Welcome to the July episode of “What’s Good?”
It’s a true delight to have Tableau Public Ambassador, Adam Green, join this month to discuss developing skills through faff & fun.
I have the great pleasure of working with Adam at work, in fact he was my first JLL friend IRL. Adam knows so many small tips and tricks, the amount I learn from him is quite incredible.
When I look through Adams public profile I see such breadth in design, thought pattern and technical elements. When you look at a profile, I feel you learn a little bit about that person, and that sentiment can definitely be said about Adam.
To reinforce the breadth of style on show, take a look at some of my favourite of Adam’s vizzes below.
CJ: Adam, good to have you be part of the series. Can you share a little about your journey to date?
A: Well obviously, getting a spot on ‘what’s good’ is a career highlight to date, it’s a real honour to be asked to pen a few thoughts about what makes me tick, I love reading your blog and learning a little about the immense talent you have featured to date, with that in mind I’m slightly daunted to be asked if I’m honest.
Anyways, without further ado, Music has always been a key element in my life and to be honest is the catalyst for my enthusiasm for data. Whether it was analysing Shoenberg tone rows or building crazy AI systems for live improvisation with my trumpet, my love of music analysis at university is fundamentally the basis of my love for all things data and visualisation today. This interest led me to work in UK Higher Education (the UK university sector) BI for 10+ years, managing teams and building strategic insights for senior leaders. More recently I got the opportunity to blend team lead responsibilities and coaching future data rock stars on national collaboration projects (still within the education sector) with focus on developing sector data analysis and visualisation skills at a national level, in that role I had a blast and learned tons, but I fancied something outside of the public sector. To which I seized the opportunity to join the global #jlldatafam powerhouse in Nov 2020 during the pandemic. Since joining JLL it has been a great journey so far and every day is a learning day. Working for a company that invests so heavily in personal development and the opportunity that gives, along with the ability to rub shoulders and share ideas with the best of the best has been nothing short inspiring, we have such a good team and I enjoy every minute.
CJ: Luckily for readers, I think that will be the last of the JLL promo, don’t worry.
CJ: Your profile is one of the most creative I’ve seen. What’s the secret ingredient to building out a wide range in vizzes?
A: The long answer:
I approach a viz project like it’s a blank canvas. Each viz is a new painting and deserves a fresh perspective, approach and potentially style. Therefore, I tend not to copy blueprints from previous vizzes in my portfolio too often, instead I tend to flag, store, favorite and mentally hoard inspirational ingredients from elements of other public vizzers I admire. I have increasingly found Workout Wednesday challenges to be a great ‘base sauce’ (charts, techniques, and functionality) to build interesting and technically competent visuals or functionality. And I lean on non-Tableau graphics found on Instagram for inspiration too. With these resources, plus the great variety of community projects out there to draw inspiration from, help me ‘stock the shelves’ with a ‘not so’ secret ingredients to build a wide range of vizzes in my portfolio.
Data is certainly an Achilles heel for many, having a ready supply of data is often half the battle when kicking off a personal project. Some of my fav community projects include Sportsvizsunday, dataplusmusic and Ironquest but here’s a link to many more amazing community projects to get the creative juices flowing.
The short answer
Sometimes all it takes to come up with a creative idea is a glass of wine, a free evening to research a topic and willingness to study others work. Collecting technical inspiration from the community pantry act as a great catalyst to transform and remix ideas into something fun and interesting for a new project.
The even shorter answer
“Steal like an Artist – Austin Kleon”
CJ: Your viz topics vary hugely. How did the Alphabet project impact that? Do you have a favorite topic or subject to viz about?
Yeh my projects are a little ‘scatter gun’ in terms of focus, but that’s primarily driven by when I tend to be personal vizzing and generating ideas. I like to pick up the laptop and viz when the kids are in bed, over a glass of wine and film. I’m generally inspired by the topic of a film, the music, an actor, or often people in the news and or just random facts the peak my interest as I thumb through twitter, then spend a little time researching and sourcing data about.
