#DataDiscussions with Ken FlerlageData Discussions with Ken Flerlage

In this week's #DataDiscussions we had the pleasure to host Tableau Zen Master Ken Flerlage

Ken works as a Business Intelligence Architect Architect at Bucknell University. 

His personal blog kenflerlage.com is one you should definitely follow as it is full of amazing visualisations and tutorials on how to build them. 


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

Ken Flerlage: I work as a Business Intelligence Architect at Bucknell University. Along with the other members of the BI team, we are responsible for strategy, architecture, delivery, and operations of the university’s data and analytics platforms. We try to empower our user community to leverage these platforms, so our users tend to build more reports and dashboards than we do. Instead, our focus is on keeping the systems operational, providing support, and acting as internal consultants, as well as building data models to make reporting and analytics easier for our end users. That being said, I do work with Tableau quite a bit, be it administering Tableau Server, building proof-of-concepts, creating dashboards for groups without their own authors, or teaching Tableau to our user community.

In addition to the administrative side of the university, we are also getting more and more involved with students. Last summer, I gave a crash course to students working on a variety of research projects and, in the fall, I gave a presentation on data visualization and an introduction to Tableau. And we continue to look for new opportunities to leverage data visualization within the classroom. 


Question 2 - If you could give one piece of advice to a new Tableau starter what would it be?

Ken Flerlage:  This is a tough question as there are so many different things that I’d recommend to people who are new to Tableau, but the number one piece of advice I’d give is to get involved in the Tableau Community. I’ve worked in Information Technology for almost 20 years and have used lots of different software platforms, but I have never seen a community like. It is seriously amazing. If you have a question, need a push in the right direction, would like a mentor, etc. the community is always there to help. This is the number one reason why I’ve been able to learn as much as I have in a relatively short period of time. So my recommendation is to interact with the community on Twitter, LinkedIn, and the community forums, download people’s work on Tableau Public and take them apart, ask people for feedback, and participate in community projects like Makeover Monday, Workout Wednesday, and Viz For Social Good.


Question 3 - If you could add a new feature to Tableau, what would it be?

Ken Flerlage: I was recently asked this question as part of another interview and I mentioned three features that I really want to see—dynamic parameters, transparent sheets, and dynamic colors. After the interview, I remembered one that is near and dear to my heart—fonts. Tableau Public and Server only support a handful of fonts currently and I’d love to see Tableau add support for embedded fonts and/or web fonts.


Question 4 - Favourite viz you have made?

Ken Flerlage: I think my favorite would have to be The Killing Fields, which analyzed the rhino poaching problem in Africa. I created this last summer for the second Iron Viz feeder. I think I’ve become known for creating more complex chart types using trigonometry and geometry, but The Killing Fields has none of that. It leverages simple line charts, bar charts, and maps, brought together with some solid design and storytelling. Ultimately, I feel that it is one of my most complete and most compelling visualizations. 

The Killing Fields by Ken Flerlage

 The Killing Fields by Ken Flerlage


Question 5 - Most challenging viz you have worked on?

Ken Flerlage: This is a good question. I really like to challenge both myself and the platform, so I’ve created quite a few challenging visualizations, including Loom Art, Geometric Art, The Beauty of Pi, and a 3D Star Map. But I think the most challenging visualization would probably be Word Usage in Sacred Texts. While this visualization included some technical complexities, primarily the collection, cleaning, and parsing of six of the World’s religious texts, the most challenging aspect of the viz turned out to be how best to communicate my insights. As I documented on my blog, this project was six months in the making. Before creating the final visualization, I had created four separate visualizations which showed the data in different ways, none of which seemed to tell the whole story. Over the course of those six months, I’d regularly return to the project, try a few new things, then put it back on the shelf. And, finally, it occured to me that I justed needed to bring everything together into a single coherent visual. In the end, it was well worth it as this is probably my most popular visualization to date.

Word Usage in Sacred Text by Ken Flerlage 

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