Overlapping Column Charts: A Quick Actual v. Goal Comparison

Hello there! I’m writing you as a follow up to a workshop I recently facilitated with Nicole Huggett, MSW, for the Arizona Evaluation Network in Phoenix. A big focus of our time together was spent on covering visualization options for comparing goals and pre-post results.

One of the popular charts we discussed were overlapping column charts and how they can be used to compare actual performance to goals. Since the workshop, I have found overlapping column charts to be very valuable data visualizations for this – so much so that I knew I had to share the steps publicly (OKAY, I also kept getting asked for the steps, so I knew writing it once would save us all some time!).

Although I already shared when you might use this chart, the particular scenario I was to set is related to survey participation. Specifically, one community organization needed a quick way to determine which years they met (or didn’t meet) their survey participation goals. An overlapping column chart served as a great way to for project managers to determine just that in a matter of seconds.

Ready to make one yourself? Awesome – let’s do it!

To get started, select your data insert a 2D Clustered Column Chart.

Excel, we love you so, but you do some weird stuff. To fix the data, right click and choose select data. Go ahead and delete the year series (oh yes, we’re going to delete lots of things!), select Goal and notice the x-axis is empty…go ahead and click this button and highlight the four years. Voila! Your Goal Series is now included, and you should have two columns in your Excel window.

Next, let’s get these columns on top of one another. To do that, we are going to right-click the Actual Column, select Format Data Series (get familiar with this area of Excel – it’s crucial to a lot of your changes!), and change the axis from Primary to Secondary. The column you want on top is the secondary…and the column you want on the bottom is the primary.

Now that we have these on top of one another, let’s adjust the gap of the Goal column. You can play with the settings to make it look right but I’d say at least down to 75%.

To start to clean this up (it’s still confusing right now!), let’s right-click the Actual column (Excel should allow you to select all of them) and Add Data Labels.

From here on, it’s really turning your chart from a Basic to Bomb Chart (check out this example of how to make yours look awesome). You want to pay special attention to fonts (both the type and size), colors, unnecessary noise (yes grid lines, I’m talking about YOU), and, of course the title! It’s here where you want to leverage data visualization best practices to really get your reader’s attention.

After you’ve made some simple changes, your overlapping column chart it should look something like this:

One thing you might notice is we don’t know what the goal was from looking at the chart – and that’s OKAY. This is really intended to give high-level insight. In other words, was the goal achieved or not? Whether this is as much information as your exec team needs, or you want to create a dialogue, I highly suggest this minimalistic chart for easy actual-to-goal comparisons!

Want to know how to do this in Tableau? Tune in next time and don’t forget to check out my posts on how to Getting Started with Tableau.  

For the consultants and consultants-to-be: expert advice.


Are you considering consulting?

Whether you are thinking about venturing out on your own or have already started, this two-part series will arm you with advice from seasoned consultants! Dr. Stephanie Evergreen and Ann K. Emery will be featured, providing their insight on common questions consultants (or consultants-to-be) might have. Note: both are heavily focused on data visualization, reporting, and infographic design, but their advice can be applied to a variety of fields! First up, Dr. Evergreen.


Dr. Stephanie Evergreen is a “Research nerd turned information designer,” and owner of Evergreen Data. She is a seasoned data visualization blogger, workshop facilitator, and the author of two books, Effective Data Visualization: The Right Chart for the Right Data and Presenting Data Effectively: Communicating Your Findings for Maximum Impact. Dr. Evergreen’s background is in interdisciplinary research, which allows her to bring data visualization and reporting into a variety of settings. Below, she shares her experience of transitioning from a 9-5 and tips for successfully dealing with pricing and difficult clients.

Deven Wisner AEA 2017 Evergreen

How did you prepare for running your own consulting firm?

Mentors are totally necessary. Everyone would benefit from some detailed guidance on the nitty gritty details of running a business. Try Gail Barrington’s workshops (attended a few workshops per year). (If you are interested, here is a link to her AEA estudy). But like most people, I was just winging it and learning as I go.  It’s better to get going than to wait until you think you have it all figured out.

For those wondering how about the transition to a consultant, did you continue working at a 9-5 job until you became established?

“Yes! Most consultants start their side gigs while working a 9-5. The idea is ramp up the consulting as you do that – until you feel you are working two 9-5 jobs.”

Pricing, the tough but critical conversation…

#1 – do not work for free. Even for “exposure.” People can and should pay you for your expertise. Beginning consultants feel like they can’t charge until they get more experience but that’s just your imposter syndrome talking. Start charging.

