Quick and easy – parameters to aggregate dates

(Now with video – video uses different data as an example)

One of my favorite uses of parameters is to dynamically change date aggregations without the pesky drill symbol.  Sometimes I want to just see week or month, quarters tend to be pretty worthless.  Especially if I’m doing something discrete, I really don’t like the way Tableau breaks apart the data view.

The creation of the parameter leaves me with a very clean user experience and ensures users don’t negatively interact with the viz.

Here’s the setup – first create a parameter of data type string and type in your allowed values.  Mine is going to have week and month:


(note I changed the casing on the words later on for look/feel)

Next create custom dates based on your primary date field.  Mine is called “Start”:


Right click on the field, go to Create -> Custom date…

For the sake of this viz, I made both a Months and Weeks (both are date value).  At one point I had days (shown as “Exact”, but I abandoned it)

Last step is create the calculated field.  Right click on the parameter at the bottom, create calculated field:


Place it on your designated shelf.  You may have to do some wrangling on the field to get it to display right.  For the viz I ended up with, the field is set to “Exact Date” and “Discrete.”

Check out the final experience below:

Data Analysis – First Steps

Earlier in the year (March), I participated in a panel discussion for a data+women series at the Phoenix TUG.  As prep I was given a list of questions and asked to pick a few I felt comfortable answering.

To facilitate the sharing of my experiences, I wrote a blog post on some of the more intriguing questions.  What comes next is a blog post I originally published within my company’s social media site on 3/23/16.

What is your first step of investigation when you are given a dataset?

So before investigating a data set, I think it is critical to understand what the data output contains. I think it is important to meet with the business owners or subject matter experts that are responsible for creating, maintaining, or using the data. This helps to ensure you understand what they are looking for and what the different fields mean.

Assuming the pre-work has been done with business owners, I always approach a new dataset the same way. There’s three things I do every time.

The first is to find a categorical dimension that seems to be at the highest level. Typically I’m looking for a category that has less than 20 members (10 to 15 being ideal). This data can set a great foundation to understanding the overall population of records. Once I’ve found that categorical dimension, I immediately create a Pareto chart. Recall that a Pareto chart is a bar chart where the bar volumes are ranked from greatest to smallest. Additionally it has a line chart on the secondary axis displaying the cumulative percentage. The goal of the tool is to see immediately where most (or a majority) of problems are. And it usually follows the 80/20 rule logic.

The next thing I do is plot records over time, usually by month, sometimes by week. This is great for understanding any seasonality and for finding immediate trends. Often systems are changing and new processes are implemented. By plotting records over time, you can immediately take any funny data points back to your business owner and ask for clarity.

The more clarity you have around your dataset, the more successful you’re going to be at understanding the information you can retrieve from it.

The last thing I do is take that categorical dimension and plot each one against time. This really is the combination of the first two to a large extent. From this you’ll be able to further pinpoint any trends that are category specific and find even more potential seasonality or process changes.


By creating the three visuals I mentioned above, I usually feel pretty confident about the “vitals” of the dataset. I get a great sense of being able to communicate in the same language and accurately reference volume. I’ve found that this is a great first step when working with almost any set of data. It makes an excellent conversation starter with business owners and also proves itself as a useful communication tool when bringing new team members into a project.

That’s my initial analysis workflow, what’s yours?

#IronViz Entry – Mobile Design

Part of being involved in the Tableau community means publicly publishing visualizations to learn and grow.  It’s also a great way to find inspiration.

As I’ve pushed myself to be more active within the local Phoenix Tableau community and social (Twitter) community, I knew it was time to “step up” and make an Iron Viz.

My design aesthetic tends to be minimal, slightly formal, and geared toward (in my mind) elegance.  I like to make dashboards and visualizations that highlight the data, but don’t jump to many conclusions.  I’m very conclusion agnostic, so leading people too far down a path doesn’t always seem right.

All that being said – I wanted to make an Iron Viz entry, but it needed to be simple.  The deadline is September 18 (today as I’m writing this).  So I wanted to develop something relatively straightforward that got to the heart of mobile design.

The data inspiration for the viz actually came from an animated bar chart .gif showing the “Top 10 Economies” growth from 1969 to 2030 that I saw on Twitter.  I thought it would make a nice bump chart or slope chart, and the conclusion of the data was already compelling.

First the data gathering process – relatively simple on this one.  The .gif referenced the source, a quick Google search led me to the results.  I’m going to loosely promise to publish the excel file at some point.

Next up was diving right in.  I recently made a “micro viz” in Tableau 10, designing it exclusively for a very tiny space.  I actually didn’t use the device designer for this one, instead opting to develop the whole thing with my intended sizing.  With the sizing set, development was similar to what I’ve done in the past in v9.3 (version of Tableau I use at my job).

Transitioning to device specific design was different than I thought.  Since I knew the final product (in my mind) would need to have more emphasis placed on the mobile view.  It is after all a mobile design challenge!

Like I mentioned above, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted the final viz to look like.  I knew there needed to be a bump chart and I was going to call attention to China and India.  What I didn’t realize is that the device designer is really geared toward creating a “master view” and then augmenting that master for the device.  This makes sense to me as I rethink the way the feature was presented.

What this meant for the creative process?  I wasn’t able to make visualizations (sheets) and quickly drop them on the mobile layout.  For each new “potential viz” I had to first drop it on the overall dashboard and then bring it on to the mobile specific dash.  It made the whole process kind of clunky.

I also struggled a bit with getting to formatting features quickly.  I can’t double click on titles to adjust font sizes in device preview, gotta go back to the default layout.  I’ll have to adjust my thought process next time and really think about starting from the default view and optimizing a mobile version.

I probably cheated the viz out of more depth that could have been added if I had truly started with the default dashboard and then made a mobile design.  It is fair to say that the default dashboard has real estate for more data insight and data depth.  I am still very pleased with the overall final results.