My First Drafts Aren’t Good

At this year’s Tableau Conference Europe I experienced a data community first. After our #SportsVizSunday presentation a random member of the session approached me and shared with me that they enjoyed my Tableau Public work. My mind was blown.

My first reaction was, ‘you must be thinking of someone else. Simon is the bald one.’

My second thought was, ‘if you only knew how much I struggle to make one of these things look half way decent,’ you wouldn’t be saying that.

Lastly I thought, ‘dude, you should see my first drafts.’

My first drafts aren’t good…actually they are pretty bad! Every single person from the best Zen Master to the very first beginner has put together a draft of a dashboard and thought to themselves, ‘well that’s not how I envisioned that looking…”.

When I first started out using Tableau, I would get frustrated that my work wasn’t looking like the stuff of Luke Stanke, Mike Cisneros, Chantilly Jaggernauth, or Ken Flerlage. Over time that frustration turned to motivation, and that motivation turned to a realization that everyone’s stuff can start off not looking the way they want it to.

When things don’t come to me quickly I can often overthink dashboard concepts, or even think so hard about making something “cool” that what I produce is the exact opposite of cool. When something isn’t working out, or something isn’t looking the way I want, I have a tendency to want to stare at the screen harder, make my music a little louder. For those reading right now thinking, ‘that sounds extremely counter-productive,’ you’re right, it most certainly is.

It is human nature to want to be finished with a viz that you just spent 20 hours on and thought you were finished with. Sending your “finished” dashboard for some feedback can be one of the best things you ever do, either at work or on a personal project. The very fact that you have been the only person to lay eyes on your viz means that you could easily be missing some very blatant errors or your viz may not be clear to anyone but yourself.

Intentionally working through different concepts, designs, and metrics can help you as an author get a better feel for what the optimal outcome will be. Send the dashboard to someone in the community for feedback. To show how much this solution to “getting stuck” has helped me, I will share some rough drafts of a viz that ended up totally different than the final product.

Recognize the viz below? Me neither.

This was probably draft 3 of a viz that ended up being a Tableau Public Viz of the Day. Rest assured, this version did not do that.

I was extremely stuck with this viz. I had the data I wanted, an iconic image that I knew would fit well (Norman Rockwell’s, ‘The Problem We All Live With’), and a topic I was passionate about. I knew this viz could be good, but it didn’t start out that way.

This was take 5 maybe? A little better, but still not there. This viz was a smorgasbord of ideas. It was at this point that I sent the viz to a few members of the community. Here are some of the responses I received:

“What are you actually trying to say?”

“Put the important stuff up top”

“I have no idea what those area charts are saying”

This feedback is what ultimately made me start entirely from scratch. I opened a new workbook and got to work. I find that by opening a new workbook and starting fresh that I can start working in a new creative direction more easily than if I go back and try to edit old ideas.

And here’s the final version. It still has several things that could be improved on, but much better than my first 10 takes. I say this all to make an important point…iterate on your ideas. This applies not just to personal Tableau projects, but for client work as well.

At work this feedback will most likely come from stakeholders of your dashboard and management. My personal opinion is that you should include stakeholders early and often in the feedback process. At the end of the day, they’ll be the ones making decisions with the dashboard, not you.

Hopefully you found this blog post encouraging and/or relatable. Shoot me a Twitter DM or email at with any comments, feedback, or suggestions. Thanks!

Leave a Reply