During 2020-21 I kicked off a project with the legend Laura Sandford – London TUG lead and Tableau Ambassador. We committed to create a viz every two weeks for the whole year based on a topic chosen alternatively by each of us, cycling through a-z alphabetically. This project aimed to push us both technically and creatively. We had to dig deep to come up with new ideas and techniques and found myself searching in less obvious areas for inspiration. Family life was a key source of inspiration, conversations with kids aged 5-7 is random at best and a great source of creative thinking. I also fed off projects the kids were doing at school to both learn and help them but also to involve the two little beauties a bit too.
However, if I’m pushed to name my favorite viz topics, I’d probably say it would be music or sport. I don’t tend to prioritize time these days to either play team sports, less so to sit and watch them, therefore I find it fun and technically rewarding to take sports data and visualise it. I’ve done it with Tour de France, Olympics. Snooker and tennis and find it a fun way to understand how events unfolded, getting my kicks from being creative in ways to visualise it.
Similarly, vizzing music is a fun way to research genres, artists and or specific songs / compositions. I’m a big fan of jazz and a viz occasionally materializes out of an evening spent reading, tracing artist and their musical journeys.
CJ: You rarely create the same chart type twice. What power comes with that? Is that a conscious decision in wanting to show breadth in design or just moving onto new projects?
A: Well, I have the attention span of a gnat and not a huge amount time for producing complex multifaceted projects. Therefore, I think I my portfolio looks the way it does (relatively concise, 1400 x 900, single chart vizzes) because I like to try a technique or chart type against a dataset, tidy it up and bang it out on public, I prefer to keep it quick and not dither too long building the viz out to ‘Ironviz standards’, i.e. ticking the story telling, design and analysis type boxes. I tend to use this time as learning and development and want my evenings to be fun and letting a project drag over many evenings and multiple weeks feels like a bit of a grind rather than fun, so I just don’t often create what I call ‘big’ projects.
I believe having a wider breadth of skills and techniques to your ‘viz armory’ provides a greater versatility as a developer and analyst within a work-based context. Whilst my memory is appalling, I do tend to remember I have created something similar in a public viz about X and am therefore able to reference back to a technique to help me deliver at speed.
CJ: With such a range in viz styles must come an element of community influence. What vizzes in the community have you liked recently? How about tutorials you’ve enjoyed following?
A: I’m a big fan of continuous learning, and love to try out new techniques and chart types. People in the community never cease to amaze me in this realm. More so the effort they go to, in sharing back to the community with how to tutorials/blogs; Brian Moore, Marc Reid and our very own CJ Mayes are great examples of these beacons of information and resources. I’ll have to admit that whilst I have read with interest the tutorials mentioned above, I have yet had the project lined up to use them – but watch this space I can’t wait to have a crack.
Zach has a viz style I would die for, they are bold, stylish, memorable, most often a single chart with supporting text and rarely exceed a 1400 x 900 single pane. Dots is such good pointless fun. I love it.
I love Beaumont’s style, he packs a lot in, but the designs feel spacious and faultless. I love to dive in and read his vizzes.
Chimdi’s designs are exceptional, this Du Bois Gallery is one of my favorites and I’m eager to dive into this workbook and unpick how some of the charts are built out in Tableau. These hold gems for future creative ideas I’m sure.
Brian is the master of custom charts and this one is no exception, so many of Brian’s vizzes invite you to come in and have a play. The network radial chart (not sure of its official name) in this movement tracker is just stunning, yet I just love the supporting bar charts -they are so well done! as with everything in his portfolio.
Sam Ace’s both technical build and design utopia in everything he touches, and his portfolio is a go to for me if I ever want to show anyone the art of the possible. This ‘Six Nations’ viz has great interaction and functionality too and I love the ability to export, like Simon, Sam packs so much in and you can be lost in a Sam viz for hours exploring the depth and breadth of the subject.
