Power BI – Best of 2018 in Data Visualization

Power BI – Best of 2018 in Data Visualization
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Power BI is not so much a data visualization tool as it is an end-to-end business intelligence platform that ends with visualizing data. Marco Russo approached this well when he explained the differences between a more robust model-based tool and a narrowly scoped report-based tool. While visualizing data in Power BI may sometimes be a bit rough around the edges, the strength of the overall platform from data ingestion, modeling, visualization, and distribution is second to none for businesses. A lot of well-deserved attention and hype occurred in Power BI on the modeling and data integration side in 2018. This personal “best of” list does not carry that focus…

Instead, this list focuses on features and improvements around data visualization. It represents highly biased personal favorites and opinion. It’s a survey of what stood out to me and only scratches the surface of what people have done with Power BI in 2018. If there’s something you thought stood out more than these items this past year, please share your thoughts in the Comments.

Charticulator (with Export to Power BI)

Maybe 2019 will be a breakout year for data visualization in Power BI. If so, it’s going to be because of Charticulator and a growing community of Power BI users interested in learning about it.

Charticulator is the missing link from Microsoft Research to make complex data visualization in Power BI accessible to non-coders. Most of us honestly just need to put in the time and figure out how to use it. Charticulator helps you build a visual and then optionally export it as a Power BI custom visual file. See the full Gallery for more examples.

This can be done by anyone! Within the span of only two days, for example, Nick Snapp wowed the Power BI community on Twitter with multiple examples and quick GIF tutorials of Charticulator content.

Compare that to where I’m currently at below… You can see that there’s a lot of awesome learning that should take place with Charticulator in 2019.


Data Visualization Usability Checklist

When speaking of visualization, I’m not aware of anyone promoting thoughtful visual design in Power BI more than Meagan Longoria. Design equates to more than good-looking layouts. There’s a deeper magic to good design than what you immediately see on the surface. I hope that we’ll soon have more people in the Power BI community talking and blogging about the science behind data visualization and making visualization accessible to all users. For now, there’s one clear voice explaining concepts like color, preattentive attributes, cognitive load, gestalt principles, and more.

Unless she has some more magic in the last week of the year, Meagan’s Usability Checklist and her webinar 7 Steps to Better Power BI Visuals are good summaries of many principles she’s covered on DataSavvy.me and at BlueGranite in 2018. I’m not going to show or breakdown the list here because I want you to go directly to her materials. They’re worth it.

Report Page Tooltips

The idea is simple. Embed a separate report page into a tooltip. When users hover over a visual, the tooltip shows a filtered view of the associated page. This feature also prompted a blog post headline and song parody (probably forever in Drafts) titled “Ode To My Tooltip” based on The Cranberries’ Ode To My Family

Spatial Improvements

Did that report page tooltip example above include a Mapbox map? Yes it did! 2018 saw the introduction of both the Mapbox custom visual and improvements to the ArcGIS Map visual. Recently, Tony McGovern held a webinar on the topic and helped bridge R and Power BI communities by showing off his mapping skills. BlueGranite also had a webinar and whitepaper exploring maps in Power BI as of March 2018. We also finally got our hands on James DalesIcon Map custom visual. All in all, there were some significant strides taken with mapping in Power BI this past year.

Visual Vocabulary

Jason Thomas is really good at taking ideas and extending them. He recently published a Power BI version of the Financial Times‘ Visual Vocabulary, a catalog of chart types to use in different circumstances. If you didn’t know that Power BI could handle all this visual awesomeness, now you do. Jason made the PBIX file freely available from his blog. If you’re inspired by something and want to try it out, you can replicate all of these visuals easily by following his examples.

aMAZEing DAX (and SVG)

Since our society reached the pinnacle of gaming in 1986, there have been no notable innovations or improvements — until now. A discovery I made this year was that Power BI users can dynamically construct SVG Image URLs using DAX, and no one has showcased the potential of vector graphics in Power BI quite like Phil Seamark. While this is one step away from useful for business purposes, it pushes the limits of nostalgic fun.

In addition to being the brainchild of Phil, I want to laud the communal effort because this Power BI game used visual design from Seth Bauer and a new custom visual direction pad from Margarida Prozil. aMAZEing DAX was also different from a lot of other Power BI gaming efforts this past year. It was good to see a visually complex game that did not require dozens of disconnected tables, numerous slicers that slow the report down, or legions of bookmarks.

Honorable Mention?

What did I leave off this list? What do you feel were the largest boosts to or examples of data visualization in Power BI this past year? Feel free to leave comments below, or let me know via Twitter @dataveld.


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