April 6, 2016

Historical View of the Summer Olympic Games (1896-2008)

1st off...my apologies for my absence of late. It's been a roller coaster of a ride the past few months that has ultimately landed me on Cloud 9. Like Buddy Elf getting a job in a toy department, I have landed a role as a Sales Consultant with Tableau Software. Without turning this into a marketing pitch, Tableau has allowed me to explore data in ways I was never able to before, and best of all it allows me to do so without breaking the best practices laid out by the many mentors I look up to.

So, you may see some more Tableau specific blog posts moving forward. I will still aim to write about data visualization best practices, while I incorporate more Tableau to help SHOW my points.

Best part about the new job, visualizing what's relevant and interesting (at least to me). For one of my first assignments I got to do just that so I decided to explore some Summer Olympics data since Rio 2016 is fast approaching (I apologize again that my data only goes through 2012...feel free to download and add 2012 data as your time permits).

I won't go too deep into what I found as I want you to explore for yourself. But some interesting things that I found:

  • The gaps in the data are as interesting as the data itself (WWI, WWII, Soviet War)
  • I'm a hockey fanatic and I never new that Ice Hockey debuted in the Summer Games (1920), not the Winter Games (who woulda thunk?)
  • Do not mess with France, the only western nation on the podium for Judo
  • in 1920 and 1956, the games were hosted in multiple nations
  • Women were not welcome to participate in the 1896 games in Athens, Greece
  • Nations come and go
I had a lot of fun developing this dashboard, incorporating data joins, dashboard actions, annotations, LOD calculations, string concatenations, custom shapes, dual axes, hidden charts, dynamic titles, hover over info buttons, parameters, unicode text, hyperlinks and much more.

My curiosity got the best of me on this one and I hope it will do the same for you...hence the WIKI link at the bottom of the dashboard.

If you have any ideas for enhancement or you're interested in knowing how to build dashboards like this with your data in Tableau, please comment below!


Kevin Taylor

Here's a link to the dashboard on Tableau Public in the event you have issues interacting.

February 12, 2016

If the Data Isn't Right, It Doesn't Matter How Pretty Your Visual Is!

This post is going to be a little bit different. There will be no visualization. This is about something more important than the visualization, it's the data behind the visualization.

The last thing you want to do is to design an excellent visualization that engages the audience so much that it drives action. Wait...isn't that the goal? It is, unless the data is inaccurate.

Let me provide a personal experience. Yesterday I went to HomeDepot.com to look for 16 very specific "shallow utility hinges" for a wood project I'm working on. Luckily they had hinges in-stock (available for in-store pickup only)...Sadly for me, I needed 16 and my local store had only 10. So in order to get the 16 I needed, I'd need to go to 2 locations. I drove to the next town over on the way home from work, got 8 hinges there and then proceeded on to the store down the road from my house. I was quite irritated to find they actually had about 30 in stock, not the 10 that their pretty little inventory by store summary was showing. So I had gone to two stores based on their data and only needed to go to one.

In the end, the data they displayed caused me to expend more time and travel to get my hinges then if they didn't have the visual at all. I would have just started with my local store, but I trusted their dashboard. Will I trust this site feature again? No, I will Not.

As a developer myself, this was a great reminder of why data quality is paramount.

Our goal should be to drive actions/decisions with our visualizations. But we need to be certain we're driving the right actions/decisions.

For me, I lost 30-45 minutes of day. Not a big deal. However, my stakeholders at work rely on my data to make much more important decisions...and the resulting actions can have far greater consequences. Would you want a decision that affects your employment status to be made off data that may not be accurate?

Check your data, then check it again. After that, check it a few more times.


Kevin Taylor

November 11, 2015

Let the Truth be Told

I was recently presented a line chart that looked very similar to the one below:

At first glance, I thought it was designed fairly well. After all, the designer wanted to show the scoring trends for these 5 countries over time. The line chart was seemingly a wise choice as they’re great for showing the shape, velocity and direction of data over time.

However, until I looked at the labels, I was thinking that highest score for 2012 Q3 (United States) was over 3x or 300% higher than the lowest score (England).When in actuality, the US score isn’t even 7% lower.

How could this be?

Hint: Look at y-axis.

Does it Start with Zero?

No, it starts with 3.9.

It’s doubtful that the designer did this to deceive his or her audience (although there are plenty of examples where deception is the ultimate goal). Most likely they did so to avoid what you see below:

So what can I do to avoid a situation like the one above where a y-axis with an origin of Zero lead to a visual that’s impossible to analyze?

The answer may seem a bit simple: Annotate! Let the truth be told. Don’t assume that your audience will figure out something like this so find a way to tell them.

Here’s one possible solution:

You want your annotation to be noticeable but avoid obstructing the view of the data itself.

Annotation is a feature that most tools will allow you to apply directly on your charts. If not, be creative and find an alternative solution to ensure your audience understands the story you are telling.


Kevin A. Taylor

October 13, 2015

If You Only Get One Chance...Make it Count!

Not too long ago,  had the pleasure of co-teaching a data visualization workshop at the Data Matters Workshop Series at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with Rachael Brady (formerly of the Duke Visualization Center). Rachel delivered a great presentation covering some fairly advanced aspects of the visualization process. While I took in a ton, one quote really stuck out.

