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Art or Insight?

Let's review my Tableau Public profile and talk about the differences.

Tableau offers a wide range of options for data visualization but many would argue not all visuals are appropriate to offer end users insight. Over the 6 plus years I have used Tableau I can say my Tableau Public work looks much different than my business dashboards. Let's talk more about why.

Before I jump in and talk about some of my work. Let's talk about my background. I have a masters in Human Resources and built a career in HR prior to making the switch to data visualization. Many skills transferred well in the career switch (more about my experience in a future blog) but I think the most valuable transfer of knowledge came with an understanding of many stakeholders I now work closely with to create dashboards. To create a dashboards for an end user means translating the data in a way they can digest and understand. This doesn't always lend to sankeys, coxcomb, waffle, bump or radial charts. I will admit the artistic side of me gravitates towards things that have more visual interest but for the most part, I save those for Tableau Public. If you are ever in need of inspiration or want to learn more about the extensive variety check out Kevin Flerlage's 'Tableau Chart Catalog' on Tableau Public. I have this bookmarked and look at it often as I begin to layout my ideas for a new concept.

In my current role as a Senior Consultant for Analytic Vizion I work with stakeholders to create solutions. I love to think of solutions rather than dashboards or vizes. To me, it is all encompassing with meeting the stakeholder where they are for the need at hand. Many times it is creating a dashboards but other times, it's creating process, and supporting critical business conversations in a variety of ways.

One of my personal goals is adoption. Creating a beautiful dashboard is far less thrilling if the end user never looks at it again. I became painfully aware of adoption when I started working in Postgres and Meta data for Tableau Server and Tableau Online. I created a series of dashboards while working at Unifund to look at data connections, dashboard usage, and user logins among many other things. The numbers in some cases were shocking but very beneficial. I highly recommend any business intelligence analyst to find a process to circle back with end users to verify the usage whether that is in the Tableau data or simply scheduling time to talk with the end user. Creating solutions and end sights are only powerful when the end user and stakeholders feel enabled to use what we create. This is a big reason bar and line charts are heavily used in business dashboards. The insights are much faster to digest than more artistic visuals.

Let's take a look back on several of the Vizes I've created over the years as examples of Art or Insight.

Work Out Wednesdays are great exercises creating visuals that many times translate well to business dashboards. I began participating in the Work Out Wednesday exercises while working at JLL. Prior to that much of my Tableau Public profile was more on the Art side. The example to the left, 'WOW2022 W33' was one of my favorites. The color of the final bar and hovering over the tooltip offer detail comparing the current month to the prior x months based on the parameter set above. This dashboard created Insight.

Click the image to navigate to Tableau Public and explore more.

Now, let's jump to a complete contrast so we can all quickly process key differences. I created the 'Find Your Zodiac Match' viz while still learning much about Tableau. I felt inspired by a zodiac calendar and horoscope I was reading at the time. The idea was more art than insight from the beginning. I played with creating two curvy bump charts to display who should be friend and love matches according to the Zodiac calendar. Much to my surprise, this viz was Viz of the Day. I can promise I haven't created anything similar in my business environment. Click the image to navigate to Tableau Public and explore more.

A few noticeable differences to the two vizes above, the use of color, whitespace, chart choices, axis labels, and tooltips. I would also point out the overall topics lend to art or insight. I can not picture a stakeholder in my career actually interested in the zodiac calendar for business insights but you never know. Let's take a look at a few more.

Art or Insight? I might argue a bit of both is used for all vizes, dashboards or whatever you choose to call them. The question I ask is for the overall use. Is this a dashboard I would demo to a client? Or is this more of an artistic play with the tool? The 'Strength Finder' was first a dashboard I created while working at Unifund that I later swapped dummy data in to be able to publish to Tableau Public. The purpose, our entire organization completed the Strength Finder assessment and I wanted a way to see the overall comparison and drill into the data by various ways. Click the image to navigate to Tableau Public and explore more.

The Arts Blooming in Ohio by name suggests this was more art than insight but I really tried to push both in equal parts. This was created as my 2022 Tableau Iron Viz entry and remains one of my favorite projects yet. I learned so much while working on this project. The top coxcomb charts created to look like flowers were a new learning for me. Much of the top is art to grab attention and play off of the name and topic but the remainder of the viz is packed with more traditional chart types including bar charts and a scatter plot. This may not have created instant insight but it was a load of fun to create. To this date, I still haven't created a coxcomb for a business dashboard. Click the image to navigate to Tableau Public and explore more.

Looking at another Work Out Wednesday creation and quickly we can all agree, this is much more of a business dashboard created to provide insight than it is art. Again, that doesn't mean art isn't involved. I argue the selective use of color, design, white space is art. To be successful in business intelligence 'BI' or data visualization we really need to understand pre-attentive attributes. I could talk days on this topic but to quickly translate, what is the user going to see first and quickly translate? What is drawing our eyes when we look at the chart? That's why we see selective use of color on bar charts vs every filed is a new color. If you are someone that looks to actively use color, no worries, me too. Go look at my profile and you will see a hyper active use of the full rainbow. I will say, I have learned to use color in planned ways to really play with those pre-attentive attributes. Click the image to navigate to Tableau Public and explore more.

I think we are starting to see the differences, right? Let's see just a few more.

Remember me saying I played with the full rainbow? Yup. The over use of color was intentional here when I created 'Glee'. I played off the logo I found and used the rainbow to distinguish the seasons throughout Glee's history. It certainly helped that the images I found for the characters fit right into my colorful design. The idea behind this viz was to capture all the songs I loved from Glee and tie out which character sang and what was the episode rating. This one for sure fits the art category.

Click the image to navigate to Tableau Public and explore more.

Beyond using pre-attentive attributes to help end users quickly digest the data and discover insights, structure is also something I have learned is very helpful. In the 'Superstore Dashboard' I demonstrated what that looks like in many business dashboards that I create. There is a bold header, maybe also some BANs (big amazing numbers) and filter options. From there I break the dashboard into sections using containers. Yes, I float much of the Tableau Public art vizes but business dashboards are always created with containers. Click the image to navigate to Tableau Public and explore more.

I could go on and on with examples but I think the ones above hopefully help. I also think it is a great exercise to review your own work and spend time reflecting on what worked and what didn't. I think every new idea starts with understanding the purpose and the audience. Is there a story to tell, insights to gain? Knowing the answer behind those questions can help you decide is this more of art or a business dashboard for insights and from there the use of charts, color and design should fit into the purpose. Hopefully this was helpful in better understanding the line between art and insight and in many places where both are very useful!


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