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Communicating Data with Tableau by Ben Jones

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Chapter 13. Building Dashboards

“‘Data! Data! Data!’ he cried impatiently. ‘I can’t make bricks without clay.’”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches”

In this chapter, let’s return to the analogy we used in the opening paragraphs of Chapter 1 and compare the act of communicating data with building a structure. As the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes relates emphatically in this chapter’s epigraph, the raw material that we’re using is data.

Now, neither we nor our audience have Holmes’ superior powers of deduction, so we need to take the raw material and build a suitable structure in order to facilitate discovery. And if the data is the clay, then the bricks are the individual charts and graphs, and the overall structure is the dashboard.

Building a dashboard that communicates data well doesn’t happen all at once. It requires some creative thought and diligent crafting. And like all creative processes, the process of building a data dashboard is rarely linear. There is typically a great deal of reworking and fine-tuning throughout.

That being said, it is useful to identify the different activities involved in creating dashboards in Tableau, and the general order in which they occur:

Design

Make a few rough sketches of dashboard layouts that use your data to help you accomplish your overall goal, taking into consideration the medium and channel that you will use to deliver the final version to your audience.

Sheets

Build each visualization as an individual ...

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