Monday 2 February 2015

5 Tips for better Tableau Story Points

5 Things about : Story Points

This blog post has been going around my head for a while now, and though the encouragement of two of my dear Tableau friends I have finally put finger to keyboard.

Stories are a powerful way of eliciting an emotional response and can me a great way of persuading someone around to your point of view. When you are trying to make a case for change using a powerful message enables you to get the decision makers on your side.

Tableau story points make it easy to create a rich interactive story that combines multiple workbooks into a cohesive narrative. There are however a few do’s and don’ts that are worth bearing in mind.

1. Use a 3 act structure

An effective story needs to be planned out and there are a number of things you need to consider

  1. Plot: What story are you trying to tell? What is the point of it? What do you want people to think or feel by the end of it.
  2. Characters: These are your data sets, your filters, and your parameters. What elements are you going to use to drive the plot on? Do you use a map? Do you need to have some text to explain the data to the viewer? How is each element going to contribute to the overall story?
  3. Audience: Who is going to read your story? Is it as part of a presentation, which you will be presenting? Is it going to be viewed by someone on their own? How alien is the data and concepts to the viewer, will you have to explain a lot of the terms? Remember you will not be there to explain it to them. So make sure your voice is in the story.
The next thing to do is create a storyboard, plan what vizzes or dashboards you are going to use, what order you are going to present the data and how you are going to combine your characters and plot together. It’s useful to use the 3 Act narrative structures.

Act 1: The Set-up

Explain what the point of the story is. Introduce your plot and where you are going to take the viewer.

Act 2: The Action

This is the bulk of your story; this is where you combine your characters and the plot elements to tell your story. Take the viewer on a journey, showing them more information as you go.

Act 3: The Denouement

Finally you have reached the climax of the story, by this point your viewer has absorbed all the plot points you have created and now they are ready for your final viz to end the story.

2. Plan the order of your story points

Now that you have worked out your 3 acts you can fill in the rest of the details. What dashboards are you going to show? What filter settings are you going to use. A really effective way of working out the flow is to use something like post-it notes. Write the descritption of each of your story points and lay them on your desk. You can easily move them around, add or remove them to create the right sort of flow. This is a great way of seeing where you need to add another point to the story or where you can cut something that’s not adding value.

3. Always use dashboards.

As a rule I never publish a worksheet to Server or Public and nor do I use them in a story. The reason? You have no control of the layout, element position or sizing. Using a dashboard lets you control the size of the dashboard, the layout of the worksheets, the position of things like filters, legends and parameters. You can then be sure that what you see on your screen will be the same that everyone else will see when the view your story. The last thing you want is to spend hours crafting something that looks great on your screen, only to find out it looks bad on everyone elses.

4. Size your dashboards correctly for the story.

It's really important that you set the sizing of your story and dashboards to make the most of the real estate on screen. If you set your dashboard too small you will have lots of white space surrounding it or if it's too large, scrollbars. If you do it in the right order it makes it a lot easier. So you have created a few sheets that you want to turn into a story, how to you go about creating the right size story. 

  • First create your new story, now set the size that you want it to be. There is a default Story size from the drop down menu so if you are unsure of what you want to you then that is a pretty good default to use. 
  • Next you create you dashboards, one for each story point. Now when it comes to setting the correct size of the dashboard, Tableau helps out. If you open the sizing dialog and scroll to the bottom it automatically works out the correct dashboard size to fit whatever Story size you selected earlier. 
  • Now you can arrange your worksheets inside a correctly sized dashboard, safe in the knowledge that when it's viewed in the the story it will look perfect. 

5. Be consistent with your dashboard formatting

Ok. You’ve got your dashboards sized and placed your worksheets accordingly and added your dashboards to the story. The next thing is to make sure that you are consistent in your format for each dashboard. Make sure that you have used the same fonts, colours, layouts across each story point and workbook. You want the story to flow from point to point, keeping the viewer on a voyage of discovery. Constantly changing fonts or colour palettes will be jarring as your viewer moves through the story.

So there you go, 5 little tips that will help you make better stories using Tableau Story Points.


Author & Editor

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


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  3. Thank you Matt for sharing your insight!

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