Data visualization tools allow anyone to organize and present information intuitively. This is becoming more vital as data proliferates in every field from bar codes in retail stores to player behavior in online games. All of this data is meaningless without a way to organize and present important findings within it.
People comprehend data better through pictures than by reading numbers in rows and columns. So by visualizing data, you are able to more effectively ask and answer important questions such as “Where are sales growing,” “What is driving growth” and “What are the characteristics of my customers using different services?” With the ability to quickly answer questions, your data becomes a competitive advantage instead of an underutilized asset.
A bar chart doesn’t work for everything. Data visualization tools must be flexible enough for you to tell any story. And getting to the best visual representation of your data is rarely a journey along a straight line: when you navigate between different perspectives, you can find the trends and outliers that are the most important.
There are many ways to look at simple sales data, from a crosstab report to a daily sales graph to sales by segment by month. Different views answer different questions. Looking at data with a geographic element on a map brings in an entirely new dimension: notice how in this example it becomes clear that sales are clustered in a few metro areas.
Tableau offers the ability to create different views of your data and change them as your needs evolve. And switching between views is as easy as a click, so you don’t have to wait on an IT change request to understand your data.
The cycle of visual analysis is a process of getting data, representing it one way, noticing results and asking follow on questions. The follow-on questions might lead to a need to drill down, drill up, filter, bring in new data, or create another view of your data. Without interactivity, the analyst is left with unanswered questions. With the right interactivity, the data visualization becomes a natural extension of the analyst’s thought process.
In this dashboard showing crime activity in the District of Columbia, three filters that act on two different visualizations let you quickly understand trends by day of week and location. You can filter by crime type, district, or date. You can also highlight related data in multiple views at once to investigate patterns across time and location.
Download the workbook for more interactivity: the ability to add in new dimensions or change the views of data.
The irony of most data visualization tools is that the people who know the data and have questions don’t have the skills to use the tool to answer them, and the people who have the ability to use the tool don’t know the data. The result can be a frustrating, slow, back-and forth process to answer basic questions.
An easy-to-use interface breaks this pattern. By enabling anyone to answer their own questions without needing programming knowledge or specialized skills, the process of analyzing data gets much faster, easier and more insightful.
This video shows how you can simply drag and drop to create views, add filters and combine views on a dashboard. A few clicks of the mouse can change a filter type, rearrange a dashboard or create a new view. At no point does the user have to resort to programming and he or she can get up and running fast simply by watching free online training. This easy-to-use interface means that anyone who has data can answer their own questions about it.
Dashboards are powerful because they let you relate different views of information visually. And while some dashboards are used over and over again, it’s often useful to create a dashboard on the fly to investigate an issue or provide background for a strategic decision.
The key to providing this kind of valuable decision support is to allow the business user to quickly and easily create or modify a dashboard. If every new dashboard or change request requires IT support and takes weeks, then you can’t get the most out of your data.
This video shows how easy the process of creating and sharing a dashboard is in Tableau. You simply drag different views into the dashboard to add them, then add filtering and highlighting with a few clicks. Publishing is just as easy: simply point and click to publish, then share a live and interactive dashboard right in a web page.
In this case, you may be evaluating your business in different regions and deciding whether to invest in additional personnel. By looking at the overall growth trend, geographic distribution of sales, and top customers, you can quickly access all the information you need to make a decision.
There are “good” ways and “bad” ways to communicate with data. Your data visualization tool should have good methods baked in so that you can spend your time answering questions, not learning visualization science.
This visualization shows several years of FAA flight data. It uses blue and orange color palettes to communicate early & on-time vs. late arrivals. It also stacks the number of flights side-by-side with the average distance, which is an effective way to evaluate two measures at once.
Tableau has invested years in designing a product with built-in data visualization best practices. You won’t find flashing traffic lights (one of the “bad” ways to show data), but you will powerful tools that help you make sense of data and communicate your findings to others.