Basic bars, intentional design

“Good design takes planning and thought”. Cole Knaflic, Storytelling With Data, p139

The tweet

Naomi tweeted me yesterday with a question about my Makeover Monday viz on policymaker estimates of gender equality measures:

Naomi tweet

You can see the viz – and judge for yourself – here, but I wanted to blog about four intentional design choices I made creating a much simpler viz: a basic bar chart for this month’s #SWDChallenge.

Choice 1: Labels within bars

Screenprint 1

Now Tableau is definitely my Data Visualisation tool of choice, but it does have its quirks. One example is labels on bars, where the default options are as follows:

Label options

Personally, I like to have labels right aligned to provide an additional positional comparison, but with them tucked just inside the bars (don’t ask me why – it just seems…neater).

This is possible within Tableau, but involves a workaround. I created a second bar chart using a calculated field SUM([Total])-[Label offset], where [Label offset] is a parameter control I could adjust until the labels fell just inside the bars when the axes are synchronised.

I would have been better off googling how to do it, as Andy Kriebel had already detailed two superior methods in this blog post, including one which keeps your secondary axis free.

Choice 2: Colour

Screenprint 2

I knew I wanted separate colours for swimmers and gymnasts, with other athletes a neutral colour (I had some qualms about using grey in case this was misinterpreted as denoting silver medals, but I considered the risk of this to be small in the context of the overall design).

Often I will chose my own colours by eye, but this time I decide to use Coolors, an application which generates custom colour palettes. One of the first colours suggested was Aquamarine, which seemed perfect for the swimmers. By locking this colour and trying more combinations I found a complementary yellow for the gymnasts.

Using the colours in the takeaway title helps to strengthen the association, and removes the need for a separate key.

Choice 3: Removing duplication

Screenprint 3

In my first draft I had labels for every bar, but this resulted in a significant amount of duplication (there are 3 athletes with 13 medals, 8 with 12 medals, and 5 with 11). I felt the viz would look cleaner by just showing a label for the first instance of each total.

If you are looking for a particular athlete then this may not be optimal, as you may need to move up a few rows to see the value. Having the repeated labels in light grey to de-emphasize, rather than remove, these values is another option.

Choice 4: Additional data layer

Olympic Medal Count

Interactive viz

Now here is where Tableau really comes into its own. Viz in Tooltip was recently introduced as a new feature in the 10.5 release, and I am a huge fan of how it allows you to keep a viz super clean, with details available on demand.

I decided to use Viz in Tooltip to show an additional data layer containing each athlete’s country, sport (information not shown for the grey bars) and gold, silver and bronze medal count by Olympic year.

Final thoughts

People will make different design choices when creating vizzes, but every element of your design should be intentional, even (in fact, especially) if your choice is to retain elements of the default view.

Your chart type may be basic, but your design choices should always be thoughtful.

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