Viz : Data :: Milk : Coffee

As long as you are at least in your 30’s you likely remember the old SAT analogy questions that required you to determine the relative relationship between sets of words.

For example:

Viz is to Data as ______ is to _______.

In this blog, the answer is milk and coffee (and I needed a bunch of it this morning), or any other great things that go together. Peanut butter and jelly. Wine and cheese. Sun and the beach.

Why? Because while I love coffee, I HATE it alone. I need a good dose of Coffeemate to be exact. Now, I don’t hate data without a viz by any means – data is awesome in an of itself – but I do strongly believe that data, and how you interpret and act because of it, is significantly enhanced by a well designed visualization.

The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see. — John W. Tukey

So how do I know this?

Currently in my day job, I work as the lead Tableau developer/consultant for a team of healthcare analysts. I lead a TUG (Tableau User Group) at my office and teach folks about data visualization best practices. But this wasn’t always the case.

About 4 years ago, in June 2014, I was at my wits end with our poor graphical representations of our data and the tedious manual (and boring) work our analysts were doing in Excel. I took it upon myself, as many do in the Tableau community, to download the free version of Tableau, test it out, and make a pitch to my leadership as to why we couldn’t live any longer without it.

While I love milk in my coffee, I was tired of pie charts in my reports…

Pie coffee
Pie with your coffee, anyone?

By December 2014, after months of “playing” in Tableau and showing examples of how we could drastically improve our data analytics and ability to understand our data, my company purchased a small number of desktop licenses. Fast forward to today and we have implemented Tableau Server, have over 40 desktop users, and over 300 Tableau Server users (internally and external providers).

All this is to show that one passionate person can change a entire company’s love and interaction with analytics and data. Now we are data driven, more so than ever before, and people crave good, clean, effective design in their dashboards. People want answers, they want great visuals, they want their data to be accurate, timely and interactive.

Numbers have an important thing to say. They rely on you to give them a clear and convincing voice. — Stephen Few

I’d add to Stephen’s quote, that you are also needed to give data a picture – a life. When I see visualizations, I see data come to life. Part of what I love about working in Tableau and data visualization, is the opportunity to really “see” the data – to be interconnected with it, to live it and breath it. Sounds cheesy, but the zen in all of this is feeling like you are giving a voice, a life, to numbers. And that can make change.

So I hope you come with me on my new blog journey. I expect to share some best practices, some of my Tableau Public vizzes, my “Friday Viz of the Day” shout-outs (which I’ve been running for over a year at my company), some tips and tricks I’ve learned, and maybe even posts about my love for beer – I feel like it will be hard not to add in some personal aspects about my life. I mean, isn’t that what this is for? To learn, but also to connect? I hope we all get to connect. Viz on and stay classy.


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