Saturday, August 24, 2013

Data Analysis Books Reviews – IDD 2ed – RGwT8

It's a very good day when a new book on some aspect of data analysis shows up. It's very, very good when two show up on the same day, a recent occurrence that brought "Information Dashboard Design – Second Edition" and "Rapid Graphs with Tableau 8 – The Original Guide for the Accidental Analyst".

I have multiple copies of the original "Information Dashboard Design" book, and have given more copies to colleagues. It's been one of my go-to sources for good solid professional advice on how to design and deliver high quality dashboards that communicate clearly, effectively, and well.

I also have a copy of "The Accidental Analyst".

This is my initial take on both of the new books after a quick perusal.

Information Dashboard Design
Second Edition

Buy it.

Read it.

Read it again.

Learn what Mr. Few has to say and you'll be well equipped to deliver on the promise every professional makes: to produce high quality work that your clients will be happy to receive, that deliver value and stand the test of time.

Rapid Graphs with Tableau 8
The Original Guide for the Accidental Analyst

If you're interested in learning how to use Tableau to explore and analyze your data, and to communicate the interesting and valuable insights and information you glean from it, buy a different book.

Take Tableau's free online training.

Use Tableau.

Find someone who knows and uses Tableau and sit with them while they do.

Join your local Tableau User Group or Tableau Meetup group.

I'm not really sure how to address what I found about this book that I find disappointing, so I'll just offer a few observations.

The production values are low–it's in black and white, and for a book on data visualization that makes much of the use of color that's almost a nonstarter on its own. The layout is poor, with text crammed to the edges of the pages but also with large blank spaces where useful content could be. The image quality isn't good; aside from the lack of color there's a general lack of crispness. Where holding Few's book is an invitation to explore, peruse and study this book is almost cavalierly unconcerned with drawing you in.

The organizational scheme is skewed. Detailed operational topics are expounded on before the basic data analytical activities someone new to Tableau (even only relatively) needs to know how to do. Treemaps are in Chapter 4 - "Core view types in Tableau" while Scatterplots are in Chapter 5 - "Advanced view types in Tableau", along with maps.

But worst of all, it feels like a warmed-over standard software training manual, with a little higher-level advice added. It uses the traditional software operational training model: here's how to do X with the tool and here's the Y result you get. This "show a picture of the tool, write some paragraphs about what you do here" style isn't a good model for helping build competence and confidence, but it's been around since the dawn of manuals and it looks like it's not going quietly any time soon.

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