People see more value in things that cost money. Do not undercut yourself. I made some early mistakes of charging too little and then those clients became repeat clients and they told their friends – which was great!  – except I had a lot of low paying work because I pitched too low to start. Protect yourself by using a contract.

How do you avoid being spread too thin?

– A giant whiteboard.

– Moved everything to the cloud, running notes, calls, planning, documents.

– Hired an assistant (should have done this sooner!).

How do you keep track of your progress during a project in order to ensure you are achieving the client’s objectives?

“It’s all in your head. If you can’t do that, you will not succeed as a consultant otherwise.” But we also use Slack to keep ourselves on track and on schedule. We also build in frequent check-ins with the client to make sure we are matching their vision.

Describe a time when you dealt with a difficult client. How did you make the relationship work?

“I have learned to avoid these clients by watching for red flags during the initial discussions. I actually keep a ‘Red Flag List’ that I continually update when I learn from my mistakes. One of my mentors passed on something her mentor told her: Projects should be ‘Fun, Lucrative, and No Assholes’ and this guidance has done me very well. But from time to time, difficult clients still happen. One recently kept sending my work for review by their Communications Officer – the same person who failed them so badly, that’s why they hired me in the first place. So, I had to say ‘This is why you hired me. This is my area of expertise. Your Communications Officer’s advice flies in the face of accepted best practice and peer-reviewed research.’”

How do you measure the success of a project?

“I usually contact clients 3-6 months after the contract is over to ask how things are going, do they need any momentum push, etc. That’s when I learn whether I was successful. But other times I learn through new ways, such as two clients who won awards for the report I worked with them on.”

Want more?!

If you are interested in learning more from Dr. Evergreen, check out what she has to say about marketing yourself as a public speaker. Also, make your way back here in a couple weeks when Ann Emery shares her advice!

“Expert” Photo by Rita Morais on Unsplash

How to Customize Colors in Tableau

How to Customize Colors in Tableau

Now you’ve got some fonts that aren’t basic, how about some custom colors? I really like matching my visualizations to my report, which is almost always based on the color scheme of the organization I’m working with. Let me tell you though, this can be a bit of a beast, so let’s get started.

First, identify the colors you want to use. I suggest Adobe Color, which will allow you to upload a photo and get HEX codes (along with complementary colors and other fun things). Of course, you might be lucky and already have your HEX codes available.

Next, you’ll need to determine whether you want to add a categorical, sequential, or diverging palette. I’ll show you categorical. You can add the others as needed using the same method.

With your HEX codes in hand, locate your Tableau Repository. Depending on where you installed this, it could take a minute. When you locate it, there will be a Preferences.tps you need to open in a text editing program.

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Now, get started with code. You want to add the following before copying anything into the text edit.

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You will need to copy the basic code down and insert your HEX codes. Tableau lists all the sets of you would possibly need here. Copy, paste, and customize.


Make sure you are using straight quotes. Anything else will cause all sorts of errors. I’ve included examples of a correct and incorrect repository. This is often not a matter of inserting quotes but changing the auto-correction in the program.

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Save and close your text editor and open Tableau! To test your colors, open up a sample dataset. On a worksheet, drag a dimension onto the Color Mark. You’ll immediately see those basic default colors but don’t worry – we’re fixing that!

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Select the Color Mark and click Edit Colors. You should see yours at the bottom!

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Select your color and be sure to click Assign, otherwise nothing will change. Close the editor and check out your new colors!

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If you followed along, you just completed some serious steps in customizing your Tableau visualizations. I call it a small but mighty change. You can go forth knowing that your visualizations are more customized and specific to your project!

P.S. This is cross-posted on Ann K. Emery’s blog (because awesome people stick together)!

How to Customize Fonts in Tableau

Giving Your Tableau Visualizations a Makeover: Custom Fonts

Whether you are using Tableau, Excel, or any other visualization tool, you will come across defaults. The problem with using something right out of the can is that it often does not speak directly to your audience. Your investment in a visualization speaks to your investment in conveying the story of your data.

By now, you may know tips and tricks to de-clutter and minimize the amount of ‘out-of-the-box’ stuff in your Excel charts, but I want to share how to tackle the same problem in Tableau. It doesn’t take long to spot a Tableau visualization. Is that a bad thing? It depends (does that give anyone else grad school flashbacks?). Instead of being recognized for the font (Tableau Book) and colors that Tableau pumps out, have your Tableau visualizations recognized for their utility and story.

I’m going to share how to customize your fonts and colors within Tableau. And, make your life a lot easier (i.e. not changing one component of the visualization at a time.). Repeat after me: “I am better than the defaults.”

Let’s start with fonts, the easier change of the two.

