Thursday, 12 September 2013

Touch me, play with me.....

So i am sitting in the airport waiting for my flight and i am thinking back over my time at TCC13. To be fair a lot of it is a blur as a combination of so much content, full on networking, fire alarms, hanging with Chuck Hooper (THE Chuckfather) seems to have muddled my brain somewhat. It was great to meet so many of the Tableau family that i have known from the interwebs for some time and finally put a voice to the avatar.

One thing that sticks in my mind came from the very first day, it was a topic that came up in 4 separate talks and i think its the next big hurdle that we face. How do you get your consumer of your dashboards and vizii to interact with them.

The first hurdle that Tableau faced, and any dataviz maker for that matter was getting past the "But i want it in Excel" mentality. Well i think that particular battle as been won, or at the very least victory is around the corner. The average person is now used to data visualisations, they are everywhere now, some good, a lot bad. Infographics are the new cool way of spreading information in an eye catching way. People are comfortable with trusting the pictures rather than seeing the numbers behind them.

We are in an isolated bubble. We that create the dashboards, attend TCC, know and love interactive dashboards. We spend hours crafting them, adding parameters, creating actions that allow data discovery that their own pace. We know that, but our consumers often don't realise that these dashboards can be played with. Often all that time we spend making our work dynamic and interactive never actually gets used. Its like buying a Ferrari and just driving to the shops and back. Sure it works as intended but there is so much more power that is just being under used. I suspect that i am not the only one that hovers over every chart they see on a webpage, expecting and not always getting a pop up or dynamic action.

From my own work i have experienced this. i have created dashboards with cool actions, clever parameters that let you change the entire look of the workbook, but when i have happened to go to see people they haven't realised they could do that. Maybe we have a greater level of curiosity than our consumers, or maybe we need to put a little more into our work to make it irresistible for them not to play. I wonder how much of my time has been wasted adding features that were not needed. Now maybe thats my fault and i should just produce what's required, but I want to make the very best dashboards i can, so if i spend the time i want to make sure people make the most of it.

So what's the solution? i don't know, but i suspect its not a single solution, but here's a few thoughts.

  • Time - Most peoples exposure to charts have been in the printed media, or on a projector in a meeting rather than on their browser. As time goes on and they see more of it on their desktops it will seem normal to be able to interact. 
  • New Tech - Kelly Martin (@VizCandy) suggested giving everyone iPads, the tactile nature of touch screens just invites you to touch the screen. For some its now second nature, my 2 year old will stroke my laptop screen expecting things to move about.  
  • Tell them - A simple solution is to put instructions somewhere on the dashboard, let them know where to click, how to interact. 
  • Trick them - I've never used hover action filters but this seems like a great use of them. Having a select action in order to interactive requires active participation. Having it as hover you are more likely to accidentally discover that "It moves"
Depending on the dashboard, the consumer and the actions in the dashboard some of these might not be possible, or practical. Assuming that our audience knows how to interact with our work, might be wasting some of our valuable time. Maybe we need to spend a little more and teach them how to the a curious 2 year old, and remember how to play.

Safe Travels everyone.


Author & Editor

Tableau Zen Master, Social Ambassador, Wrangler of Data, Vizzer of Data


  1. Matt, interesting thoughts (safe trip home btw). I tend to think most people naturally divide themselves into two categories: Analysts and Consumer. Analyst-types click everything in sight, joyfully exploring, looking for the story. Consumer-types sit back and watch, they want the story to be told to them. This is of course a continuum, without nice neat boxes.

    But as we attempt to get our vizzes interacted with, we should keep in mind what type of user we are dealing with and create interactive vizzes that match the audience type.

    You sure seemed to have a lot of fun this past week :)


  2. I'm increasingly using what you refer to as the "trick me" / hover to highlight approach, which seems to require a tenth the mental effort as clicking.

    Hovering doesn't always work and doesn't work at all on an iPad, however, and radio buttons or filters that look like buttons are key. I have yet to see someone--without prompting--click on a color legend to highlight marks in a viz, and once you have to write, "Click here to..." you've kind of lost. Pull-down menus are almost as bad.

    The other big impediment to interactivity is the viz's responsiveness to clicks, hovers, filters, etc. Tableau improved significantly in v8 with client-side rendering, but it's still slow. Even with something entirely client-side, such as tool tips, there's a night-and-day difference between a D3 viz and a Tableau viz.

    Thanks for the fun tweets from #TCC13 and excellent presentation.


  3. I can't believe you didn't mention the epic Tuesday night dinner as one of your most memorable takeaways from TCC.


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