Communicating Data with Tableau

"Communicating Data with Tableau: Designing, Developing, and Delivering Data Visualizations" by Ben Jones (O'Reilly Media)

Ben Jones gives a concise and informative introduction to Tableau that's focused on designing and developing data visualisations for communication.

First, the positives. I was really taken by the gentle introduction to key aspects of data -- such as counts, ratios, and summary statistics -- that Jones gives in the early chapters. An interesting case study accompanies each chapter and Jones gives instructions for using Tableau whilst maintaining a conversational style.

The later chapters are more advanced. I particularly appreciated Chapters 10 and 11, which cover mapping, although questioned the utility of using polygons, rather than points, on a scatter plot (Figure 11-26, p.223). The reference to Minard's famous map is welcome, although I was disappointed to find that unlike Minard, a Tableau user is limited to the Web Mercator projection. The limitations of this projection are well documented. Surely Tableau can do better?

Chapters 12, 13, and 14 cover dashboards. I'm sure that many potential readers have designing and developing a dashboard in mind, so these chapters are welcome. The examples in Chapter 12 are good for inspiration, but I really wanted to see (and to use) interactive versions.

If I have a complaint about the book, it's that it takes a very Tableau-centric approach to data visualisation. The resources listed in Appendix A are meagre. Where are the links to Stephen Few's Perceptual Edge articles? The citation to, for example, a good introduction to cartography? The reader is left with the impression that Tableau invented data visualisation, and is poorer as a consequence.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through O'Reilly's Blogger Review Program.)

Iain Dillingham

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