The Hike to Base Camp: Exploration with Tableau Desktop

By: Greg Herzing | March 7th, 2023

Data analysis and manipulation in Microsoft Excel can be a repetitive and arduous task. Learn how Tableau Desktop, Tableau Server, and Tableau Cloud offer a better way to prepare, share and explain your data.

“This is Ground Control to Major Change; you’ve really made the grade.  And the papers want to know your viz software (Tableau, duh!).  Now it’s time to leave Excel if you dare.”
– Ground Control

The time has arrived! Today’s the day your journey away from Excel continues. I commend you on your bravery. We explored how change is hard in our first blog post—and so is sleeping without a mattress! But that’s how they do it at Data Scout Base Camp, so that’s how we’re going to do it too. Luckily, you’ll have happy dreams about all the sweet data visualizations you’ll be able to make in Tableau Desktop 1 or using the online editor in Tableau Server or Cloud! Not to mention, your hike today is going to give you plenty of campfire fodder. Wait until the other scouts hear the things you’re about to learn!

Alright, we’ve got our food and our libations. And of course, there’s our walkie talkie set to Channel 1—The CoEnterprise channel. Just in case we get lost. We also have a data source handy that will help us figure out where we’re going and how far away our landmarks are.


Connect to and Model Your Data

In the “Data Source” tab, click the data source type you’d like to use. We’re going to use a spreadsheet, but you can connect to countless file types (text, CSV, MS Access) and data base types either on premises or in the Cloud (MS SQL Server, Snowflake, Amazon Redshift, Azure)!

Tableau Desktop 1

Navigate to your data source’s location and open it. Drag your table(s) of interest into the spot where Tableau tells you to “Drag tables here.”

Tableau Desktop 1

In the Data Source tab, you can do some light data modeling, data transforms like splitting delimited field contents, and apply filters!

Now we need to figure out if we have enough daylight to make it from the edge of the unknown all the way to base camp. Let’s start by simply creating a list of the landmarks we need to find and the distances between them.

If you can click and drag, you can Tableau! Click and drag the elements from your Data Pane into the Canvas (the white morass that says…)

We want to see our landmarks and the distance between them. Landmarks are found in our Dimensional data (descriptive data) at the top and our Measure data (continuous, aggregable data) is on the bottom. “Aggregable” … that’s hard to say.  But clicking and dragging isn’t hard!

Tableau Desktop 1

Well, it looks a little bit too much like Excel for my liking, but we must start somewhere.  It’s always best practice to get to know your data set well before beginning to visualize it. You need to be able to tell yourself the campfire data story before you can tell anyone else, right?

What’s my total distance? I’ll check this in two ways:

  1. No DIMENSION Breakdown:
    a. Remove the DIMENSION data for each landmark (just drag the blue pills off the Rows shelf back to the Data Pane).
    b. This will force Tableau to sum up all the distance values instead of giving us one for each landmark.
  2. Grand Totals
    a. That’s great, but we do lose the granularity.
    b. We’ll place the Landmark pill back on the Rows shelf.
    c. Let’s add a grand total to our table so we can see the detailed view as well as the total.
    d. This can be accomplished using either the Analytics Pane here next to our Data Pane or by using the Analysis menu.
    e. Either click and drag “Totals” over your table and select “Column Totals” or from the Analysis menu choose “Totals” and select “Show Column Grand Totals.”

Tableau Desktop 1

Sweet! Now to figure out if we’ve got enough time in the day to hike to each of these locations and live to tell the tale! The last time I checked I could hike at a rate of 6 miles per hour with my skillfully planned pack on my back on flat, clear terrain.

16.75 miles of hiking divided by 6 miles per hour leaves us with a hike that is 2.8 hours long! Plenty of time to enjoy the feeling of wonder the landmarks will inspire, eat some of this healthy food you packed for yourself, and probably take a nap!


Answer Questions with Calculated Fields

How long will it take to get from one spot to the other? We can calculate the amount of time needed hike from one landmark to another using a simple calculated field in Tableau Desktop 1.

Tableau Desktop 1

Drag the new calculation into your table and watch Tableau calculate not only the individual distances but maintain a column total for you as well. Just like we calculated with our fingers and toes only we didn’t have to take our boots off! Snazzy.

We should consider exhaustion though. Can we really travel at a rate of 6 miles per hour for the entire journey? We can use a parameter to help make a more realistic estimate.


Augment Your Analysis with Parameters

Click the drop-down menu and select “Create Parameter.”

Tableau Desktop 1

All sorts of parameters can be set up and used throughout your Tableau numeric and visual analysis. The “Display As” text is associated with the numbers in the “Value” column, so when we select a physical state of being, the associated number is used in our calculation “Point to Point Time.”

Tableau Desktop 1

While the thought of my femur protruding through my thigh is appalling, a good data scout is always prepared and analyzes all outcomes, no matter how heinous.

Now to insert the parameter into our calculation and watch the mathemagic happen!

We’ll edit the “Point to Point Time” and insert the new parameter.

Tableau Desktop 1

To adjust the values of the parameter and see the results first we’ll need to display the parameter and then use the drop-down list to change the value.

Right click the parameter and select “Show Parameter.” A drop-down selector will appear to the right of your Canvas. I will select my usual state of being to set expectations properly.

Tableau Desktop 1

Yep. That’s more like it. 5.58 hours. But it’s still better than grievous injury (It would take nearly 70 days in the worst case; how did I find that out so quickly? Using Tableau Parameters!).

Tableau Desktop 1

I think we’re ready to begin our sojourn. Let’s just dig out our map and compass and… wait. You didn’t pack the map!!? How will we know which way to go?!!?  Don’t worry. Tableau’s got your back. Next time in A Data Scout’s Journey Part 3: Mapping the Area we’ll plot our landmarks on a map using Tableau’s exceptional mapping capabilities, calculate what time of day we’ll arrive at each landmark, and embed all that important context right in our map!

Want to take your Tableau projects to the next level?
Learn more about how our experts can help grow your skills today.

Subscribe to our resources!

Sign up to receive our latest eBooks, webinars, blog posts, newsletter, event invitations, and much more.