The Big Book Of Dashboards is Big, But The Workshop Is Bad To The Bone!

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Introduction

I recently attended a workshop that was given by Jeff Shaffer and Steve Wexler. The workshop was held in a nice facility called the Global Learning Center at Georgia Tech, in Atlanta, GA. The workshop was held in early June 2017 and this is the first time that this workshop has ever been given.

This workshop accompanies their new book (along with co-author Andy Cotgreave) which is called the Big Book of Dashboards (Figure 1). I had been reading this book prior to attending the workshop, so I had a pretty good idea of what might happen during the workshop. I was wrong!

Having human voices and experiences brought to life by two excellent speakers amplified my learning and gave me a new found sense of excitement when it comes to building dashboards. This workshop was Bad to the Bone.

Book

Figure 1 – The Big Book of Dashboards, affectionately known as BBOD.

I decided to write this article because I enjoyed this class very much. I feel like I want to share this experience with others (without giving out too many secrets!). If you want a good review of the book, click here to see what Jen Underwood had to say about it.

Background

It was over 9 years ago (Feb 2008) when I first started building interactive dashboards in Tableau for various real-world business scenarios. When I began learning how to build these, Tableau software was much less mature (version 3.8) than it is now (version 10.3) and the dashboarding capabilities were not nearly as robust as they are now. Tableau has made a lot of progress since 2008 by continuing to develop superb software with additional innovative features being added.

Since this time, I have been a student of Tableau best practices and dashboard design principles, although I was never formally trained on these topics. Even though I have literally built hundreds of interactive dashboards, I decided to attend this class because I like Jeff and Steve and have admired their work for years. I also hoped to learn a few things from these two talented individuals – which is exactly what happened.

What I Liked About This Seminar

There were many things I liked about this seminar. First, it is packed with practical and insightful tips about building effective dashboards (not how to build dashboards!). The tips range from the theoretical basis of how we visually perceive information to the macroscopic and fine-scale improvements that can be made to existing dashboards. The concepts were presented software-independently, which means that the techniques could be used for any business intelligence platform.

The material is very well organized, is presented with confidence and a high level of demonstrated expertise. One of my favorite features is that the presentation is delivered in rapid-fire mode with a wide range of examples shown. The eight hours of this class flew by in minutes because the pace is high and the material is very interesting. I don’t think a minute was wasted during the day.

After breakfast, at 9 am, Jeff Shaffer started the workshop with a high-pace, energetic coverage of topics like pre-attentive attributes, various visual principles, and visual effects. Jeff showed some very engaging and interesting visual examples including ghost images of his house and wife, where our visual processing system was tricked into seeing things in color even when the pictures were black and white. These demonstrations were fascinating and surprised most people in the class based on the reactions I heard.

Visual attributes like shape, texture, color, hue, saturation, and other things were also covered, along with color theory. Jeff is a very talented lecturer with a huge amount of knowledge to share. All day long I was learning from him, even as the topics changed from those already mentioned to the other topics he covered later in the day. Those topics included things like defining the seven design principles for dashboards! I’ll not mention what those are because you should go to the workshop to find out for yourself!

During the second hour and throughout the day, Steve Wexler covered a wide range of chart types. He included a lot of new chart types that have been designed over the past few years. Steve has great command on when to use these charts, and what the strengths and weaknesses (advantages/disadvantages) are for each of them. Steve provided good guidance and context that was derived from some of the modern-day visual analytics masters like Alberto Cairo and Stephen Few. Both Steve and Jeff are really good at explaining the materials they covered.

What the Workshop Did For Me

When the day was over and I thought about what I learned during the course, I was really surprised by how delighted I was. I learned so much about so many different topics that it made me realize how important it is to learn from the true professionals in the field. People that have design backgrounds have a big advantage over someone like me, that is trained in natural sciences and scientific reporting.

The artistic flair of people like Jeff and Steve is inspiring and addictive. I have already found myself applying many of the principles I learned during the class. I met several new people in the class of about 40 and I now have a new enthusiasm and respect for the power of visual presentation. I want to create dashboards that both attract and engage users so that the messages I am trying to send will stick with the observers of my work.

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Figure 2 – A nice lunch was included as part of the workshop.

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Figure 3 – Everyone seemed to enjoy the day based on the conversations I had.

Final Thoughts

The most impressive part of the day for me was when I asked Jeff how many times that they had delivered the course. I asked this because their coordination and sharing of the workload looked well-rehearsed. When he told me that this was the first workshop that they had ever done, I couldn’t believe it.

The professional expertise of both Jeff and Steve clearly showed throughout the day. I wanted to take a minute to thank each of them for sharing their knowledge with me and to tell them that they have inspired me to do better work than ever before!

For more information, please visit their websites, which are both fantastic! I strongly encourage anyone that develops dashboards as part of your job to take this workshop. I love the book, but I really, really loved the workshop. The only thing that could be better than the experience I had would be if Andy Cotgreave were a part of the presentation team!


The Authors

Jeff Shaffer: http://www.dataplusscience.com/

JS


Steve Wexler: http://www.datarevelations.com/

SW


Andy Cotgreave: http://gravyanecdote.com/

AC

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