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Our 5 tips for improving your graphics on Tableau.

Creating a graphic means telling a story through data. It wouldn't occur to you to tell a story without thinking about a clear structure with, at the very least: a beginning, a middle and an end. It would also seem strange not to give your story a clear and attractive title, so that you can simply communicate the content of your creation to the public. The same applies to your graphics. You have a certain amount of data at your disposal, and your aim is to structure and name them in such a way as to make their meaning as accessible and precise as possible. The key to successful graphics is to combine simplicity and precision. Unfortunately, combining these two qualities at the heart of a graphic is the main difficulty. How do you get a precise graphic without it becoming illegible? And how do you get a simple graph without it becoming incomplete?

Data graphics are a common means of communication between the members and departments of a company, they can be common to a group of people, but they can also be personal. They are also closely linked to the language of business, made up of acronyms and other words adapted to a particular department or activity. The language of business is a forest in which one can quickly get lost.

Quite often, they turn into a hard-to-understand jumble of pie charts, bars, gauges, lines and other types of dots, all of which have the effect of distancing us a little further from the information at the heart of the graph.

Finally, like all information conveyed, graphics can have an inherent power of persuasion. Certain seemingly innocuous choices can turn out to be veritable subliminal messages. Whether deliberate or not, the idea here is absolutely not to manipulate information, but simply to convey it clearly and precisely. However, it's a good idea to be aware of the traps that can infiltrate our graphics, so as to better combat them. For example, a simple choice between lines or pie charts will be received differently by the subconscious of the person reading it, and depending on the color, a red line will not have the same impact in the collective unconscious as a green line.

This article is a series of bullet points detailing useful ideas for improving your Tableau charts. Although the functionalities are not quite the same on Salesforce, many of the tips in this article will also be useful to those using Salesforce. Each of these ideas covers an important element of visual data communication. This article can serve as a kind of reference for your future graphic creations, to help you get the hang of things and leave nothing to chance. Whether you're looking for a guideline, a checklist or an informative document, we hope you'll find this article useful!

Before we get started, let's quickly recap two key elements that should never leave your mind when creating a graphic:

  • Remember what you want your graphic to tell.

  • And don't forget who your graphic is intended for.

This double reminder may seem simple enough, but it's vitally important. Creating a graphic means researching, trying out and testing again and again a whole host of displays, colors and other nomenclature. But, as with all research, there's a tendency to stray away from the raw element in order to find a way to sublimate it. So, yes, try and search, but never stray from your basic message.

When it comes to addressing your graphics, simply bear in mind that your company's marketing department may not have the same professional language as your after-sales service. Adapt the language, colors and visuals to each department, so as to go in their direction, since it's obviously for them that you're making the graphic.

Step 1 - Choose the right chart

Pie charts are ubiquitous. The circle is a pleasing shape to the eye and easily identifiable due to its compactness, so when we visualize data on a circle we feel we're capturing the whole picture. This is why we often choose the pie chart for our graphics. However, there's a difference between what's understandable and what we think is understandable. In fact, the pie chart is all too often chosen when it is not the most suitable for data reproduction. A pie chart is useful when the information is very simple. For example: the number of sales gained versus the number of sales lost, over a given period. Take a pie chart, for example, where most of the values are roughly the same - it's almost impossible to tell which are bigger or smaller. So, with a bar chart featuring a scale of values, we can immediately see which bar is higher or lower.

How is this possible? Data visualization takes advantage of "pre-attentive attributes". These are environmental signals that we process unconsciously and which are very useful. Examples include length, color, size and angle. However, some we process more efficiently than others. Our brains are hardly capable of comparing the slice of a pie chart if the difference is not very large. But when it comes to comparing the length of two bars, even if the difference is very slight, it can see the difference.

A graphic must convey its message as accurately as possible. Choosing the right pre-attention attribute is an essential skill. Don't just click on the button that produces the most "attractive" graphic. Always ask yourself whether the graphic really conveys the message you want.

