Show Me! – When less is definitely more

Posted by on Dec 12, 2011

I know there are people out there who look at the ‘Show Me!’ button in Tableau and think it looks small and limited when compared to Excel’s chart wizard library (I know this because I was once one of these people when I first saw Tableau). What worries me now however is there are still people who directly compare them, who even go as far as to dismiss Tableau because it doesn’t have this big charting library. If you’re in the group of people who think Excel can create more charts than Tableau then please put your Starbucks coffee down and read on.

Excel is to Charts as Starbucks is to Choice

How did I know you had a Starbucks coffee in your hand? Because I made the assumption that you like choice, that you walk in to a Starbucks, take a look at the vast array of drinks to choose from and decide that today you’re feeling like a grande caramel macchiato with an extra shot of syrup.

Is there anything wrong with this selection? Perhaps not, it’s your decision. What’s wrong is that the drink was on the menu! A Starbucks macchiato isn’t actually a macchiato, it’s a strong cappuccino with more sugar than your teeth can handle.

Why am I ranting about coffee? Simple, the Excel charting wizard for me is akin to the Starbuck menu. It looks vast, like there are so many options to choose from. But I dispute this. If you ask for a different type of coffee bean in your macchiato you’ll get a strange look, usually the same look people have when trying to work out what a ’3D’ Excel chart is actually showing them. Just like Starbucks, Excel is designed to give you the illusion of choice, that you can plot your data exactly how you want it. That is I think why smart people revert to using the 3D pie charts, they’re bored and frustrated by Excel and so just want lash out with a chart that’s just as confusing to read as it was to make.

Become an Artisan Data Analyst

As you may be expecting in this Analogy, Tableau is the independent, artisan coffee shop. Just like the Show Me! window the coffee shop’s menu is small & simple and if you don’t have any idea they’ll recommend a default coffee bean for your cappuccino. But if you know that you want fruity, medium roasted, Columbian served in a French press at exactly 85C you can have it.

It all comes down to choice. With Tableau you can plot just about every type of chart, thanks to its generic canvas methodology the total number is almost unlimited. Just like the artisan coffee shop this is real choice, yes Show Me! is small but you’ll produce something you can use and is meaningful. It’s at least a great place to start when you’re not sure what you’re looking for. With the Excel wizard library what you see is all you get and once you remove the repetition of 2D to 3D charts there isn’t much left to select from.

So which really has more choice?

Craig Bloodworth

CTO
Tableau Zen Master 2012 & 2013

Latest posts by Craig Bloodworth (see all)

One Comment

  1. I just had to leave a comment to say I loved the Starbucks parallel. Very creative! :)

    Mike Regans,
    Motobatt Batteries

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