If you are here I’m sure you know of three things: Tableau, Iron Viz, and my addiction to both. This marks my 5th and 6th viz entered into the Iron Viz pool, and even though the visualizations are fairly simple in nature, it was by far the hardest competition to date.
With the release of Tableau 10 in August, it was a pretty safe assumption that the last Iron Viz would be geared toward a new feature or two, and likely with no specific data requirements. Last year Tableau Public announced the capability to publish 10M rows, a capability that came with much hype. One thing leads to another… and Iron Viz is themed around having 10M rows with an open ended data option. This assumption ended up being spot on and our task was to develop a viz using the new Device Designer feature. In short, Device Designer allows us to create a viz that is optimized for desktop and mobile viewing, catering the experience to the user’s device, and in the end producing a viz that shines in every form.
I’ll spare you the trouble of reading about my struggles to decide on a data set, but I will say that it did take some time to land on something that could produce visualizations suitable for mobile. In the end I landed on a common data set of baby names since 1910 (fun entry), and another based on MLB players who have hit 50 or more home runs in a single season (real entry).
I’m a big fan of almost anything that the New York Times Interactive team puts out. During this year’s NBA season, NYT put out a pace chart that showed how Steph Curry separated himself from every other 3-point record holder. The chart is an interesting visual display, and also tells the story of a record holding season in a very simple and easy to understand manner. With the Curry viz as my inspiration, and the MLB season coming to a close, a viz on the home run record sounded like a fun and topical project. While Barry Bonds’ record season of 73 isn’t as off the charts as Curry’s 402 3-pointers, it is a record that will not be broken anytime soon. Click on the image below to see Barry’s record in context.
Here are both entries… click on either image to be taken to the visualization
Device Designer Takeaway
There has already been a blog post written by Peter Gilks that actually sums up my experience pretty closely. Do yourself a favor and read all of Peter’s material, including his post on Iron Viz Device Designer. That being said, I’ll reiterate on a few of Peter’s thoughts and hopefully provide a couple of my own.
Design for Default First
Like Peter, I’ve heard mobile first over and over, so that is how I tried to approach this contest. While this may be true for other technologies, I don’t think we are there yet with Tableau. Designing for mobile first would be the way to go if objects scaled the way we are envisioning them to in our heads. We might design a viz that works beautifully on a phone: font sizes are perfect, bar/line sizes make sense, and the readability is perfect; but what happens when you produce the EXACT same viz on the default view? We want to give our users the best experience possible on both fronts, and more often than not, a 7pt font is not optimal for desktop. Tooltips are thought of differently, interaction is thought of differently, labeling, coloring, sizing, I could go on for a long time.
What ended up working for me was reverting back to the ancient days before Tableau 10, simply designing the dashboard that I would have without thinking about the mobile experience. Once I was done with the default view, I literally duplicated every single viz on hid them in the dead space of my default dashboard. See Zen Master Craig Bloodworth’s post on this subject here. Now that I have all of my default view copies available, it was simply a matter of added them to to the mobile zone, and making the small tweaks mentioned above. Caution… this is a lot of overhead and could definitely make an impact on performance. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that Tableau takes a serious look at what comes out of this contest, and makes some changes in the future that allow for a more responsive design process.
Take Off the Wrapper
The best way to share a Device Designer viz is to grab the share link from Tableau Server and add &:showVizHome=no to the end of the URL. Your viewing experience will be much nicer in the end.
If you have an idea for a view in your dashboard, just build it how you normally would. My brain got so hung up on default/mobile that it truly did give me a headache on multiple occasions. Build what you are going to build, and then reverse into default or mobile.
Appreciate the Difficulty
Seriously… take a second and really think about what Device Designer is doing and how awesome it really is. I’ve heard a lot of complaints throughout this competition, many of my own included, but this is just phase 1. Is Device Designer perfect? No. Is Device Designer innovative and exciting? Most definitely yes.
I said a few swears along the way, but mostly had a great time diving into a new front of Tableau. Here’s to hoping that we see continuous innovation from Tableau going forward as the fun is just getting started.
Big thanks to: Pooja Gandhi, Adam Crahen, Brit Cava, Ryan Sleeper, Matt Chambers, Robert Rouse, and Matt Francis for all of their help, opinions, and suggestions along the way.