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Why I created the FT Visual Vocabulary in Tableau

As the Head Coach of The Data School, I need to be on top of all things Tableau so that I can pass that knowledge onto our trainees. What I really hope they pick up is my method for learning and my constant to desire to get better at my craft. When they graduate from The Data School, they’re clearly some of the best Alteryx and Tableau users in the World. While that’s fantastic, unless they have an approach to problem solving, a thirst for learning, and a passion for sharing, I have failed as their coach, teacher, and mentor.



From the Financial Times Github page, the Visual Vocabulary is:

A poster and web site to assist designers and journalists to select the optimal symbology for data visualisations, by the Financial Times Visual Journalism Team.

The FT Visual Vocabulary is at the core of a newsroom-wide training session aimed at improving chart literacy. This learning resource is inspired by the Graphic Continuum by Jon Schwabish and Severino Ribecca. This is not an attempt to teach everyone how to make charts, but how to recognise the opportunities to use them effectively alongside words.

I had the honour of giving a talk to them right after I released my Tableau version and it was interesting to hear WHY they created it. They needed a way for their journalism and graphics teams to quickly pick a chart that works, plug in the data, and off they go. I even got a live demo, which was fascinating to watch. Thank you to Alan Smith and his team for inviting me over and for making me feel so welcome. Honestly, I never thought I’d get to meet Alan; he’s like a god in the data viz space.



As I previously mentioned, I am constantly looking for learning opportunities. I hadn’t built many of the charts in the Visual Vocabulary before, so I knew that I’d learn a lot. For example, I had never built these charts:

  1. Violin plot
  2. Circle timeline
  3. Seismogram
  4. Sunburst chart
  5. Arc chart
  6. Venn diagram
  7. Scaled cartogram
  8. Sankey chart
  9. Chord diagram

That’s nine opportunities to learn and develop my skills. I can now use these as practice exercises at The Data School so that the knowledge can be passed along.

Tableau version of the FT Visual Vocabulary



As a Tableau Zen Master, I take my responsibility to share with the community very seriously. Ever since I started blogging, I did it with three purposes in mind:

  1. To document what I was learning
  2. To have a repository that I can refer to later
  3. To allow other to learn from what I’ve learned

Ultimately, allowing others to learn from what I’ve learned is by far the most important to me personally. If I can help someone learn faster, I should. If you can help someone learn faster, you should. Pass on the knowledge you’ve gained and it’ll pay you back tenfold.

And this is the core value that stands behind both The Information Lab and The Data School. Keeping our knowledge to ourselves won’t help us grow as a company and as a brand. We’re evangelists for Alteryx and Tableau and if evangelize, people will look to us when they need help, which in turn encourages us to share even more.

I drill into The Data Schoolers how important blogging, Tableau Public, and the Alteryx Community are to building their personal brands. No one will build you brand for you; you have to take ownership of it yourself. Don’t believe me? Check out the volume of content that the team produces on the blog. There are an incredible amount of tips and trick to help you learn Alteryx and Tableau. There are hundreds and hundreds of visualizations to draw inspiration from. Check out their Tableau Public profiles and see how they’ve developed. Connect with them on LinkedIn and see where they’ve been able to go on their placements and the roles they now have.



I challenge you, the reader of this post, to share. Share the Visual Vocabulary. Blog and share what you are learning. Share your visualizations.

Pass it on.

Andy Kriebel

London, UK

6 thoughts on “Why I created the FT Visual Vocabulary in Tableau

  1. Hi Andy this is great really useful is there any way to get a version for 10.3 as my work takes an age to upgrade so annoying. I do have newest version with my personal license however even down grading most have hyper extensions. Anyway this workbooks great even I could get all the sources I can try rebuild it myself.

  2. Hi there, thank you so much for sharing your Visual Vocabulary Tableau workbooks on the public server. Unfortunately, when i download the workbook file I am unable to open it (error message being that the workbooks use newer version of Tableau). I am currently using Tableau Desktop 10.5.0 and was wondering which version I need in order to access the workbooks? Thanks again

  3. Hi Andy. Thanks for creating this. I made it a key part of a ‘Communicating with data’ workshop for my data and research colleagues.

  4. Hello Andy,

    I really enjoyed yesterday’s Tableau’s Conference-ish 2020 section; “The Most-Favorited Viz on Tableau Public” hosted by you and Lorna. It made me interested in finding out more about the Visual Vocabulary since, coincidentally, I was thinking on doing something similar to help me as a reference and to help consolidate my knowledge.

    Thank you for sharing this with the community!
    I love learning by doing reverse-engineering.

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