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As some of you may know, I’ve recently started teaching data visualization at the University of Utah. I’ve only been at it a couple of weeks, but it has been a great learning experience for me (and hopefully my students). Now that I am teaching the subject, it seemed like a decent time to do some self reflection to see what I might do differently in some of my past Tableau Public projects.

Much (exactly) like Makeover Monday, this series will take a look at a visualization (of my own) that is in need of improvement, with the end result being a new improved visualization that clarifies the original message. Customary to Andy’s original format, I’ll also be describing things that work well/didn’t work well with the original visualization.

For the first entry to this series, I’ll be looking at my very first Tableau Public viz: The Cost of Living. This viz was created sometime post #Data14 (Sep 2014), and was the first entry to my old blog curtisharris.weebly.com. That reminds me… I still have to move the rest of that content to this site!

I recall being very thrilled with how this dashboard turned out, and was counting down the moments to my first viz of the day. It never came, and for good reason.

Side note: thank you Tableau Public for running Viz of the Day, you can’t understand the joy that it brings to an author when they get their first public recognition. I truly think that Viz of the Day is an honor, and it keeps people interested in pursuing their greatness!

What works well?

  • Minimal use of color, and when color is used, it is used for a purpose
  • It is very obvious how to use the dashboard. Parameters are located right at the top, and are impossible to miss.
  • No overly complex visualization types; most anyone should be able to read the entire dashboard.
  • Data source is clearly stated and linked. (Didn’t expect to see this from my early days!)

What doesn’t work well?¬†

  • Useless maps. You know where you already live, and I’m sure you already have a general sense of where you are wanting to live.
    • Newcomers to Tableau often get drawn to maps because it is something they were never able to do before. In my class, I’m trying to drill the point that we should not map just for the sake of having a map.
  • Cluttered maps. Even if the maps were useful, there are extra elements that are costing our brains extra processing power. If I were to leave the maps I would:
    • Remove the cell borders
    • Remove all of the map layers outside of the state label
    • Match the background color to the color of the dashboard
  • Useless icons.¬†Even if the icons were useful, there are extra elements that are costing our brains extra processing power. If I were to leave the icons I would:
    • Source much “flatter” icons that don’t draw as much attention
    • Make them smaller as they are distracting from the main point in the top of the dashboard
  • Bar chart is too complex for the message it is portraying
    • There are only two bars, which are both labeled, and the axis is exposed. With the limited amount of bars, it would be better to label directly and hide the axis to reduce clutter and confusion.
  • Too much bold font
  • Measure values associated with the icons are not described very well/at all.
    • What does an increase/decrease mean?
  • Black dashboard background assumes a more negative/dreary tone. I’m building in the assumption that moving from your current location is a bad thing, but I can’t know that.

Overall I’m still proud of the newbie I was for building out this dashboard… at the time, it was my proudest work. Knowing what I know now through: Education, trial and error, and community feedback/participation… I can do better.

Here is the new and improved version of The Cost of Living.

Comments ( 1 )

  • Rody Zakovich says:

    I really like this Curtis! It’s a great concept, and one that I think we can learn a lot from. Making over our own works can demonstrate our progression, but it can also remind us of techniques we may have forgotten about, or how we use to think about visualization. I’m really looking forward to seeing this series progress!

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