Step 2 - Optimize orientation

When creating graphics, your aim is to reduce the audience's cognitive load as much as possible. How many times have you seen a chart with labels facing vertically? This is very common, most often on bar charts. Why not simply rotate the chart so that the bar is horizontal? For example, if once again we take a bar chart, we'll be used to arranging the bars so that they're vertical - simple intuition, habit or mimicry? Either way, it's not effective, because the amount of data represented by the bar will be harder to read. If, on the other hand, the bars are oriented horizontally, they lose none of their clarity and the nomenclature is much easier to read.

These gradual changes enable users to access information more quickly, as they can concentrate on the data and not on the formatting. Other distractions that often clutter up graphics are excessive grids, intrusive axes or borders, or the use of three-dimensional graphics.

Step 3 - Use colors intentionally

Avoid the temptation to use too many colors in your visualizations. Today, colors are just a click away in almost all graphics software. Adding color makes your creation a little more personal. Unfortunately, we sometimes venture to use color where it isn't necessarily needed. Remember that every color tells a story, so sometimes the absence of color, or the use of a neutral, less invasive color, highlights the really important data.

Take a step back. Is the aim to create pretty, attractive visuals, or to share information? So, start by making sure that the colors used convey the information and are in no way an element of interference. After that, see if you can make your visuals more pleasing to the eye without detracting from their comprehensibility.

Some of the most powerful and effective graphics use just one color.

One last detail about the use of colors. Try to stick to the colors of the company you work for. Create a harmonious and coherent universe between your graphics and your company. For example, choose a color that indicates success (light blue, dark blue, green) and a color that indicates failure (light gray, or another lighter color.) In this way, the data in your graphs will be even easier to understand if we know each time that a certain color corresponds to success, for example.

Step 4 - Make sense of your title

Once you've chosen an appropriate graphic, oriented it correctly and used colors to highlight it, you need to stop and think: what does this graphic really show? What conclusion do you want people to draw from this graphic?

The title is often the first thing people look at on your graphic, and the thing they'll remember most. It's also through this title that you would have chosen to communicate your existence. It's the only opportunity you have to tell them what they're going to see, and to suggest the conclusion you want them to draw from it. A good title should describe the idea the graphic is presenting; it can be a short sentence or even a question. Getting into the habit of creating good titles also means making sure you know why you're creating the graphic in the first place.

For example, let's take two headlines about a company's various marketing campaigns over the course of a year:

  • Marketing campaigns 2023.

  • Our best marketing campaigns of 2023.

The second formulation may be less direct, but it provides context and a more developed idea. It indicates the direction in which the graph should be read. The same could be done in reverse:

  • Our worst marketing campaigns of 2023.

Following on from such a graphic, we could create a second one called :

  • Reasons for the success of our 2023 marketing campaigns.

  • Why do our 2023 marketing campaigns work?

  • Why do our 2023 marketing campaigns fail?

In this way, two graphs begin to tell a story, and we have graphs that respond to and complement each other in a more intuitive way.

Point 5 - Focus on metrics

Our final tip is perhaps the one you should consider first. Are you showing your audience the right number? Let's take a very simple example of a graph designed to show who the best salespeople in a company are. Let's choose to display the information by taking into account the number of sales per salesperson in the form of a bar chart. Thus, the salesperson with the most sales will have the longest bar. However, the one who makes the most sales is not necessarily the one who makes the most money (5 sales at 1,000 euros are worth less than a single sale at 10,000 euros.) Both charts use the same figures and may be correct in conveying information about the company's situation. However, depending on the context in which the figures are used, the result may be completely different. It's up to you to decide what you want to show and how best to show it.

We've come to the end of this article on the subject of graphics, and we sincerely hope that our advice will help you to become an ace graphic artist. Don't forget that our advice is just a starting point, which we think is relevant. It's up to you to make your own methods for creating graphics, and to compile your own little manual of good graphics, which you can refer to so as not to make any more faux pas. We also hope that all the members of your teams will be able to take advantage of it, so as to move forward and build the future of your companies on the basis of clear, precise and efficiently formatted data! For those who want to go further, thanks to Salesforce you can join the Tableau community to share your knowledge and continue learning with others interested in the field.


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