Thursday, 7 July 2016

Zens On Tour - A 470 Mile Tableau Odyssey


Wow. Just Wow. What a week, well 4 days it has been. The Zen Master UK Tour is at an end and I am on my final leg of travel back home. Its been an amazing experience and am so glad that I was asked to take part. Its by far the best thing I have done as part of the Zen Program. 

We started out in Edinburgh, my first trip to the city and although we didn’t get to do much sight seeing, the venue offered an amazing view Athur’s Seat. 

The first of the #MakeOverMonday sessions went so well, people got really engaged with the idea and got stuck into the data. Some people were total beginners, their first time with Tableau, but even so were able to create something, within an hour that they could share with the rest of the group. Its amazing that you can get such variety of views from the same simple dataset. Everyone really enjoyed the chance to play with a dataset that was different from their usual one, and I think that is one of the best things about #Makeovermonday. It allows people to play with data, to just experiment, in a safe environment. Nothing that they produce is going to be used to make a big decision, so it can be used as a learning experience, try something new without risk of failure. 

In the afternoon, everyone was treated to yours truly giving a talk on the role of colour in data visualisation. I think they liked it, no one walked out or fell asleep so that’s a result in my book. I was then joined onstage my my fellow Zen Masters for a great Q&A that started with colour but soon went off into other areas. We then had some networking, which was a great way to char to people, hear their stories and try to give back some of the enthusiasm that we feel as Zens. 

We then all jumped on the Zen Bus, our ride for the week. Imagine Iron Maiden Tour Bus, well it was nothing like that, more Spinal Tap. It was a great ride down to Leeds, involving a few board games, magic tricks, conversations, beers and sleep. Even had time for a stop at the Golden Arches. 

We had another great session with people in Leeds, building fun vizzes for #MakeoverMonday, sharing their work and there was a real buzz in the room and hopefully the start of the Leeds TUG. Rob gave a terrific keynote about the challenge of making dataviz mean something to people that don’t see the value in it, how to make people see beyond just pixels on a screen and see the data, and the people behind it. 
We had another great Q&A following the keynote, people engaged with the subject and wanted to know more about how to drive that take up. 

After a wonderful curry and walk though Leeds, and a decent nights sleep it was an early start to get to our next stop Birmingham. 

As for the bus journey to Brum, well lets just say, you weren’t there man, you don’t know what it was like. It was an epic journey, full of thrills, a few spills, some grey hair, swearing, frantic looking up of routes, but eventually, and I don’t know how we made it. 

More makeovers, Q&A and a great talk by Andy on his Dear Data 2 project with Jeff Shafer closed out the day and after a great night watching the football it was off to London, on the train this time. 

We had a great turnout for the London event, in a very swanky hotel. Saw some great makeovers from people with very little experience, but all got something out of it, which was great, new connections made, info passed on. 

Chris Love did a great, and very thought provoking talk on the art of keeping data viz simple. His arguments against overly complex data viz were well made, and I mostly agreed with them. It made me think about some of my earlier dashboards and how I would throw everything at them, and now I don’t. Hopefully he will get to give that talk again as I think its great to hear how reducing the complexity of a viz can be a really powerful design choice. 

And that was that, the end of an epic week. Its been amazing talking to so many people to have so many people come out to see us, to take part in the makeovers, to see the talks. I really hope that this is something that happens again, it was a great way to spread the enthusiasm that we Zens have, and its what we do and why we do it. 

We, have to say a huge thank you to 3 and a half people for all their help in making this dream a reality. 

First Louis Archer, the guy that came up with the crazy idea of putting the band on the road. He played the role of tour manager superbly, kept us on time, told us where to go and organised it so well, it just made the whole thing a total joy. 

2nd Andy Cotgreave, the un-offical leader of the Zens and the Andy of Andy and the Zens. His boundless energy and enthusiasm is what keeps the Zen program the amazing thing it is. Without this, we just wouldn’t be the group of people that we are. Thank you for doing a great job (mostly) of the role of MC for the week, you set each day up a treat.

To Jacob Clarke



(the half I was talking about, as he only did two days) You played the role of roadie so well, and assisted in the Q&A with the microphone, helped out with the makeovers, but more than that, brought the fun to the group. Every successful Tableau event needs one Clarke, and you were ours. Its evident in the fact that it all went downhill when you left us. 

The unsung hero though, was Marcus Wong. He went ahead of us each day, got the venue set-up, put out the badged and made sure that when we arrived, we didn’t have anything to do. 
You know all those awesome Tableau events we go to? You know how well they are run and work so so smoothly? Its because of the backroom guys like Marcus, they are they heroes, so Marcus, thank you, from all of us.

Finally I’d like to thank my fellow Zens, Andy, Craig, Chris and Rob for their friendship and support on this trip. We managed to get through it all without falling out, which says something about the group. All of us took time away from home, from families to do this, we don’t work for Tableau, we don’t get anything from this. 
We do this, cos this is who we are. 

We love playing with data, playing with Tableau. 

We make simple things, complex things, beautiful things, practical things. 

We write blogs, we talk on podcasts, we present. We teach and we learn. 
We will always do our best to help others join us on our Tableau and dataviz journey. 

We do it, because we want to share. We do because we love to help. 

We do it because we are the Tableau Zen Masters.  

And I've never been prouder to be one. 

Matt Francis

Author & Editor

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

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