Instead of having to change your fonts as you go, you can change the entire workbook. If you enjoy clicking on every area of your chart and changing the fonts, go ahead… but, I bet you’d rather spend that time on something else. You will also miss one or two! This way the entire book is the same font. You can adjust sizing as needed!

First, open your workbook.

Go to Format in the top, right-hand corner and click Workbook.

Deven Wisner Tableau Fonts 1

On the right-hand side, you’ll have a formatting pane, which includes fonts, colors, and lines. Choose your font (I suggest a nice sans serif), and you’re ready to rumble!

Deven Wisner Tableau Fonts 2

Check back on 11/27 for How to Customize Colors in Tableau.

P.S. This is cross-posted on Ann K. Emery’s blog (because awesome people stick together)!

Getting Started with Tableau

Tableau, which according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary means “a graphic description or representation,” is a powerful infographic tool with over 50,000 users. Although the user-base is nowhere near that of Excel (with 30,000,000 users), this tool has some perks depending on what you’re looking for in terms of dataviz. So maybe you’ve heard of Tableau or, if you haven’t, you have now.

My plan is to give you some background on the versions available, how to download it, and resources for getting started!

Deven Wisner Tableau Homepage

Which Version is Right for Me?

Options are great, but what’s the right choice?!?! Here is a simplified comparison.

Tableau Public

  • Basic version of Tableau.
  • Your visualizations must be stored in a global repository (the “catch”).
  • You can still do awesome things like Viz of the Day or #MakeoverMonday.

This is the perfect option for those who want to become familiar with Tableau.

Cost: FREE

Tableau Desktop Licenses

If you don’t want to share your client’s data with others, I’d suggest forking out the dough for this one. However, make sure you’ll use it before you buy it. A year goes by quick, and you’ll be sorry you spent the money if it sits on your desktop unused.

You can choose a personal or professional license. Both include a full license. All your workbooks (i.e., all your stuff) is stored locally). The personal license has limited data sources (e.g., Excel and Google Sheets). The professional license allows you to access data directly from its source (e.g., Microsoft SQL Server). You can also share data via Tableau Online/Server.

Cost: $420 (personal) or $840 (professional)

Tableau Student

Enrolled in classes at least part-time? Score a year’s license to Tableau Professional for FREE. No gimmicks besides a sales call or two from Tableau. You can do this for as long as you are in school.

Cost: FREE

All that said, if you aren’t in school, try Tableau Public. Why? Trying it takes no commitment. Play for a while, determine if it is right for your project, and make a decision.

Download Tableau!

Even if you plan on committing to a full-license, get a free 14-day trial first. That’s 14 days to get your act together and start using it.

You might also check the system requirements. Making your computer sound like a rocket ship = not good.

I Downloaded Tableau, Now What?

Okay, now that you have Tableau, it’s time to do things! Don’t let this giant program just sit on your computer unused. Open that bad boy and start playing with data. My advice: Stay away from the sample datasets. They’re “perfect” for all intents and purposes and that’s not a good way to learn. Instead, connect to your own dataset. Remember: depending on your version of Tableau, you will be limited to certain file types.

First, start utilizing the vast Tableau community. You can literally Google your problem and likely come up with an answer. You can also visit the official Tableau Community forums to ask questions and learn from other confused people. I do this on the regular.

Deven Wisner Tableau Community

Second, commit to at least one #MakeoverMonday per month. Challenge yourself, along with many other Tableau users, to recreate a visualization. In one revision of a viz, I learned THREE new things.

Deven Wisner Makeover Monday

Third, find your local Tableau User Group (TUG). You’ll be able to connect with other users and work through visualizations together.

Now…go forth and continue your path to becoming a Tableau beast.

P.S. This is cross-posted on Ann K. Emery’s blog (because awesome people stick together)!

Formatting Tableau Filters!

Filters are awesome. One reason I love Tableau is that data visualizations aren’t static. How does that tie into filters? Glad you asked! Tableau makes it really easy for your stakeholders (i.e. end-users) to interact with their dashboard using filters. The only problem is that the filter you add on the back-end takes up a lot of room and, to be perfectly honestly, looks terrible. Luckily, I learned how to fix that, and I’m going to share it with you!

This post is most applicable when you’re visualizing data on a dashboard. So, assuming you have one, use a dashboard to test this out! I’m serious about keeping my client’s data private, so I am using a sample dataset.

The first thing you have to do is add a filter (well, make sure your monitored is plugged in too). Okay, okay, I know – not funny. But seriously, add a filter and select the dropdown “carrot” by hovering over the right filter. Opt to “Show Filter,” and be amazed as the filter options pop-up on the right side of your screen.

