How to make bubble charts

Flowing data posted nice and clear instructions on how to make bubble charts using R. It’s a great post, and I thought it would be a good thing to show how to create the same chart in Tableau. Readers can compare and contrast the ease of each. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Here’s the end result using Tableau:

To create this:

Step 0: Download Tableau Public

This example uses Tableau, so you’ll need that.

Step 1: Download the data file

It’s here:

Step 2: Connect Tableau to the data

Step 3: Build your bubble chart

You only need five Dimensions/Measures on the worksheet to make the view look the same as the one on Flowing Data. I added Colour to State in order to create the highlighting option in the dashboard above. Is this cheating – it’s 6 drag and drops – is that 6 separate steps? πŸ™‚

Step 4: Clean up!

I prettified it a bit by changing the Mark borders and putting it into a well-proportioned dashboard.

The whole process took me 15 minutes. Once your up to speed with Tableau, you can get to work at lightning speeds.

Flowing Data’s post started off by mentioning Hans Rosling and the Gapminder project. Watch this space for more on Gapminder and Tableau….


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just a note about step 2, from Tableau you can get this dataset directly from the source through Windows Azure MarketPlace datamarket. I really believe it’s an awesome feature that didn’t get a lot of attention compared to, say, parameters, combo charts and speed of engine (which are all very neat too).

when you choose a network connection instead of uploading a file go to Windows Azure MarketPlace datamarket. In the box for step 1 enter this –$format=atom
that being said, you can click on the link and find the dataset yourself – search by publisher, it’s a dataset.
In step 2, you need to get a user name or password from WAMD, or an account key, both being free.
Then, you get your data.

the great potential of this is that since you can now combine datasources in Tableau you can mix your own private dataset with public data (ie population, etc.) to get nice ratios, or with retail datasets from data resellers.

Hi Jerome
Thanks for that comment – hadn’t realised this was an Azure dataset. I have only briefly looked into Azure, and yes, you’re right, it’s had quite a soft launch in Tableau v6. Maybe I will try and focus on it in future blog posts.

Great, simple, concise summary. I teach people all the time to simply double click on one measure then another to get started with a bubble chart. They’re always amazed at the simplicity.

Doesn’t this violate your post about increasing the data-to-ink ratio? πŸ™‚

Yes, I realize this post came before the other. This would be a difficult view to change though and still allow the highlighting by state.


Surely you can’t be suggesting I don’t consider all my previous posts when writing a new one? πŸ˜‰

You’re right, it does violate the principle. One answer would be that my blog posts are just ideas, not laws! In this bubble chart, I guess you could have a vertical bar chart of some sort stuffed up along the side of the bubble but I don’t think it would quite work out as cleanly as the one above.

As we both know – every dashboard or visualisation is necessarily a compromise of different priorities.


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