The Need for Speed: How to build Tableau visualizations quickly
I recently competed in the Tableau Iron Viz where Tristian Guillevin, Jacob Olsufka and I raced to build a dashboard in 20 minutes! One of the most incredible things about Tableau is how versatile it is as a tool. You can spend hours to build a stunning Tableau dashboard or just a few minutes to answer a quick business question. The Iron Viz competition blended the requirements of making something compelling but making it fast.
As I used multiple techniques to build something quickly, I thought I’d share some Tableau tips and tricks for speed:
This is the most important thing and, fortunately, the thing that Tableau makes the easiest. What do I mean by flow? You follow your natural thought process. There are dozens of ways to solve problems, get answers, or build data visualizations and dashboards in Tableau. Find the way that makes the most sense to you. If dropping a field on the canvas instead of Rows makes works for you or if using ShowMe every so often helps you get to an answer, then don’t worry that someone else does it a different way. If you understand how to get an answer using a table calc instead of a level of detail expression, then go for it!
Keep an open mind and be ready to learn new, different, and possibly better ways of doing something (and admit your mistakes along the way), but don’t fear forging your own path. You have a unique way of processing information that is yours alone and if you flow with your thought process as you use Tableau, not only will you move faster but you’ll likely be more accurate and you’ll definitely have more fun!
And with that, you’ll realize that the rest of these tips and tricks are merely suggestions…
2. Use Workbook formatting to set defaults.
Don’t spend time formatting the font for each individual sheet or tooltip. Do it all at once!
And, in a similar way,
3. Use default aggregations and formatting for fields.
Use the little drop down menu on the field under Dimensions or Measures to access the options. In the IronViz competition, I had a metric that I wanted to show as currency and always aggregate as a median. I didn’t want to format it for each view, so I formatted once and was done!
4. Duplicate views to copy formatting.
If you make specific formatting changes to a sheet, then duplicating the sheet (right click the tab and select the option) will copy the formatting to the new view.
5. Use a few shortcuts!
Sometimes there are tasks that might be done in a dozen steps or alternately just a couple. I know which I prefer! For example, when you drag a field onto the view, holding down the right mouse button instead of the left will cause Tableau to prompt you as to how you want to use the field. Not only does this save a few clicks, but it saves you from waiting for an extra query of the data source and an extra rendering of the view.
See the difference it makes:
6. Find and use available resources (and give credit where due).
When I started working with the Iron Viz data set, I realized that I wanted to tell the story of individual states. But a traditional filled (choropleth) map, especially with Hawaii and Alaska, might distort the stories as some states are relatively large and some are relatively small. A hex map solved the problem, but I’d actually never made one before and knew I wouldn’t have time to build one from scratch on stage. So I turned to a blog post by Kevin Taylor based on an earlier post by Matt Chambers. Iron Viz rules permitted me to download the data set and image necessary to create the hex map, with plenty of time to spare!
7. Have fun!
There have been so many times when I’ve been so in the flow, working on a dashboard for a client or solving a certain problem, that I’ve looked at the clock only to realize that hours have flown by. Now that’s not what you want when you’re on the Iron Viz stage in front of 15,000 people – but it is a great feeling when you are in the moment, creating something new and exciting! So have fun and find your flow!
Great brief read! Thanks for writing! As a relatively newbie to Tableau speed is currently my priority to improve on, so will take your suggestions on board 🙂
I feel like some of the screen-gifs look familiar…
It’s very possible! 🙂
Thanks for sharing. I always enjoy your webinars and posts. This is the part of this post that meant the most to me:
“Find the way that makes the most sense to you. If dropping a field on the canvas instead of Rows makes works for you or if using ShowMe every so often helps you get to an answer, then don’t worry that someone else does it a different way. If you understand how to get an answer using a table calc instead of a level of detail expression, then go for it!”
Just yesterday I was working on the QA Exam Guide and when I finished while I had gotten 13/15 questions right on my own, I hadn’t answered any of them the way it showed in the guide. This post was encouraging, just because I did it different didn’t make it wrong.
But don’t get me wrong, I’ll go back and review how they did it in the guide because I want to “Keep an open mind and be ready to learn new, different, and possibly better ways of doing something.”
Hope, thank you so much for your comment! It’s great to hear your encouragement!
Hi Josh – saw you at the Iron Viz, amazing is all I can say! Unrelated question: you wrote a blog a while back on swapping worksheets within a container on a dashboard. I’ve used a parameter to achieve this. I have 8 worksheets that will display based on the parameter selection for each parameter. My consumer needs to be able to hover and drill down to the data behind each point/bar etc. I played with floating order but because one “hidden” worksheet lies on top of the on that is visible, you can’t always interact with the chart or drill down. Any tips?
Hi Jeanine! Thank you for the kind words!
I think you might have better luck if you put all the sheets in a layout container. You’ll have to hide the titles, but that will allow sheets with no data (all records filtered by parameter) to collapse and the 1 you want to show will expand to fill most of the container. That way no sheet is floating over the others and causing the issues you described.
Hope that helps!
Hi Joshua, thanks for writing this up and for sharing your experiences!