Makeover Monday, 2019 #3

Andy Kriebel selected a data set about US workers paid at/below the minimum wage for those choosing to participate in week 3, 2019.

The original viz highlights some of the regional differences for 2017 by showing the data geographically. I like that I can see regional differences, but I found myself wanting to see the trend over time (as it’s available in the data set) to see if the geographical trends are part of an ongoing story.

So for my makeover I’ve kept things pretty simple and separated the different regions and sub-regions. Adding the overall line for the US and differentiating values above / below this in different colours helps to tell the story. A state highlighter allows users to focus in on one state if they want to – this is quick built in functionality for Tableau (right click a dimension and set as highlighter). I spent a lot of time in the depths of SQL Server geography queries for last week’s makeover, so it was refreshing to step back to simple built in Tableau functionality for week 3!

Interactive viz: here on Tableau Public.

Static image:



Makeover Monday, 2019 #1

Makeover Monday 2019 week 1 looks at NHL attendances since the 2000-01 season.

A couple of things emerge from an exploration of the data set provided: firstly there are seasons where labour disputes, or lockouts, dramatically affect attendances. Secondly some teams have different stories to the general trend. I spent most of my time exploring and presenting the lockout story, but added a team selector to allow users to explore average game attendance by team.

Interactive version on Tableau Public is available here.


Leading with questions

I was preparing for our company celebration of CX Day 2018  on Tuesday and was reminded of this great interview with Warren Berger on the IDEOU site. The interview drills into the power of questions, and how the right question can lead to a breakthrough and real innovation. The bit that sticks out for me is the question that led to the Polaroid instant camera:

One of my favourite questions is the question that led to the Polaroid Instant Camera back in the 1940s. The four-year-old daughter of the founder of Polaroid asked: Why do we have to wait for the picture? One of the reasons why four-year-olds are good at asking questions is because they don’t have a lot of assumptions and they look at things with a beginner’s mind … Many things begin with a question. It’s this catalytic force. When you arrive at an interesting question and take ownership of that question, it can lead you to innovation.


My take away: when you’re leading a group of creative people, you don’t need all of the answers; you don’t need your assumptions or your preconceived options for a solution; often you just need a really great question!

Copy and paste text boxes in Tableau

Christina Gorga recently commented on Twitter that she would love the ability to copy or duplicate text boxes on Tableau dashboards.

The tweet attracted favourable attention, with 44 likes. One reason the feature is seen as useful is that it could reduce the time taken to copy formatting throughout a dashboard; styling like fonts, sizes, colours, borders. How much of a pain is it to reapply these to multiple text boxes?

The good news is that there is a Tableau feature request (idea) to copy and paste objects in a dashboard, and we can vote for that to try to get it onto the product roadmap! Like any product development team I’m sure Tableau have to prioritise their investment, and up voting ideas gives them an idea of what to focus on.

In the meantime, if you’re willing to take some risks in a non-critical Tableau dashboard, there is already a way to copy and paste text boxes. I’ve seen this idea mentioned on the forums by Andy Cotgreave, and he quite rightly points out that it is likely to be unsupported. So if you’re going to try it, then take a back up of your workbook first. I’ll tell you more about why this is important towards the end of this post! For now trust me and take a backup.

Right let’s work through the how to guide. Please do excuse the awful dashboard design; it’s purely to illustrate the approach.

How to copy and past text boxes in Tableau

Note that this approach is for floating layouts!

Step 1 is to setup an outline dashboard and add your template text box – this is the text box format you want to copy throughout. In this example it’s the text in the top left and I’d like to duplicate the style in the bottom left and bottom right.


Step 2 is to close your workbook and open up the .twb in a text editor (like notepad) instead of Tableau Desktop. The file is mainly metadata about how to transform and display the actual data in your data sources, and is encoded in XML. XML is generally human readable and, importantly to us in this case, human editable. Once open in a text editor find the section that starts “dashboards”. Within this section you should find a section for your particular “dashboard”. I’ve highlighted the section for my dashboard below:


I’ve also added some annotations to draw your attention to two parts. A is a zone of type=”text”. As you can see part way down and to the right, it includes the text that I placed at the top of my dashboard. You can see other layout and formatting elements and attributes in this overall section like x and y coordinates, height and width and some styling. One aspect not included here is text alignment. You can see that in the section of XML I’ve marked B.