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Jump to your dashboard, which would normally have a lot of other cool stuff on it. But, for the purpose of this post, we’re only focusing on the filter! So, you see the filter showing on the right side of your screen, and your years with associated number of records.

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Now, as you can see, all your selections are there. You really couldn’t long for much more. Butttttt…it takes up a lot of space and it’s ugly. So, let’s hover over the right side of the filter box, click on it, and select the dropdown “carrot.” The first thing I do is change the filter to “Floating,” which means I don’t have to conform to Tableau’s organization of MY stuff.

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You’re floating and awesome now, so you can go back to your “carrot” and select the formatting of the list. Personally, I use a dropdown but this will really depend on what’s appropriate for your data. What makes the most sense? For years, usually my clients are comparing, so I choose “Multiple Values Dropdown.”

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Now we are in business. But wait. That thing looks ugly, right? So, let’s remove the title by going to the “carrot” and choosing “Edit Title.” Delete it! Now, add a floating text box with something that makes sense. Remember: more text doesn’t always make something better. I simply changed this one to “Order Date: …”

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Of course, you want to avoid Tableau defaults. Customize your dashboards to your client’s needs AND their company colors. Canned visualizations are rarely the right fit for anyone, and I find that they’re too cluttered and clunky. More on that soon…!Deven Wisner Tableau Order Data Success.png

Want to learn Tableau? Start doing #MakeoverMonday.

About two years ago I was introduced to Tableau. I fell in love. The intuitive visualizations, live data connections, and easy-to-use interface. OKAY, maybe the last part is a bit of a stretch. Easy and Tableau in the same sentence? Sure, maybe if you’re using their Superstore dataset. Otherwise, look forward to some fun, yet challenging hours with Tableau. My plan is to tell you about #MakeoverMonday, and give you the opportunity to learn from my experiences (and hopefully inspire you to share your own).

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 8.23.31 PMAll that shouldn’t be a deterrent from using Tableau. There are more resources than most people would have time to exploit. I’ve tried several and found worthwhile tidbits in each. The most useful so far? Well, I have to be honest: #MakeoverMonday. Why you ask? Because #MakeoverMonday challenges you to create visualizations from data that wasn’t canned specifically for Tableau. You will find yourself searching for guides and input from other users. Instead of compiling endless notes on Tableau (that you may never use), you’re learning as you go…oh yes, my friend — applied learning!#MakeoverMonday HomepageSo what is #MakeoverMonday? The creators, Eva Murray and Andy Kriebel, call it a “weekly social data project.” Every Monday, a visualization and dataset will be available on their website. You can download the data for Excel or Tableau, so you can choose your favorite…or use both! After downloading, you have the chance to turn a preexisting dataviz into your own. Use your current skills, and stretch them with new tips and tricks. It can be as easy or difficult as you choose. Regardless, you’ll walk away with some swollen Tableau (or Excel) muscles. #MakeoverMonday Data SetsNow what? Learning is great. Sharing back what you learned, asking your colleagues questions, and engaging in reflective practice…now that’s the good stuff. Going forward, at least one of my monthly blogs will be dedicated sharing my dataviz makeovers. Even better, I will share the cool things I learn. Now go…build your dataviz muscles!


To 3D, or not to 3D, that is the question…

Visualizing data using a 3D chart, graph, or pie doesn’t make it unique or more eye catching. Actually, it has the potential to confuse people by distracting them from the story you’re trying to tell with your visualization. I’ve had to confront several 3D charts over the past couple weeks…my question is how does seeing the side of a bar help me compare it to the bar next to it? Typically the further down the chart list in Excel you go…the more convoluted things get. Kind of conflicting, I think — it would make more sense that the further you go, the more sexy and complex you get (well, the latter is probably true).

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Instead of falling victim to the temptations of Excel (or whatever software you use), think smarter. Easy for me to say, right? Okay, here’s how I recommend you begin to change that:

  1. Don’t always make decisions based on your gut. Remember how you ended up on that 3D pie chart? Yep, thought so. Instead, consider Gestalt Principles…does your visualization make sense based on these principles?
  2. Stepping away helps! Review several days after and determine what your initial interpretation of the chart is.
  3. Critical feedback. Have someone unfamiliar with the project interpret your chart. Even better, get preliminary feedback from your stakeholder. You’ll be surprised what you learn.

The reality is that sometimes the wrong visualization is chosen, but we can do simple things to reduce how often it happens. Similar to a a good report or presentation, good visualizations require stepping away, getting outside feedback, and using research based methods. 

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But why take my word for it?

