Color Innovation


This post imbues the importance of innovation with color in data visualization, offers a variety of resources and reference materials, and encourages personal innovation with color as absolutely vital to moving your visual communication of data forward in Tableau.

Emotion and Behavior

The effective use of color is fundamental to the visual communication of data.

As our eyes take in color, they communicate with the hypothalamus, which in turn signals the pituitary gland. Then, on to the endocrine system, the thyroid gland signals the release of hormones. Those hormones influence BEHAVIORS and EMOTIONS. Color is so powerful, in fact, that the effective use of color can improve learning by 75% and increase comprehension by up to 73%. 1

Yet, in today's conversation about color, much ado is still invested in the basics: to stop using red yellow green, for example.

Important as these basics are, now is the time to move our conversation beyond the entry level. Now is the time to dramatically expand our thinking around color.

With behavior change, comprehension, and augmented decisions as the very reason for data visualization, and Tableau as our tool of choice in the field, then we as visualization authors must become more

Guided Analysis and Logical Partitioning


This post builds upon the theme of designing a performant data architecture for your high volume solutions in Tableau.

One core performance concept is that good design considers the entire solution stack. If you fail to design for performance at all vertical levels, then the worst performing layer will make the solution slow. A train is only as fast as the slowest car. And worse, if various layers have design problems, then your train likely isn’t moving at all.

We must consider the entire vertical solution, together as a holistic system, from the top to the bottom. And this design investment is best made at the outset. To focus performance efforts at only a single layer or to return to a poor performing system in hindsight in search of "one thing" to fix is insufficient.

Of the various layers in the typical solution stack, this post is focused on two: User Interface Design and Semantic Data Architecture.

Yes, as UI designer in Tableau you are also a Data Architect!

Vertical Solution Stack

Pyramid built in Tableau, by Noah Salvaterra

Guided Analysis

As with any “big problem", the solution to good performance on large data volumes is to break that big problem up

Advanced Menu as Dynamic Parameter


This post describes how an "advanced menu" can be used to work around the need for dynamic parameters when filtering across multiple data sources in Tableau.


In his post "Creating a Collapsing Menu Container in Tableau", Robert Rouse does a great job of walking through the mechanics of how to build a "dynamic and collapsable menu" in Tableau.

Creating a Collapsing Menu Container in Tableau

Some of my favorite mobile apps like Slack, Feedly and Google Maps have a slide-out menu that appears when I tap a small icon. That common design element makes plenty of room for user inputs and gets them out of the way when you're done - perfect for small screens.

To elaborate further on that concept, in this note today I explain how we can leverage the idea of a "dynamic and collapsable menu” to tackle some additional, rather complex data design challenges.

Why Multiple Data Sources?

First off, why would we deliberately use multiple data sources in a single dashboard?

Well, on large data volumes, for performance! In fact as your data volume grows large, Data Architecture decisions like this one quickly become imperative.

For two years running at the annual Tableau Conference,

Open Letter to the Wall of Data


Here you'll find an example to build upon when writing to those who insist on using Tableau to build "giant walls of tabular data".


Dear person who insists on giant cross-tabs of data in Tableau:

It was a pleasure to speak this morning! As we’ve discussed last week, the difficulties you face stem from the fact that you are attempting to do with Tableau what is specifically not recommended.

Tableau is a data visualization tool. It is not a spreadsheet, not a “tabular report builder”.

After looking at your challenges in more detail, it would seem that you must speak with your stakeholders and soon decide between one of two broad categories of alternatives:

Choice #1: continue to use spreadsheets and "giant walls of raw numbers with conditional formatting" to make business decisions

  • Here, your best decision may likely be to avoid Tableau

Choice #2: leverage the visual display of quantitative information to enhance cognition and reach better business conclusions faster!

  • Here, continue with Tableau and render your data visually

In support of the above conclusion, please find below a collection of reading materials.

What is Tableau not really good for?

What is Tableau not really good for?