Step 3 is to copy that <zone … id=”X” …>…</zone>  element of XML (in my case X=1, but your case will likely differ). I’m going to paste that block back in twice (as I want two more text boxes) and I’m going to paste at the bottom of the zones section, just before the </zones> closing tag, as you can see in the next screenshot:


What you’ll see I’ve also done is

  • updated the id=”…” for each of the copies I’ve pasted in to be the next highest id number based on the preceding zones.
  • updated the x=”…” and y=”…” coordinate values appropriately (I made my life easy here by having a 2×2 grid where I’d already added elements to two spots, so I can just copy the appropriate x and y value from preceding zones, and I didn’t need to edit width and height). Don’t be phased by the x, y, width and height values not looking like the corresponding pixel values in Tableau Desktop. You can always grab your calculator and work out what you need from other values, or just offset enough from other zones that you can subsequently fix it up in Tableau.
  • finally I updated the text in the formatted-text > run elements. You don’t have to do this here in the text editor though, as you’ll be able to edit it in Tableau Desktop too.

Cool. Save those changes, close your text editor and …

Step 4: Reopen the workbook in Tableau Desktop. You should see that the pasted text boxes show up with pretty much the same styling:


There is one slight problem though - the text alignment isn’t the same. We can fix this!

Step 5 in this guide is to close Tableau Desktop, reopen the .twb in a text editor and add a bit more XML. Obviously if or when you are doing this for real you’ll do step 5 at the same time as step 3 above. We need to copy and paste the text- and vertical-align format styles too as illustrated here:


You’ll see that I’ve had to derive the relevant id=”dash-text_X” value. The X matches the id chosen for the previously pasted in zones. Save your changes again.

Step 6 is to reopen in Tableau Desktop and you should see correctly aligned text:


There you go. Copy and pasting text boxes in Tableau!

Yeh, but…

I went on to try copy and pasting a non-text box zone. I copied a chart zone and edited the id, and changed the name to another unused chart from my workbook. When I reopened the workbook in Tableau Desktop I got an error. The error told me to contact support. I’m pretty sure Tableau Support don’t want to hear from me after I’ve hacked the underling XML. And I’m pretty sure I know what one of their first questions would be; “do you have a backup you can revert to?”!

I’ve used this approach to copying and pasting text boxes for a couple of Makeover Monday submissions, but not on work projects. Nevertheless I believe I’ve learnt a bit from the underlying XML behind my workbooks, and it makes me think that if the idea referenced above is up voted enough it wouldn’t be a big stretch for the development team to iterate some potentially very well received functionality.

PS. if you want know more about XML, then check out this resource.

Makeover Monday, 2018 #35

A couple of my colleagues are giving Makeover Monday a go to practice some recent Tableau Desktop training, so I’m back into it too! This week we were given a data set from Figure Eight about wearable tech products, with the challenge to makeover the charts in this article from 2014, about where we are wearing our wearable tech.

The charts are simple, clear bar charts. For me it could be made clearer that the charts don’t indicate what products sell well, and hence what tech is actually worn most, and where. Also we don’t get to see the inter-relationships; are lifestyle products worn on a different part of the body to health products or entertainment products? For my makeover I wanted to take a look at these angles whilst retaining the simplicity of the bar charts. I’ve minimised styling because one of the team is keen to see how to move away from Tableau defaults for fonts, grid lines, etc.

The makeover follows below. Or you can click through to the interactive version where the highlight picker at the bottom lets you explore the inter-relationships (e.g. try picking entertainment to see where those devices are worn and who produces them).


Makeover Monday, 2018 #22

Where is some of the worlds priciest residential property? For week 22 of #MakeoverMonday we look at a World Economic Forum chart trying to answer that question.

On first glance the chart is nice and clear, but is a tree map the right type of chart to use when we’re not looking at parts of a whole? A number of community members have suggested it is not, and for me that detail shouldn’t be left to the chart footnote just in case the chart is used in a standalone setting. The sort order of the areas isn’t super intuitive either, with the most expensive city in the top right.

I felt that areas worked well for the topic – square meters of real estate – but have overlaid them to allow the different cities to be more easily compared. This approach also removes the issue of not showing parts of a whole. I’ve tried for a blue-print like look and feel. Picking courier new to complement that. In hindsight that perhaps doesn’t work with a theme of wealth and costliness.

Tableau public version.

Pricey Property

Makeover Monday, 2018 #21

How accurate were the Guardian Sports writers’ predictions for the 2017-18 English Premier League? According to this visualisation, which was picked for week 21 of makeover Monday, the predictions were not that great. I decided to have a play with removing inaccurate predictions; after all once you get one wrong you’ll end up with at least one other prediction wrong too right? E.g. getting first and second the wrong way around. I was intrigued to see if the Guardian had more of the sequence correct than it seemed at first glance. Arguably they did have more right – 11 was the number I got to.

