With Thursday’s class, our focus shifted to the process of analyzing and presenting data through visualizations. The first half of class was a WebEx conference with Ray Randall from Tableau Software, a company with the mission “to help people see and understand their data.” If you’ve never heard of Tableau, I recommend checking out their two-minute demo, which offers a glimpse of the kinds of visualizations you can create with the product and the ease and speed with which you can create them. Ray gave us an overview of Tableau’s functionality and explained the differences between Tableau Desktop and its free but feature-limited cousin Tableau Public. The major differences: with Desktop your dataset can be much bigger and you can connect to it live. Creating visualizations in Tableau is mostly a simple matter of dragging and dropping fields. Once you’ve created your visualizations, you can combine more than one into a single view and add interactivity by adding filters or by making one visualization a filter for the others. Ray said Tableau shines when users engage with it and try different things, and it certainly does look easy–and fun–to use. Unfortunately, it is still a Windows-only product at the moment, so I will need virtualization software to try it out with a dataset of my own. For those with Windows, the free online tutorials are a great place to start. You can access them by selecting the “On Demand” tab on Tableau’s training and tutorials page.
For the second half of class, Chris gave a presentation on using visualizations to tell a compelling story and shared with us the following examples as inspiration:
- the beautiful New York Times article “Snow Fall: the Avalanche at Tunnel Creek”
- a clip from Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth
- Hans Rosling’s TED talk on stats that reshape your world
- and this hilarious lecture on the shapes of stories by Kurt Vonnegut.
Chris also recommended several books and online resources for learning about visualization, including
- Nathan Yau’s book Visualize This and his FlowingData blog
- Andy Kirk’s Data Visualization: A Successful Design Process
- books by Alberto Cairo, Julie Steele, and Edward Tufte
- and a Duke University LibGuide with a taxonomy of visualizations.
All of this is captured–and expanded on only slightly–in my notes (PDF, 88 KB) from the session.