When to Blend


Bolstered by the brain trust at DataBlick, this post considers various uses for Data Blending in Tableau, and argues for more formal data preparation as the best alternative when blending breaks down.

For Starters

If you're just getting started, first some useful resources:

All of the 2014 conference materials are an excellent resource. There are ten different talks with the keyword “blending", and my Tableau Conference Television makes it easy to find what you’re looking for.

So now, on with the show!

Slide Projector

As an analogy, think of Tableau as a slide projector for your data where each Tableau Data Source is a slide.

Born from a hackathon among Tableau’s engineers, Data Blending is indeed a clever hack! It allows us to place more than one slide into the projector at once :)

Starting in version 8, "Data Blending 2” also allows us to manually turn off & on the linking fields, regardless of whether those fields are utilized in the view. The difference

Lookup vs. Transactional Data


This post helps you to understand how the granularity & the shape of your underlying data will affect the visualization work you do in Tableau.

I was recently stumped by a common problem, one for which Jonathan Drummey back in 2012 has started a page to document the many scenarios in which this type of complication can occur.

My particular scenario was Headcount, when given the Arrival & Departure Dates. And Jonathan's collection of similar scenarios is Utilization, Queues, Census, Throughput for Blocks, Floors, Units, Rooms, Offices, etc. - What do you do?

The most interesting thing about each of the scenarios in Jonathan's collection is not their individual solution in isolation. But rather, the underlying pattern behind those solutions: the what they share in common.

And when Joe Mako helps me get through something on a Sunday afternoon, you know the answer is worth sharing!

The number one, most important facet of learning Tableau, and learning from Joe, is to recognize the patterns that recur. By recognizing common patterns when working with data, and by learning the behaviors of Tableau, one learns to reach a flow state with similar encounters in the future, even while the details may vary.

The Argument for Alteryx Freemium


In this post I make the logical argument for Alteryx to evolve their pricing model towards freemium.

Two years ago when I first came across Alteryx at a meet-up in their San Francisco office space, the product wasn’t as mature as I find it today. And returning just now from the Inspire 2015 conference in Boston, I'm quite pleased by both the scope & pace of recent developments, as well as the future product roadmap.

During these past two years, my Twittersphere has also been increasingly abuzz about Alteryx. In fact, given the strong endorsement it receives from people who’s technical opinion I rely upon, Alteryx is a tool that I would have tried again by now, if not for the entry price.

Below I will argue that tens of thousands of data workers exist in the world, just like myself, who are each potential Alteryx customers, but who will never try the tool in earnest until they have access to a more gradual on-ramp in terms of free & low cost pricing for simplified versions of the tool.

Back of the Napkin

To examine today’s pricing model with some napkin calcs, if we assume that a

The Finder Dashboard


A tweet recently arrived from Pam Gidwani, to let me know that now everyone can make use of my Tableau Conference Television vis. Thank you Tableau, for making all of this amazing knowledge from TC14 available to the public!

Pam Gidwani on Twitter

Not surprisingly, page views on TC14-TV have rocketed up since then, as lots of folks are taking advantage of all the free know-how.

To celebrate, I'll explain some lovely features of how that workbook was put together.

Intersection Logic

About a ~year ago, I was still quite new to Tableau and I had a specific challenge: to build a Finder dashboard. The education I received from Jonathan Drummey was a real mind opener.

I discovered that so much more can be done once you begin construct your views in terms of logical building blocks. Thank you!

Brainstorming Multi-Select Filters: INTERSECTIO... | Tableau Support Community

The gist of the finder problem goes like this: in TC14-TV, for example, each session recording has multiple keywords.

And we sometimes want for a multi-select quick filter to find the intersection between the chosen keyword values. A multi-select quick filter in Tableau normally finds the union.

A Series of Calculations

To get there, Jonathan taught me to think in terms of logical building block calculations:

# Keywords for Session

Of the various keywords chosen, how many of those exist for each conference session?

