Hone your skills with Makeover Monday

I don’t usually get to attend Tableau User Groups. We don’t (yet?) have one down in the depths of New Zealand’s south island, and it’s a long drive to the nearest one in Christchurch. But with New Zealand and much of the world in some form of lock down, Tableau has encouraged and supported virtual user group meetings. So I was excited to dial into this weeks virtual New Zealand Tableau User Group meeting jointly arranged by Alex, Thabata, Jeff and Paul from the Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington groups. The icing on the cake was being invited to speak about my experience with Makeover Monday!

The topic of my 30 minute slot was Hone your skills with Makeover Monday.  For those after the tips and checklist I mentioned, please read on. Or you can watch the recording of the whole session on YouTube, including the other great speakers:

  • How to do Tableau in lock-down! – Alex Waleczek
  • Hiring: Score yourself a unicorn – Sarah Burnett
  • Set It Up: When to use Set vs Parameter Actions – Heidi Kalbe

Here is the summary of the 13 tips and the example checklist I covered in my presentation.


  1. First up, my last tip: please, please, please don’t be discouraged from participating by some of the brilliant submissions you’ll see from others. Everyone has to start somewhere. And there’s nothing wrong with a quick and simple makeover. Often a simple bar chart is just what the data and story deserves.
  2. Do read the article, it’s tempting to save time by not reading it. But there is often useful context and background that you can dig into. Spending some time understanding context will usually pay you back as an analyst
  3. Remember the purpose of makeover Monday. Take the time to ask yourself what works well with the original chart and what could be improved. Doing so will help you focus on what you want to make over. Sometimes the improvements might only need to be minor – e.g. better use of colour. Sometime you may be doing a completely different chart.  Invest the time that suits you
  4. Do dig into any nuances in the data. E.g. does the data start and end partway through a year, which would impact seasonal comparisons? Or are there fields that need to be transformed or pivoted to make analysis easier? Have you understood an unusual outlier, or some peaks and troughs?
  5. Once into visual exploration I like to build up working sheets as I explore various angles. That way I can come back to points I want to focus on and refine later. As I refine these, ideas for a dashboard and sequencing start to emerge. My best advice here is to watch one of Andy Kriebel’s live Makeover Monday’s. You’ll get to see where he spends his time, how he goes about exploring data and creating a better data viz.
  6. If you plan to blog about each makeover you’ll find that that takes some time. It can help to keep notes as you review the original chart and explore the data if you plan to blog. That way you can structure them into a blog post at the end
  7. Have a checklist to go through before publishing. Some people keep a written checklist to remind themselves of key things, Otherwise it’s easy to forget about tool tips or spell checking! I’ve included an example checklist below.
  8. Do share your work – take the plunge! It’s a good way to engage and get feedback, which is a crucial part of improving your data visualisation and story telling skills.
  9. Try not get too disheartened if you get no feedback on Twitter, or even unexpected feedback. It’s very difficult to deliver feedback in a way that suits everyone on Twitter.
  10. If you want feedback register for the weekly viz review webinar. Remember to to only use the #MMVizReview hashtag if you will register for and attend the webinar otherwise it makes it harder for the organisers to prepare.
  11. Do work through and incorporate any feedback that you’re given in the viz review webinar. It helps you to reinforce the learnings, and it shows Eva and Charlie that their input is worthwhile!
  12. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get selected in the weekly favourites. You’re one of a thousand people participating (as of May 2020) and Charlie and Eva can’t practicably see and recall every Makeover Monday tweet! Remember why you decided to take part and ensure that you’re getting what you want out of it – e.g. after two months look back at how much you’ve improved.
  13. If you benefit try to pay it forward in the future. I’ll leave that up to you, but it could be helping new Tableau users on the Tableau Forums (hint: many people find that trying to pass on their knowledge is a wonderful way to gain deeper knowledge themselves), or it could be getting involved in your local user group. Maybe you’ll take the time to encourage new Makeover Monday participants in your area!


Here is the example checklist I provided – over time you’ll find the things that help you to check that you’ve got a great makeover before you submit:

  • Right chart type
  • Improved what you set out to improve
  • Remember your audience (e.g. mobile)
  • Clear title & annotations
  • If your title is a question is it answered?
  • Consistent fonts, tool tips, etc.
  • Consistent use of colour (helps the story)
  • Simple is good (remove till you can’t)
  • Spell check and read back through it
  • Source and image credits

Those tips are things that have worked for, or stuck out to me. You can find much more information on the Makeover Monday website, including how to buy the book which covers a whole heap of data visualisation advice.

Finally as I said in the presentation, I look forward to seeing more NZ user group members in the #MakeoverMonday feed soon. Please do reach out if you need some encouragement!