The Elissa Fink “WTF I Never Knew Tableau Could Do That” Vizzie winner 2022 – need I say more.
Now here is a man who knows how to do tooltips. Marc creates great blogs and tutorials that come in so handy, where would we be without his knowledge and willingness to share.
Will has so many great vizzes, not only his Ironviz Winning viz but the feeder viz was superb too and so much fun. I love his creativity and he’s one smart cookie to boot. His profile is a go to for me for tips and tricks.
CJ: I think one thing that concerns people is not finding enough time for vizzing. Could you share a little about how long on average you may spend on a viz? How does someone find the sweet spot? Does this impact your dashboard size and layout?
A: Time is a precious commodity and it’s about how you balance it. I don’t always get it right and my wife will be the first to tell me when I’m not pulling weight on the family front. I also like to keep fit, I love running (when my old knees aren’t playing up) but mostly cycling. Getting the balance right between family, work, exercise, and personal viz projects is tough and frankly there is not enough hours in the day to ace it on all fronts. So, my approach is to jiggle stuff about a bit each month. Some activities go on the backburner, while I give other areas a bit more focus. For anyone following me on Strava/Zwift you will know my activity feed goes in fits and starts. These days I trade exercise for Tableau viz projects – Home DIY and family life wait for no man.
From a time-point perspective I will very rarely exceed 6-7 hours in a single viz, this time is typically broken down over 3 nights; a finding data and data prep evening, an evening doing the main viz and a third evening faffing with tooltips, tidying up and publishing /posting. Naturally therefore the complexity and depth of my public vizzes tend to reflect the time taken, given the required time it takes for ‘faffing’ and covering all the basis on getting a viz to publishable standards.
CJ: You’re not one to shy away from designing some pretty spectacular viz in tooltips. How can these elevate a viz?
A: Great question CJ, I’m a big fan of tooltips and a Tableau feature that I think a developer should take some time and care with. AND a user should make full use of. Whilst I know they struggle to tick the box in terms of accessibility, I love a good tooltip, I think of them as like hidden easter eggs for the keenos among the viz community. I create nice tooltips for people that engage in more depth than a quick ‘like’ on the static twitter image, I feel that if people take the time to click, they get the easter eggs. I once created a viz of knock knock jokes, all located in the tooltips for this exact reason.
Tooltips can really elevate a viz and allow you to nest much contextual information about a data point and or element of a viz. After stumbling over Andy Cotgreave’s Bar chart in tooltips hack written in a 2010 blog post, I’ve always made sure I spend a little time on my tooltips with the aim to elevate them above the Tableau defaults, implementing many of the formatting tips and tricks championed by people like Ryan Sleeper over the years (top ten lists in tooltips / how to make dynamic tooltips in tableau ) or the Information Lab data school blog features great examples such as conditionally coloured tooltip text or more recently (and welcomed) viz in tooltips functionality.
CJ: You joke a little online about ‘Faff Factor’. What does this mean? What are some examples of techniques or vizzes that were high in ‘Faff Factor?’
Ha the faff factor ■ / ■■■■■ (1/5)
Well, I like to provide an indicator within my blog write ups to give the reader (my future self) an indicator on the amount of effort the viz or a component of the viz took to bring to life. it ain’t scientific but essentially it relates to factors like; the No. sheets, have I had to float and overlay worksheets to get the visual to work, the complexity of the chart build, how annoying the data prep was, or how much effort I put into blinging the tooltips up a bit?
Recent High Faff factor vizzes
Design Faff Factor ■■■■ / ■■■■■ this has quite a few sheets behind it, mainly due to the way the viz evolved as I built it, therefore the final viz is a bit clunky in the floaty sheet department, ergo pretty faffy!
Well, its Ironviz! this one’s got an Overall Faff Factor ■■■■■ / ■■■■■ from the dashboard containers and parameter navigation to the chunky tooltips hiding much of the content, this one’s a Faff Factor 5/5 from me.
