Let Them have Their Text Tables

“I need you to reproduce this report,” your boss states as he hands you a printout. “And you can use Tableau!” For a second you are excited at the thought of using Tableau. But your excitement fades when you see the report you must reproduce:

At least there aren’t any pie charts.

At least there aren’t any pie charts.


It’s just a text table.

So, you point out to your boss that a little visualization of the data would tell a good story and bring the data to life.

Your boss considers this for a second and then responds that the table does tell a story.

“See,” he says. “I can very easily follow the story across the table: where we were last year, how many we hired, how many we fired, and where we ended. Now build the table before I decide to add 1 to the Involuntary Separations column!”

Generic Mean Boss

This isn’t my boss. My boss is nice. Steve, if you are reading this, please give me a raise.


And there you are. In no time you’ve reproduced the cross tab in Tableau and saved your job:

A Tableau Text Table

But you feel like you could have done more. You should have done more. You are a data artist not a report factory worker!

Give them what they want… and more!

Sometimes you don’t have a choice. And sometimes a text table does serve a purpose (e.g. providing a way to lookup values or validate results). But you don’t have to stop at the simple table.

Look for opportunities to take that text table and add visualization elements that enhance the data story and help transition your audience from the old “I love rows and columns of numbers” crowd to the “bar charts are our friend” group. Let them have their text tables for now… but give them even more:

Chart in a text table

Your boss was right, the table did tell a story. So, give him the table he wants, but help transition him to the world of data visualization by adding some visual elements. The bar charts only add to the story and give the ability to easily compare the plain numbers.

The Best Part

The Best part is that it is (relatively) easy to accomplish. It’s just two views (1 – The original text table and 2 – a chart with the same rows/columns) in a dashboard with the 2nd view floating on top of the table. Here’s the second view from above:

The second view

And here it is, with the header for Employee Type and the axis hidden, floating on top of the text table:

It's floating

Yeah, it took a little effort to match the formatting and line things up. But you have the pixel perfect positioning and sizing controls for floating objects, so it wasn’t too bad.

And you can experiment with different variations:

Stacked bars in text table

And now, you’ve kept the text table fan in their comfort zone while helping them see that visualization isn’t too bad.

“In fact,” your boss says, “it’s kind of nice. Wait, you learned that from a blog post?  Where can I Subscribe?”

4 Responses so far.

  1. David Baldwin says:

    Well of course Steve should give you a raise!

  2. Yes, this job deserves a raise.

  3. Hi Joshua,

    A very helpful post that I fully endorse and am currently living. 🙂 After I wrote my latest blog post (http://mixpixviz.blogspot.com/2015/08/a-tableau-fanboys-existential-crisis.html) lamenting the current state of affairs at my company, I’ve begun looking for opportunities to demonstrate why visualizing data (either instead of or complimenting a data table) provides far better and quicker insights than the data table by itself. While it doesn’t alway resonate right away, I am getting some positive feedback and slow recognition/agreement that there may be better ways to represent the stories inside the data.


  4. Anastasia Zaburunova says:

    Hi, thank you for an awesome tip! Do you know how to make an overlay (bar chart) move with a master viz (employee type) to make sure when the user sorts a master viz, the overlay moves according to the new row positions?

    Thank you again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *