The Perfect Synergy of Creativity and Inspiration
I've had several people ask me where I get the inspiration for the vizzes that I publish to Tableau Public. The answer is easy, as well as complicated. Each viz that I create is a sum of many parts - distilled down to the basic three, there are the dataset, the data story and most obviously the visual. While all interconnected, I draw from different sources for the inspiration for these three pieces. This is the first of a series of three posts delving into where I find my inspiration - let's dive into the People of Tableau, or where I get my 'vizspiration' for my visuals.
First a bit of background. I use Tableau every day in my professional life, but at the client site, while I am consultative, I'm often limited in how flashy I can be with my visuals. Add that to the fact that I consider myself a creative guy (I've always had an interest in the arts, typically music and writing), and I end up a bit frustrated by the boundaries I have to work within. So when it comes to my personal visualizations, I want to make sure that I look at the data in a creative way - going beyond the bars and crosstabs that I'm often limited to in the corporate world.
My first attempt at getting creative with my viz types was when I coached my son's coach pitch baseball team. I kept meticulous stats, and used Tableau to create a spray chart for the boy's hits and a radar chart looking at key batting metrics.
This was a lot of fun, but took me a long time to figure out what I was doing with polygons and paths. I mentioned this in a prior blog post, but that little league stats viz was one of eight vizzes that I published to Tableau Public between early 2015 and October of 2017. Then I went to Tableau Conference and everything changed...
Before #TC17, I'd seen a couple Tableau focused blogs, attended St. Louis' infrequent Tableau User Group meetings and read the Tableau support forums. However, I didn't really realize how involved and helpful the Tableau Community is with one another. As a Tableau Conference newbie, and the only person from my office at the conference, I was pretty reserved. That is until I started talking with a group of people at the Tableau Community area in the Data Village (I really should have made a point to get their names...). That's where I heard about many of the wonderful resources that are available by and for the Tableau Community.
After the conference, I made a point to actively read some of the blogs that were mentioned during that conversation, and stumbled across a post by Ken Flerlage about creating geometric art in Tableau. He recreated some pretty iconic works of art in Tableau, and I had to do the same. Having just returned from a family trip to Disney World, I took two pieces of “fine art” - a picture of a Storm Trooper at Hollywood Studios and Spaceship Earth at Epcot, and recreated the process that Ken outlined in his blog.
Super excited about what I'd just done in Tableau, I shared the viz on LinkedIn, tagging Ken to give him credit for the inspiration and to thank him for turning me on to the method. He responded and encouraged me to get more involved in the community. This was really the start of my Tableau Public explosion - where in the past 12 months, I've published 82 vizzes to Tableau Public, earned a Viz of the Day from the Tableau Public team, and really grown my skills.
Ken's ability to go 'Beyond Show Me' and see what's possible in Tableau while explaining in simple terms was awesome. But he's not the only one! On Twitter, I follow several extremely talented folks who, either through their work, their posts or conversation I draw inspiration for the work that I publish. In addition to Twitter, I regularly check out multiple blogs that I want to give a shout out to:
- Ken Flerlarge (@flerlagekr on Twitter)
- Kevin Flerlage (@FlerlageKev on Twitter)
- Lindsay Betzendahl (@ZenDollData on Twitter)
- Vince Baumel (@quantum_relic on Twitter)
- Matt Chambers (@SirVizAlot on Twitter)
- Andy Kriebel (@VizWizBI on Twitter)
- Sarah Bartlett (@sarahlovesdata on Twitter)
- Simon Beaumont (@SimonBeaumont04 on Twitter)
These are just some of the folks that I’m regularly inspired by. Whether it’s a blog post on visualizing parametric equations in Tableau, exposing an elegant yet simple solution for shapes to create a custom visual without polygons, or just their overall creativity, I’m better in Tableau (and probably other aspects of my creative life) because of them. I appreciate that their vizzes and thoughts can serve as an idea that I can build on and make my own. I encourage you to find the folks who inspire you to drive your skills – as Lindsay Betzendahl put it at Fanalytics at the end of #TC18 – ‘find your tribe.’
One last note here. There can be (not always, but it can happen) a fine line between using a viz as inspiration and copying the viz. One of the things that I love the most about the Tableau Community is our openness and willingness to share methods and the guts of our workbooks. When you use someone’s intellectual work as inspiration, be sure to cite it – on your viz and with Tableau Public’s new inspiration feature - and give them a shout out when sharing your creation. I’m sure they’ll appreciate that you’ve found their work helpful.