Spaghetti lines for the win (and how to control the size of your marks in Tableau)

I’ve been meaning to update my original ‘DESI – Digital Economy & Society Index’ visualization with the numbers for 2019 for a couple of months now, and after having an inspiration dry spell I finally got some ideas on how to further polish my initial design.

I knew I wanted to experiment with contrast and see how I could colour certain sections differently to create more visual appeal and impact while at the same time not changing the initial layout/design too much. Looking at it now my first draft didn’t really pack a punch, but I was excited about what I had created after not having published anything on Tableau Public for a while. So before putting it out there it I thought I would ask for some feedback from someone who has a great design aesthetic and Ludovic Tavernier who was generous in sharing some of his wisdom with me. Rather then going through the entire conversation I thought I would share the different iterations so you can see how my design progressed and give you some tips (because I hope that’s why you’re reading this post) on how you can better control the size of the marks in a Tableau visualization.

The iterations

If you take a look at my original design and the different iterations, you’ll notice I didn’t really change all that much.

  • Overall I tried to add more space as looking back at my initial design, it felt like I was trying to pack too much information in a single view and could have probably used a bit more padding.
  • Spaced out the letters in the title a bit more for a slightly softer touch.
  • Added mark labels to the bar charts so at a minimum you would have an indication of which bar represented which country without the text completely taking over. I’m aware for some it’ll be barely visible but I thought it added something extra.
  • Replaced the side by side line chart with 5 individual grids.
  • Changed the colours of the axis’ and tick marks do a darker grey almost matching the colour of the grey lines in the chart.
  • While a blank space is never a bad thing, I felt it threw off the balance of the visualization so I moved the annotation (which was too important to be hidden in an information button) from underneath the bar chart to fill up the space in the grid.
  • And for me the ‘pièce de résistance’ really are the grey ‘spaghetti’ lines in the line charts.

I’m very pleased with how this turned out, and glad I took a few days to work through the feedback which in the end resulted in receiving a second ‘Viz of the Day’ nomination from Tableau Public. While the changes may not seem significant and to others could be considered redundant or even a bit obsessive, remember that the details are never just the details … they make the design. (quote borrowed from Charles Eames).

There’s always a way

One of the things I struggled with (and initially couldn’t get to work) was the size of the grey lines. I had put the ‘Country Colour’ dimension on ‘Color’ and a similar dimension on ‘Size’; and while playing with the sizing of the lines I soon realized I could only push the sizing slider so far to the left without completely washing out the effect of the yellow and blue line which I needed to stand out. At that point I hadn’t really thought of a solution but decided I would come back to it a few days later to see if I could figure something out.

Enter Tableau eLearning

That same evening I was working my way through a few lessons online and learnt about how you can change the range of sizes for your marks. Who knew ?!?

The ‘Size’ slider

Using the ‘Size’ slider when your mark is a line will make the lines thicker or thinner. But as I was using a discrete dimension with 3 members; I had less control over the individual sizes of the lines because Tableau would assign a unique size to each individual member (3,2,1).

And keep in mind that when changing the size of the individual sheets by adding them to a dashboard, the size of the lines can could/would change as well.

The ‘Edit Size’ option

And this is where the magic happens. By clicking on the drop down arrow on the legend, you can access the ‘Edit Size’ option which gives you more control over the individual distribution of the sizes of your marks. By pushing the left slider all the way to the left I was able to resize the grey lines (3) while not changing the sizes of the other lines (2 & 1) significantly and keeping the effect I wanted. I should mention I could only move the left slider by perhaps 1 mm (could have been less, the difference was barely visible) but it achieved the desired result. For more context, I recommend you read this help article from Tableau which goes into more detail.

I’m aware most folks might not even notice the difference but getting those thin lines to work really changed the aesthetic of my visualization.

Click on the image below to view the finished product on Tableau Public.

Thank you for reading! Please leave your questions/thoughts/comments in the section below, I look forward to hearing from you.


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