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Introducing the Triple Crown Framework for Data Visualization


This is the first in a series of four posts about my newest strategic framework for data visualization. Subscribe here for future updates.

I’m a firm believer that it’s not enough to know the technical tactics of Tableau that I often document here at this site. For that matter, it’s also not enough to be a great data engineer, an expert analyst, a user experience designer, a graphic designer, or etcetera. What ties it all together is strategy.

For this reason, I’m a big fan of considering strategic frameworks in the context of data visualization. These frameworks help boil down a complex practice into easily followable principles that maximize your chances for a successful project. I personally follow a combination of frameworks because they can come in different forms and are all useful in different ways.

The newest framework to make it into my standard toolbelt, the Triple Crown Framework, is a set of three guiding pillars that I always have in the back of my mind when using Tableau. This year I’ve had the opportunity to present the Triple Crown Framework in a dozen US cities and London. And as I prepare to present the framework at the Tableau Conference in Las Vegas this week, I am sharing the concept in writing for the first time.

The genesis of the Triple Crown Framework was inspired by my favorite metaphor for data visualization: Tableau’s Iron Viz Championship. During the contest, three finalists compete live in front of thousands of conference attendees to create the best visualization they can in 20 minutes. It’s always one of the best sessions at the conference because it’s the perfect balance of ‘sizzle and steak’. The finalists are all among the best at what they do, but Tableau still makes it a show to engage the audience.

I view data visualization the same way. The data is the foundation of everything created (the steak), but I believe that design is also required to engage the user (the sizzle).

Data and design form the first two pillars of the framework, but there was something missing for me. What is it that pushes one of the three finalists over the top to claim the championship each year? The event is always closely contested, and most finalists share the sentiment that design needs to be a standard consideration in data visualization. So what is the missing piece?

After thinking about this for a couple of years, I realized that the third component is psychology. Every champion I can think of has leveraged aspects of psychology to their advantage; either by finding a way to connect with the judges and audience, using tactics to effectively communicate their work, using strategies to determine their process during the contest, among many more examples.

What’s to follow then are breakdowns of each of these three pillars: data, design, and psychology. During each post, I will provide three tangible examples or tips to help you incorporate the Triple Crown Framework into your own projects. I don’t argue that you can’t be successful without one of these three components, but I do argue that considering all three will give you the best chance at success with Tableau.

Thanks for reading,
– Ryan