How many data points are too many? In praise of the small multiple.

My latest Huffington Post article (published Wed 28 Jan) discusses how amazing our visual system is at seeing very granular levels of detail. Here’s a rather shaky GIF of the different views going from 1 data point to over 10,000:

howmanymarks narrow
Click image to see a bigger version

The inspiration for the column and this post was Ann K Emery’s 2015 data resolutions. I’ve always been a big fan of small multiples, but her specific statement to “do more small multiples” triggered my efforts to break the data out of the charts I’d been making with the Citibike data.

There have been lots of posts celebrating small multiples recently. My favourite is “A Big Article About Wee Things” by Propublica. Go read it! Go on.

What I really need to emphasise is that no single view is the “right” one. Theere’s no such thing as the “right” view. Being able to cycle through these very quickly in Tableau is immensely powerful – each view teases something else out of the data as you feel your way to insight. Each view shows something different and if you can see 30 views in 5 minutes, who knows what insights your data will reveal? What’s certain is that we can reflect on just how complex and yet clear 10,000+ marks appear:

All 10,246 marks in one place!
All 10,246 marks in one place!

2 thoughts on “How many data points are too many? In praise of the small multiple.”

  1. Hi Andy,

    I hope you are doing good .I read your blogs and comment on the tableau forum , I need your help in tableau . Actually i have created some dashboard in tableau i want to change that dashboard in different language , after discussion with the Tableau expert we concluded that we have to change the twb file itself . So please suggest me some way . I have to change all name which are defined by me in dashboard like tiltle , Axis name , tooltip .Is there any XSD file (Rule file for creating TWB) and any tool we can help me in my intended work .

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Regards,
    Sumit kumar

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