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Getting started with Tableau Public

Photos by Travis Hartman

I walked into the Tableau Public session with absolutely no experience -- and within about 10 minutes the instructor had us open up some data, sort through a few of the elements, and create a visualization.  Its immediate ease of use is clear. To produce quick, coherent interactive charts seemed pretty easy.  The further we went along though; it became apparent that there was some serious horsepower under the hood.  And with great power comes responsibility.  More on this later.

Our instructor, Mike Klaczynski, started with the proper way to format data for Tableau, and in the process clued us all into a magical plugin called a data reshaper. This plugin reduces your blank fields to dust and aggregates your values into columns and rows that allow tableau public to source it efficiently.  It also saves you from carpal tunnel syndrome from endless copying and pasting.  Like I said, it’s magical.

After formatting the data, we loaded it into Tableau, and we were running.  Klaczynski showed us how open a “sheet” and on that how to drag and drop fields from our data into filters that shape the data visually, allowing for a vast amount of variation.  In fact, this process made me think of something akin to pivot tables on massive amounts of rocket fuel. 

After making a few sheets that showed different facets of the same data, the sheets are compiled into a single page called a dashboard where you present all the individual ideas.  Furthermore, you can link all the different facets of the same data so the person viewing the data can interact with it along the lines you’ve set out.

As we were walked through all the different ways to tweak our presentation of the data, I began to think that it would be easy to drown in the all the options.  I mean, the options are essential in the ability to craft your data and shine the spotlight on the good stuff.  But exercising restraint is maybe the best tool to use when creating your visualizations.

The tableau public website has a huge number of visualizations presented as ways to effectively show data with the program.  They also provide a download button at the bottom of every viz so you can grab the data and work with it yourself to reverse engineer how it was done.  It’s a great way to learn from good work and teach yourself by playing with the same data in whichever work you find inspiring.

Top photo: Mike Klaczynski leads a class for beginners using Tableau Public on Thursday morning. Bottom photo: Linnea Heppling leans in to look at Lotta Holmstrom's laptop while wokring on a visualization at the Beginners class on Tableau Public Thursday morning.

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