“You get one chance.”

In the world of data visualization and specifically dashboard design, you’ve got one chance and typically one chance only to win over your audience. Your work must come across a clear and professional. So attention to detail is paramount.

Every pixel on our screen, every drop of ink on our canvas should be applied with conscious intention. The same is true for every pixel we exclude. And every decision should be based on communicating the clear message we intend to deliver to answer our stakeholder’s questions.

So what does that mean for us as designers? It means understanding and applying visualization best practices. There’s too many to list in this blog but I’ll provide a good starter sample below. PLEASE comment with suggestions you feel strongly about as well.
  • When we apply color we do so for a specific reason, not to make it prettier
  • When we add legends, make sure the entire legend is visible
  • When we add value labels, think about the formats and decimal places
  • When we add titles we make them meaningful and dynamic if the scope can change
  • When we want to compare values across multiple slices we choose the right chart type and not force your audience to compare a series of pie charts
  • When we build in interactivity, the interactivity works exactly as we expect to which requires testing each option
  • When we build in interactivity, it’s clear how the interactivity works
  • When we build dashboards we consider the layout of the canvas and we don’t clutter it with unnecessary banners and logos, the filtering is intuitive in positioned appropriately, the most important visual is in the upper left and the need to scroll is minimized. White space can have a huge impact.
And most importantly, what we end up with should tell the story we intend to tell without the need for human intervention. My suggestion here is that we hand our drafts over to someone else to see if they are receiving the message we are attempting to deliver. And while they’re at it, ask them to challenge the visual design aspect as well.

These tips should help our dashboards go from good to great!


Kevin Taylor

September 16, 2015

Tableau Control Charts - Resetting Control Limits and Signals for Process Changes

1st off...Kudos to Ben Jones of Tableau for his work and his willingness to share his own knowledge on how to build process control charts using Tableau Desktop. This is something my 6 sigma leaders wanted badly and it's not an out-of-the-box option with Tableau...yet.

Here's the links to a few of the blogs Ben has written on the topic:




(ALSO CHECK OUT BEN'S BOOK: Communicating Data With Tableau

Notice that there is an outlier on the right portion of this viz that falls within the LCL. This raised a red flag (or dot...haha). After a bunch of comparing some rather lengthy calculations, we came to the conclusion that the table calculations needed to be "computed using Pane Across" rather than the default "Window Across:"

This step will ensure that your LCL, UCL & Signals calculations will reset at each pane as shown below for this example...no more red alert:

In all honesty, I never could get Ben's dashboard to break. As I look closer, Ben was most likely able to accomplish the same by using "Compute at Date". Not sure which will work for you, but I wanted to be put this out there in case you run into something similar.


Kevin Taylor

It's Time to Leave the 90's

How are you running your meetings?

How are your leaders running their meetings?

Unfortunately, for many, your meetings are probably run the same they were for the past couple of decades…yes decades.

Although it was available under other names earlier, Powerpoint was officially launched in 1990. I won’t go as far as to say that Powerpoint has had the same impact on the world as say Lotus 1-2-3, but it has certainly dominated the corporate meeting room!

Having grown up in the corporate world during the 1990’s I have been bombarded with “slide deck” after “slide deck”. While some have been far better than others, the vast majority of these presentations have failed to do one thing: They do not allow the audience to dive deeper.

Traditionally, a presenter builds slides with static images and text. Hopefully, these slides are authored in a way that attempts to tell a story about the content.

That’s great…BUT…what if your audience wants more detail about the content you are discussing?

Consider this scenario. At year-end, your entire leadership team travels to it’s annual business review. The most important slide shows that Customer Satisfaction is down 30% year –over-year. As expected, this creates a stir.

Now…if all the presenter can show is that the CSAT score is down 30%, this leaves a LOT of questions. Arguments will be made but answers will not be given. Questions will go unanswered and left as an “action item” for someone to later share with the team.

This is an opportunity lost!

What if the data were presented “live” or “interactively”? What if, with a single click, the presenter could drill down into Region? And then spot a single region where CSAT was down? And then drill into that and see where a particular pillar was accountable?

Then you could have a real conversation. One that not only answers questions, but one that generates new questions along the way.

The tools are available now! Advances in visualization technology have changed the landscape. They’ve actually been for a while. This type of “Minority Reports” style of  meeting is changing how we communicate in business. It’s high time that we move our meetings in this direction.


Kevin Taylor

August 12, 2015

Visualization @ Home

Not sure how I feel about this, but once again I am providing testimony to how much of a geek I am. Although, sometimes being a geek pays off in big ways...

Take a look at the "highlight table", or as many like to mistakenly call it, the "heatmap".

I dug this "goodie" up this morning. A few years back now, my wife and I were in the market for a new home. We had our favorites but we still had a list of 11...and unfortunately, could only afford one.

I’ve fudged the numbers in all columns for the sake of not wanting to disclose information regarding our personal finances, but the point is not lost…This nifty lil’ visual helped me land our best option, House E (all green), which happened to be my #1 choice.

This is no small feat. Let me key in something here. Without being able to SHOW my wife how the houses stacked up, here is what our analysis may have looked like:

Anyone care to wager which house we would have moved into?

3 years later…couldn’t possibly be happier with our data-driven decision. Coincidence? I like to think not.


Kevin Taylor