Here are two dashboards. The bottom one uses all Tableau’s default formatting settings. The top one has at least 25 formatting changes or design decisions: these changes take a few hours to implement. Why bother? What’s wrong with Tableau’s default formatting?
The short answer is: nothing. The longer answer is more nuanced.
It’s Tableau Public’s Design Month so I wanted to do a series of related posts. In these posts, I’ll be focusing on the dashboard above (click here for bigger version). This was my entry into Tableau’s annual internal “VizWhiz” competition. In this round, we were given data was about US road traffic accidents.
There are at least 25 things design decisions I’ve made to produce that viz. That’s 25 changes I have made to the default Tableau formatting: some small, some large.
But first: why change the default formatting? What’s wrong with Tableau’s defaults?
Let’s look again at the default dashboard:
Let me repeat: There is nothing inherently wrong with Tableau’s defaults.
My story can be understood from the default dashboard above. In fact, I am sure some people reading this will think the defaults are better than my design. If so, let me know in the comments below.
So why bother? Why would I spend hours tweaking what is already a perfectly-fine dashboard?
I take my inspiration from ex-British Cycling performance director Dave Brailsford. He led the British Cycling team to huge success through his “marginal gains” (click here to find out more). The principle is that you make all the small and large changes you make. Even the small changes, when aggregated, make a difference.
Each formatting tweak might only improve my viz a tiny bit.
The default formatting gives you a bronze-medal dashboard. There’s no shame in getting a bronze medal for something. If you’re in a business environment, producing dashboards for fast, iterative consumption, it is perfectly fine to leave the defaults as they are.
However, what if you want the Gold medal? In this case, you make all the changes you can. Even if they are small, the aggregate effect is significant. For that reason, I am happy to go the distance and make grab every “marginal gain” that I can.
Over the next month, I’ll be describing most of the formatting and design decisions I made.
Humblebrag alert: I am pleased with my dashboard but am wide open to criticisms about it. I am sure that what I think are good decisions might well seem like bad ones to you)