Working with data in protovis – interlude: protovis nesting vs tableau

Protovis, like Tableau, are based on the grammar of graphics framework. In a nutshell, in both environments, a chart designer can map visual attributes (such as x or y dimension, color, shape, etc.) to dimensions of data.

The flat file which Becker’s Barley is based on can be used in Tableau public nearly as is.
Here’s a size-by-size comparison of the results:

How it’s done in Protovis

In protovis, the flat file is nested several times, so that its various elements can be called in a hierarchy from series of dots per variety, to panel per sites to a grander panel. Legend and ticks are added by hand for a perfect finish. Still, some careful planning is required to prepare the data file and to adjust the various elements (choice of colors, sizes, etc.)

How it’s done in Tableau

The data file, unsurprisingly, has 4 dimensions: site, variety, year and yield. In tableau terms, yield is a measure (a numerical dimension) while the other 3 are categorical dimensions. With a few clicks, it is possible to get a result which is similar to the original vis in Protovis. We assign yield to column (horizontal attribute), site and variety to row in that order. We also untick aggregate measures in Analysis, so we get little circles and not big bars. Here, I’ve manually sorted the sites and the varieties.


It is much, much easier to achieve a similar result with Tableau, however using protovis provides a finer control.


One thought on “Working with data in protovis – interlude: protovis nesting vs tableau

  1. Great comparison Jerome. For me, this post highlights why I think Tableau is so successful. I am really excited by Protovis, and see some wonderful visualisations created with it. I particularly like Jan Willem Tulp’s circular visualisations. Protovis is clearly one powerful tool. However, it’s a programmer’s tool. Even simple charts require some knowledge of programming. Instantly, you’ve lost about 99% of all people who might be interested in vizualisation.

    When I use Tableau, I am always amazed at how far you can get with just the mouse. For this reason, it’s future is bright as it puts the power back in the hands of the non-programmers.

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