# Keywords Selected

In total, how many keywords have been chosen in the quick-filter?

I've wrapped the total calculation in a PREVIOUS_VALUE() wrapper to improve performance. From number 10 in The Next N Table Calcs, this works because all rows will print the value from a single computation.

(PS - though, if I'm not mistaken, I understand now that TOTAL() behaves differently from most other table calcs & is computed only once, anyway :)

Keyword Intersection Filter

Now comes the good stuff. When filtering for the intersection, we only want conference sessions for which the

[# Keywords for Session] >= [# Keywords Selected]


A parameter decides whether to use AND vs. OR logic. And there's a bit of an edge-case workaround, to help the intersection logic behave correctly when none of the conference sessions contain all of the keywords you're searching for.

That part about working around the edge-case is described in detail with my final update to our forum conversation.

The Finder Concept

In addition to highlighting the intersection logic, I really hope this post helps to illuminate the useful concept of a finder dashboard.

In short, a series of quick filters can help you to "find" the widgets you're searching for. And then, from that reduced list which match your criteria, the dashboard filter actions then bring other sheets into view.

What's More

This dashboard also gave me a chance to incorporate some Sheet Popping, which is explained very nicely by Joe Oppelt, Matthew Lutton, and Ville Tyrväinen in Sheet Swapping and Popping with Joe Oppelt (and a Tip on Searching the Tableau Forums).

So Why Wait ?

Not long now 'til TC15. Might I suggest we all commit to watching every session from TC14-TV before departing for TC15, Las Vegas in October ?

Word Count: 511


  1. "Tableau Conference Television", Keith Helfrich, Redheaded Step Data, November 17, 2014

  2. "About The Conference", TC14, Tableau, April 29, 2014

  3. "Fantastic News", Tweet by Pam Gidwani,, April 20, 2015 11:43 AM

  4. Jonathan Drummey, Data Blog, Drawing with Numbers, April 29, 2015

  5. "Brainstorming Multi-Select Filters:

How to Ask for Help from Tableau Support


This post describes an approach to ensure you get the best possible response from Tableau Support, with the fastest possible turn-around time.


After years of working on Enterprise systems I've found that, when I have a problem, the best solution is to solve it myself.

If I cannot solve it myself, then the problem is significant, and I want a valuable answer as quickly as possible.

Problem Definition

Tableau is a complex piece of software. Communication challenges can be among the largest of the hurdles to overcome when working through an issue.

The free text entry box allows unformatted text: no headers, no images. Worse: if my plain text is structured poorly, the Support Engineer may have no choice but to waste valuable time asking me questions.

My Solution

In each new support request, my free text contains one sentence. And there are two attachments.

Dear Tableau Support,

Please review the attached PDF and packaged workbook.

Keith Helfrich
(415) 400-6640


The PDF is a no frills document, which follows a logical structure.

Descriptive text is augmented with screen shots that are marked up with arrows & call-outs.

Not each of these sections is required for every

Dates, Times, and Universal Coordination


This post provides a lesson in converting data between time zones, with examples and considerations.

Having recently leveraged Dave Andrade's Twitter Analytics dashboard, I was curious to observe that, apparently, the optimal time for me to send tweets is on Mondays at around 2am. But wait. I don't send tweets while I'm sleeping. So, how can this be?

It's because the Twitter Analytics time stamps are stored in UTC.

Store Universally, Display Locally

As a best practice, one should store data in as constistent & portable a format as possible. For date & time values, that format is Coordinated Universal Time.

Coordinated Universal Time - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

So we should store our data in UTC and convert it into the local time zone for display. But, conversion is tricky: offsetting the hour is one thing. And daylight savings is something else entirely.

Governments the world over are constantly tinkering with daylight savings. Not only national laws, but also state, provencial, and local municipality laws are each constantly changing.

The country of Argentina, for a personal example, attempted twice during my seven years living in Buenos Aires to switch to daylight savings. They failed both times, reverting back mid-change.