for Practical Tableau was Tableau 201. The 201 was a metaphor for school lessons with 201 being the sweet spot between the 101 beginner-level material and the often overcomplicated 601-level content. My main objective with the 100 chapters in the book is to help you level up by using simple, fundamental ideas that build on the basics.

Over the course of roughly five years writing about Tableau, I’ve built up a notable portfolio of this 201-level material. In fact, I’m closing in on the 200 Tableau blog posts milestone. Using Google Analytics to track content popularity, I have found several interesting insights. Take a look at this bar chart showing my top 10 blog posts from last year. This graph is based on a 100-point index with the most popular post getting a score of 100, and the remaining scores being relative to the most popular post (a score of 96 means the post is four index points / percent less popular than the top post).

Ryan Sleeper com 2017 Blog Post Popularity

My most popular two posts last year were about making line graphs and bar charts, respectively. These were the first two data visualizations invented by William Playfair in 1786, and still among the most basic visualization choices. Further, content that I consider advanced did not make an appearance until the tenth spot – an introduction to level of detail expressions – with an index of 21 (79 percent less popular than line graphs).


Fundamental tactics that I use the most

For me, the blog post popularity chart above is a huge indicator for (1) what resonates with many readers here and (2) what they are hoping to achieve / share with their own audiences. To help you become a master of checkers and hopefully help you connect with your own audiences, I will leave you with a few of my favorite Tableau tactics:

3 Ways to Make Beautiful Bar Charts
3 Ways to Make Lovely Line Graphs
Tableau UI Tip: How to Create a Custom Top Navigation
An Introduction to Parameters in Tableau
3 Creative Ways to Use Tableau Dashboard Actions

Thanks for reading,
– Ryan

By | 2018-03-20T12:49:49+00:00 March 20th, 2018|Thoughts|