Why Vizioneer?

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Atlanta, Georgia, United States
The "Vizioneer" comes from mashing two words that have shaped my world for most of my adult life - Engineer and [data] Visualizations (or Vizes to those who know what's up). Graduating from first from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, followed by Georgia Tech with my Bachelors and Masters in Civil Engineering, all of which taught me to think through anything and everything - problem solving, "engineering" solutions, teaching to the "ah ha" moments - is what I love to do. In 2010 that investigative, engineering mindset intersected a job change and a plunge into the world of Data Analysis. In the search for the next great thing I stumbled on to a data visualization and dashboarding product called Tableau software and things just took off. So now I guess you could call me that engineer with the sweet data visualizations - or just "The Vizioneer" :)

In 2013, I joined the incredible team at Slalom, focusing on Tableau and it's been an amazing experience. Recently in 2014, I was honored and humbled to receive Tableau's highest recognition of being named a Tableau Zen Master. Follow along to see what happens next :)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

I Dream of Zoom and New Actions in Tableau

I Dream of Zoom and New Actions in Tableau

A few months ago I had a bit of weird dream.  Before I share it, I’ll give you that’s not normal - but normal is boring.  So here we go: I dreamed of a new way to do Tableau dashboard actions.  It literally just came to me, I saw it clearly, and I woke up wondering why someone much smarter than me hadn’t already come up with the idea.  I told you - normal is boring.

I’ve share the idea with Tableau – will they build it?  I don’t know.  Maybe we’ll see it in Tableau 10 or it could be in Tableau 17 – the crystal ball’s not clear.  But I thought it would be fun to share it with you all, if for no other reason to spark some ideas of all the different things that can and should be improved/added to the tool to make our lives easier.  But know this as well – underlying this idea this the notion that the overall user experience of Tableau needs more attention.  We can see that Tableau’s realizing this – the new visual data window in 8.2 and improved calculated field window in 9.0 are evidence of this – but we should all push Tableau for more.

I’ll begin by saying something you probably won’t like.  I like PowerPoint.  I get why 25+ years later it’s still the default for presentations – which often are graphical presentations of data.  Now, before you get the pitchforks, I’m well aware that PowerPoint’s been abused, and you’ve got horror stories 600 of slide decks with 3D pie charts – I get it.  That’s not why I love PowerPoint.  My love for PowerPoint comes from my friend Mark Jackson’s suggestion of using it as a poor man’s graphic design tool, and I’ve learned to push it to do some amazing things, creating backgrounds for many of my best Tableau Dashboards.  There’s a number of things in PowerPoint that you should be able to do natively in Tableau – but can’t:
  •         Multi-select objects on a dashboard
  •         Align objects – top, middle, bottom, left, center, right.
  •         Group objects together
  •         Resize groups of objects
  •         Move objects together
  •         Draw shapes and do light weight design
  •         (not to beat a dead horse but…) Auto-save :)
  •         And saving the best for last – the ability to Zoom in and out of a dashboard

The first thing I dreamed about was having an ability to zoom in and out of a dashboard.  Has anyone seen Tableau on a Surface Pro 3?  It looks awful - presumably because Windows is scaling up the text 150% (by default) and leaving this visualizations at 100%, but everything looks cramped.  Same thing on many of the Mac displays with high pixel counts – some of the icons on Tableau become so small they’re difficult to click and full sized dashboards take up 40% of the screen.  The point here isn’t to gripe, but to call out why zooming is needed – the days of Tableau 4 and everyone on a 1200 x 800 monitor are gone.  There are still some unfortunate souls dealing with that set up, but most of us have decent hardware at this point.  Yet, it’s difficult to design to the lowest common denominator without the ability to zoom in and see what I’m doing.

So here’s what I sketched out – it’s ground breaking!  It’s amazing!  It’s… exactly like PowerPoint.

Alright, hopefully you’re convinced on the need for zoom.  I’ve made a few standalone arguments, but really the call for zoom is self-serving.  I need it to exist in order to implement the real meat of the dream: a new interactive and intuitive dialog menu for dashboard actions.

Manually creating dashboard actions in Tableau has always felt very un-Tableau to me.  It feels like a not-so-awesome software wizard where I’m ticking checkboxes on things that hopefully I named.  It’s also annoying that by default everything is selected, yet there’s no ‘Select All/None’ button.  As a reminder, here’s our current state:

Now I’m not a UX designer, and these could definitely look better, but what if instead of having check boxes in some dialog box, they actually resided on the sheets themselves?  If that were the case, I wouldn’t have to spin my wheels trying to remember which one Sheet6 is, rather, I’d have an intuitive experience of:
Step 1: clicking on the source sheets
Step 2: clicking on their target sheets

Here’s two examples of what it could look like:

For those of you not into photography (like Dustin and me), Adobe Lightroom does this effect rather well, and is probably where I got the idea.  Here’s a video showing that experience:

Now I don’t have this whole thing figured out.  I think you should do ‘selected field’ in a drag and drop fashion, similar to the way it’s done on the new calc editor, but I don’t know what you’d do if your sheet is too small to fit the checkbox (you laugh, but there’s a number of Tableau hacks that people use sheets that are 1 pixel x 1 pixel – what do you do there?  I don’t know).  But frankly, it’s not my job to solve it.  I’m just here to push the ball down the field and spark a conversation.  

The last thing I’ll say is that now that you’ve seen these ideas, don’t they feel like they should have always been there?  They feel logical and that they would create a better overall user experience and adoption.  These are Tableau’s goals for their software, as they proved over and over again, but it’s worth a discussion around points where there’s room for growth. 

If it were up to you, how would you improve the software to make it easier and more intuitive to use?

I’d love to hear about it so feel free to drop a comment below and then head over to the ideas section of the Tableau forum and drop it there too (where someone from Tableau will actually read it).

Thanks as always for spending time and hanging out.