Tableau public version here.


“Yes, and”, Cirque du Soleil and innovative design

On a recent holiday we got to go to a Cirque du Soleil show. The show was “O” and you should seriously consider checking it out if you ever get the chance. Absolutely amazing! Aside from being thoroughly entertaining, for me the show reinforced some recent experiences around innovation and creative leadership that I’d picked up from companies like Empathy Design and IDEO.

I’m not talking about design frameworks or methods of research – although those will pay you back too! I’m talking about the power of two simple words. They’re easy words to say in your head, but not always as easy in practice. If you’re interested in hearing more, feel free to read on. Or pop over to one of the websites mentioned above if you want to learn from the experts!

Cirque du Soleil “O”

If you’ve ever seen a show like Cirque, then you’ll know the general approach: a storyline weaved through a show of live music and acrobatics. It encapsulates a feeling of “wow!”, is immersive and generally involves the audience to an extent. This one was no exception but did have one difference – it was above a pool of water. So instead of landing on a stage, trampoline or safety net, the performers could plunge into the water:

Cirque du Soleil O 1

It was easy to imagine a design thinking style process where the performers had a conversation that went something like this:

Performer 1: “We could leap into the air and spread our limbs out for great effect”

Creative director, doesn’t say “but we always do that” instead they say Yes, and could we build up some momentum on a giant swing, so that we can fly higher and longer than we’ve done before?”

Performer 2 contributes: Yes, and instead of having to land on a stage we could plunge into a pool of water so that we can hold our pose for longer!”

Few people would argue with the commercial success of Cirque du Soleil and that this success is based on an ability to immerse and delight their customers. I couldn’t help but think that the end result of delighted customers stemmed in part from “yes, and” style thinking.

Of course “what ifs” and “buts” have to be addressed too. So whilst we were seeing this:

Cirque du Soleil O 2

What was actually happening was like this:

Cirque du Soleil O 3

(this is really what was happening … they even show you the scuba divers at one point in the show)

Creative leadership and innovation

What I didn’t know when I was thinking the above on our way out of the theatre, was that Cirque du Soleil have indeed been used as a poster child for innovation, design thinking and creative leadership.

People that know me well, will know that I’m more of a “what if” kind of guy (some pretty strong monitor evaluator preferences in there for those familiar with Belbin!). But the lesson for me is clear, innovation comes from a “yes, and” approach.

Applying “yes, and” in principal

A “yes, and” approach works really well during ideation. When leading a group through idea generation (e.g. in an ideation workshop) you’re after quantity, and you want your participants to defer judgement on quality (“no idea is a bad idea … for now”). A positive approach to take is to encourage the group to build on each others ideas. Ask people to put away any tendency to say “but that won’t work” and instead try starting their thoughts and comments with “yes, and”. Doing this is a great way to facilitate building on ideas.

If you can get the group to the point where they’re eagerly awaiting each others ideas, pausing to consider and then saying “yes, and we could …” then you’re halfway there!

Makeover Monday, 2018 #13

I’m returning to #MakeoverMonday after a month or two off with family and travelling. After completing all 52 in 2017 I’m pretty relaxed about how many I participate in this year, and hope to pick up on some other community initiatives, like viz for social good. Anyway back to this weeks makeover…

In week #13 the challenge was to makeover the first chart in this infographic about chocolate bar preferences in the UK. I enjoyed the original infographic and found the bump chart interesting. It took me a little while to reconcile that the bump chart plotted preferences across age brackets not years. I like the way the lack of data for some brands has been handled, although that does add to the complexity of the chart. So for my makeover I’ve simplified it down to simple lists of rankings. I’ve coloured the items by manufacturer as I think this tells the story about Cadbury more effectively for the audience.

Available on Tableau Public here.


Makeover Monday, 2018 #2-3

Week 2: What attributes are seen as most preferable in a romantic partner:


Week 3: Distributions as a line chart similarly to one or two others, but within a tile map. Each tile shows the distribution relative to all other distributions. Shading highlights the higher proportions for a selected income bracket. I also experimented with a second chart per tile to act as a miniature x-axis and call out the selected income bracket to orientate the viewer, not so sure about this bit … I wanted to show the income bracket too but it was just too dense text-wise! There were a few tricks here – like using a dual axis with area chart to be able to show a different background colour for each tile. Feel free to download the workbook to take a look and let me know if there’s things that could be done more elegantly!

Available on Tableau Public here.