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Why Tableau is not the best way to start with data visualization

and what is the best way

New job. New office. New team.

Eight years ago, I joined FP&A department of a large corporation. A lot of water under that bridge. But I remember this day as yesterday.

And here is why.

I met a new team. First the whole group, and then each one separately. Informal 121s over a cup of coffee. My caffeine intake has tripled these days.

I remember one intern. As an “experienced” financial specialist, I lead a conversation with the “younger generation”.

“Well, how do you like it here? How is it in finance? Enjoying it?”

“Not really,” said the intern. “Finance is boring stuff. This is all just about tables.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, “finance is not about tables; tables or charts are just a way of presenting data. Finance is about helping the business make the right decisions based on robust analytics …”

But it was late. The moment was lost. Intern left without waiting for the end of the probation period.

Maybe he was forever disappointed in the field he has chosen and devoted five years of study. Who knows? That all has happened, as a bunch of reports and tables were dumped on the poor fellow without explaining, WHY he was doing it.

Since then, my focus has shifted from financial analysis as such to the area of ​​data visualization. But the story repeats itself. Many young and talented people want to do data visualization and seek advice on how to get started.

And they find it…. The starter lists – just the lists of tools. MS Excel, Tableau, Power BI, QlikView …

Like for example this one

Don’t get me wrong, this is a great article and great help for newbies. But this is step number two.

Data visualization is not about tools. They are just the means of displaying the data. Data visualization begins with principles, with an understanding the meaning of the data, with the ability to tell stories.

Before diving into functionality of any particular tool spend some time playing with space and composition, understanding gestalt principles and preattentive attributes of visual perception.

I am currently working on a project using Tableau. This is a powerful tool, but somewhat counterintuitive, especially for a person who is used to the different ones.

If they told me: “In order to learn data visualization, learn Tableau first,” I’m afraid that after two weeks of torment, I’ll give this venture up.

Fortunately, I’ve started with the principles of visualization and storytelling with business data. And that is what I strongly advise you.

PS: I’ll become friends with Tableau. In no time. I promise.