3D charts: David Sprague (Dashboard Insight) gives some great reasoning behind avoiding “faux 3D charts,” which I think everyone should take a gander at.

Gestalt Principles: I think Steven Bradly (Smashing Magazine) has a nice writeup on design principles.

Find the right chart: I’ve got ideas (go me), and so do a bunch of other people. Trying Googling “What charts should I use for…,” and I bet you will find some ideas.

A new week means tips for less-painful presentations.

Presentations. In addition to delivering findings via charts, graphs, and pictures, the presentation itself is a visualization. Data visualization = taking a lot of info (data) and turning it into something palatable. It isn’t enough to have results or recommendations that people should want to listen to. That alone isn’t going to make your audience pay attention — maybe just keep them awake.

Admit it: you’ve been subjected to a presentation where the PowerPoint (or whatever visual aide used) depreciated the value of what you were supposed to be learning about. Instead of focusing on the person talking, all you could think about was the giant chunk of text, which was nearly illegible from your uncomfortable, squeaky seat (you knew it was squeaky because you had to keep moving around to stay awake).

Although I’m sure we have all delivered one of those presentations, that doesn’t lend much comfort. So instead of letting you accept the status quo, I’m going to share some of the tips that have changed my presentations for the better!

First, let’s look at what I was guilty of doing in my presentations…and still see a lot of.

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My tips + sound dataviz + a knowledgable, energetic, and fun presenter = a presentation people might listen to!

  1. Instead of using stupid headers…use that space to introduce your topic. Similar to useless titles on charts and graphs, we have a tendency to state obvious crap (or assume something is obvious). I like throwing in some rhetorical questions for emphasis.
  2. Defaults. Stop using them. Similar to my post on creating better charts, staying away from the crappy canned themes, fonts, and colors in PowerPoint (or whatever software you use) is best.
  3. Use pictures…but only if they mean something. All too often a picture is forced. Connect your content to a meaningful image to capitalize on the picture superiority effect.
  4. Use your PowerPoint as a PROMPT — not a script.
    1. More slides > a book per slide.
  5. Stop using bullet points because PowerPoint tells you to. First, ask yourself if bullet points make sense. If not, you’re wasting space.
  6. Black on white text = easiest to read. I know, I know…PowerPoint has been misleading you for years. But now you know better.

If you try out these tips, you might end up with less slides and more conversation pieces — like the one below. Presentation Blog_2.jpg

What tips do you have for presenters? Feel free to share them!

Is your qualitative dataviz taking a backseat? A few extra minutes = rich data noticed!

Created by Chris Lysy
STOP depreciating your qualitative data by putting it into an appendix, or having six pages worth of themes, definitions, and examples. That’s rich information that you need to bring your stakeholders’ attention to! Like any data visualization, you want to draw readers in and make pile of data more digestible. Qualitative data might be dense but it’s no different.

So what is something easy I’ve started doing? Adding icons. Icons are a super easy way to tell your readers that the qualitative data confirmed something…or it didn’t. Or maybe it did — but only a little bit! Either in Excel (depending on how you build your qualitative tables) or Word, start inserting icons/images/GIFs (okay, maybe that’s a stretch) to indicate if a program outcome was achieved according to qualitative feedback. See my loaded and very fake example below.

First, I choose some icons (Excel or Word: Insert > Symbol or Image). Just like the charts you use to visualize quant, the icons should make sense. A giraffe or poo emoji might not be what you’re looking for (or, if it is, what an awesome evaluation).

After you’ve chosen icons, create a legend…because assumptions are dangerous.

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Now, incorporate the icons into your qualitative table. In ones I’ve done, I add it on the left most side — the FIRST place my stakeholders are looking. They can quickly see that the hypothesis was accepted…or not. This makes it easy for them to dive into what they need to read first. For example, your stakeholder might be most concerned that their program did not achieve the desired outcome (and if your survey questions answer your evaluation questions, this will be no problem to connect, right?!).

Here’s a super simple example…that took me all of a few seconds. Something sensical that compliments the dense text will help get qualitative data noticed.

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This doesn’t replace all the other important stuff (e.g., definition, frequency, etc.), but your stakeholders can get a snapshot of the results! 

  1. This is one very simple idea, and I bet you’ve seen some of the awesome resources put forth by Ann K. Emery, and Stephanie Evergreen on visualizing qualitative data. They are great ideas! But even with these awesome ideas, most of the reports I’ve seen in the past few months are still full of indigestible qual…NOT a great compliment to the awesome charts and graphs you’re probably making, right? So, my challenge to you is to start using the great resources available to you — and come up with your own!