Tooltip Faff Factor ■■■ / ■■■■■ CJ did all the hard work on this viz, but in terms of tooltips, we blinged them up a bit in the ‘shot summary’ section to provide loads of contextual data nestled in there (if anyone is kind enough to explore the interactive version and stumbles across the easter eggs).
Prep Faff Factor ■■■■ / ■■■■■ – I had to build the sequencer matrix out in excel to give this viz the styled effect, it was a bit of a head scratcher at first but I was pleased with the overall look and feel of the final version.
Overall Faff Factor ■■■■ / ■■■■■ I spent much longer on this viz than usual, it’s got a lot of sheets, multiple formatted tooltips, plenty of detail, design considerations and had a lot of story to tell. Therefore, right up there in the Greeny Faff Factor ratings.
CJ: I am waiting for Tableau Public now to bring in a rating system of faff factor when posting. You know where the royalties are going if they do.
CJ: I really enjoy reverse engineering some of your dashboards to see your approach in formatting. Do you have any special formatting techniques you can share with us that are your favorites?
A: As you pointed out earlier my public portfolio is quite wide and stylistically diverse. However, I’d like to think there are some tell tail greeny’isms people may associate with my vizzes. Formatting wise I like to faff with
1) Grid lines and reference lines – I like to think they help break up a viz and guide the eye if you play about with the opacity of the lines, reference lines can also be used to add further info to complement a chart.
2) Colour opacity – oh man I faff with this for ages.
3) tooltips (obvs).
4) and finally you can get quite creative with labels when you need to. I love to leverage ascii characters and the occasional excessive use of the space bar to get the characters where you want them.
CJ: Your world snooker viz was one of my favorites on TP this year. How do you come up with the concept of the reflected violin chart for points? How do you approach data transformation and prep in the case of something like this?
A: Thanks, it’s actually one of my favorite vizzes I’ve published recently too. I love to watch a game of snooker. I have fond memories of sat watching games with my grandad when I was young, him walking me through the play, rules and telling me random stories about his youth. For this viz, I knew the match I wanted to viz it was an epic and wanted to try and convey the flow and fun on the final black ball. The question was ‘How on earth do you convey that point-by-point tension visually?’
it didn’t take me long to realize that I was gonna need to do some prep. So, I hoped into Alteryx to give it a churn. The key to this chart is to essentially plot difference between points. This is effectively what we are seeing in the violin plot as the shape moves vertically point by point, sitting by sitting.
CJ: On the notion of varied tools. Could you give examples of some external tools you use? How have you utilized them before?
Oh man, I’m no happier than playing about building pictures in Tableau. I have a couple tools I keep going back to when I need a bit of creativity. Firstly power tools for Tableau. In this fabulous tool you can upload an image and trace out either lines points or polygons and export the resulting x y points to excel. Once you have exported the coordinates it’s a case of dropping the data into tableau and cracking on with a bit of fun.
Secondly, I’m quite fond of processing.org I’ve used a script many a time to make pixelated data points to plot on a grid, but the community behind this is huge and there is so much that could be done leveraging tools like this and Tableau combined to create visualisations.
CJ: Thanks for that! I hope others can take inspiration and utilize those tools in future work. Is there anything else you’d like to share today?
A: Viz for fun, it’s fun to viz, and do it in Public.
There are some really lovely sentiments we can all take away from Adam’s comments. I find it such a beautiful description of creating a visual as painting a work of art with different approach, perspective, style and design. I should add each piece is unique too!
The second thing that stood out for me was Adam’s commentary around balance of life. I’m of the mindset work-life balance is really work embedded into life but appreciate his prioritisation, his safe space for creative thinking and his strong family values. The takeaway really is, make time for whatever it is in life you love.
I think the last thing that is worth mentioning again is, Adams portfolio. Such an array in design and technical requirements. He strikes such a lovely balance between artistic flair and grounded theory. Wishing Adam all the best with his future viz faffin’