#DataDiscussions with Jeffrey Shaffer

Data Discussions with Jeffrey Shaffer

In this week’s #DataDiscussions we had the pleasure to host Jeffrey Shaffer.

Jeffrey Shaffer is a Tableau Zen Master and co-author of the Big Book of Dashboards. He is also Adjunct Professor at the University of Cincinnati teaching Data Visualization where he was the 2016 Outstanding Adjunct Professor of the Year.

Jeffrey's data visualization blog was on the shortlist award for the 2016 Kantar Information is Beautiful award for Data Visualization websites.


Question 1 - What is your job? How do you use Tableau as part of it?

Jeffrey Shaffer: I am the COO and VP of I.T. and Analytics. I am lucky to have a great I.T. and Analytics team. It’s a full stack technology team including programmers, database admins, network and desktop support and business intelligence and data science. I work very closely with the BI and data science team, because that is a big driver of our business. We use Tableau as our enterprise BI tool and visualizations and R and Python for analytics. Tableau handles almost all of our enterprise reporting, everything from dashboards to ad hoc reports.

I am also an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati where I teach data visualization. I’ve been teaching there now for over 6 years and I’ve used Tableau in that course from the very beginning. This was actually where my blog originated from as well. Students were asking questions about Tableau and instead of posting them on Blackboard, I decided to post publically so future classes could use them. I never expected it would grow to the audience size it has today.


Question 2 - If you could add a new feature to Tableau, what would it be?

Jeffrey Shaffer: If you asked me a year ago, I might have said Viz in Tooltips, but that’s now been released and it’s a really powerful feature. My other big wish for Tableau is for more design control. It’s not a single feature, but more a set of feature around design. This includes things like custom fonts, transparency of objects, snap to grid, and high resolution objects. I don’t need full Adobe-style control, but definitely more control all around. If I had to pick one of those, I’d take custom fonts. There are only a few fonts available in Tableau Public and Server and there is no easy solution for this. In web design it’s very easy to embed web fonts in the CSS. So I guess I want more CSS-like control in Tableau.


Question 3 - If you could give one piece of advice to a new Tableau starter what would it be?

Jeffrey Shaffer: Think of Tableau as a blank canvas. Everything you “draw” on that canvas is done by moving blue and green pills to the X/Y axis (Columns and Rows) and the Marks card (Shape, Size, Color, etc.). It’s a different mindset than Excel, where you highlight data and “insert” a chart which then generates. Tableau is much more flexible, and it all comes down to the placement of the pills on the canvas. When starting out with Tableau, move pills around to these various places and take note of what Tableau does. This will help you understand how Tableau works and how it’s different from other tools.


Question 4 - What’s the best data book you’ve read recently?

Jeffrey Shaffer: In looking at my shelf, I don’t think I have anything new. In fact, my own book, The Big Book of Dashboards, is probably one of the newest books on my shelf. I don’t often read books cover to cover, other than when I first get them. I don’t enjoy reading at all. I simply read to learn. I reference books over and over again, frequently pulling them off the shelf to look something up, re-reading sections or passages again. This week I pulled out Basic Vision: An Introduction to Visual Perception by Snowden, Thompson and Troscianko, 2nd Ed. (2012). Last week it was Information Visualization by Colin Ware, 3rd Ed. (2012). And yesterday, I actually pulled out my own book to reference something related to color..


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