Tableau is the most popular interactive data visualization tool, nowadays. It provides a wide variety of charts to explore your data easily and effectively. This series of guides - Tableau Playbook - will introduce all kinds of common charts in Tableau. And this series of guides will focus on the Dual Axis Line Chart.
In this guide, we will start with an example chart and introduce the concept and characteristics of the dual axis. Then, we will apply dual axis technique to the line chart. By analyzing a real-life dataset: Rossmann Store Sales, we will focus on how to build a dual axis chart with line step by step. Meanwhile, we will draw some conclusions from Tableau visualization.
Here is a dual axis line chart example from Highcharts. This chart uses dual axis with line to compare monthly average temperature between Tokyo and London. We can notice the two y-axes are synchronized, which won't bring confusion to readers. In addition, it uses dual axis with dot to distinguish Tokyo and London. The dot emphasizes on individuals of the two cities.
With the help of the dual axis technique, we can analyze the temperature trend of each city. In the meantime, we can compare the temperature of two cities at any point in time.
The dual axis technique is one of the most important techniques in Tableau. It gives us a way to combine two charts into a shared axis. This technique is widely used to build complex charts.
Specifically, in Tableau, it provides access to a second marks card, which opens the ability to combine multiple mark types in a single view. With the dual axis technique, we are able to use our imagination to build more chart types beyond the templates from Show Me.
I totally agree with the opinion of this blog from Datawrapper:
We believe that charts with two different y-axes make it hard for most people to intuitively make right statements about two data series.
We're sorry if that makes our user's life harder, but we agree with the many chart experts who make cases against dual axis charts.
It must be clarified that "dual axis charts", in this article, refers specifically to non-synchronized dual axis charts, which is not a problem with synchronized dual axis charts.
We'd better avoid non-synchronized dual axis chart because:
The scales of dual axis charts are arbitrary and can therefore (deliberately) mislead readers about the relationship between the two data series.
Let's take the following example to understand this misleading. We can display various relations of the red line and blue line by truncating or scaling the y-axes.
Here are four recommended alternatives to replace the non-synchronized dual axis chart:
This dataset contains three-year sales data for 856 stores in Rossmann. Store sales are influenced by many factors, including promotions, competition, school and state holidays, seasonality, and locality.
I have done data wrangling and feature engineering for this dataset. You can download my version from Github for a better exploratory data analysis.
We will start with a dual lines chart to analyze the correlation between Sales and Customers:
For a line chart dual axis with one line, we can generate it automatically by Show Me. This is the first, and easiest, way to build the dual axis. Click on Show Me and see the request for the dual lines.
For dual lines, try 1 date, 0 or more Dimensions, 2 Measures.
Hold down the Control key (Command key on Mac) while clicking to multiple select "Date", "Customers", and "Sales", then choose "dual lines" in Show Me.
It is worth mentioning that Tableau uses Measure Names to pack "Customers" and "Sales" for coloring.
SUMby default. But
SUMis inappropriate here because the distribution over time is unbalanced for both Customers and Sales. By analyzing the distribution of Customers and Sales, we can also find out that the data is skewed. Therefore,
MEDIANis better than
Right-click the left and right axis, then uncheck Include zero to truncate automatically.
Polish this chart:
Currently, this chart is a non-synchronized dual-line chart because it has two different y-axes. We have discussed many drawbacks of such charts. so we'd better use the indexed chart to replace it.
the indexed chart doesn't tell us anything about absolute numbers, but shows the relative change of our data series over time by what percentage a variable increases or decreases over time.
Let's polish the new chart again:
With the help of the line dual axis, we can find out that the trend lines of Customers and Sales are very similar. There is a strong positive correlation between Customers and Sales.
In this guide, we have learned about a variation of the line chart in Tableau - the Dual Axis Line Chart.
First, we introduced the concept and characteristics of the dual axis technique. Then we discussed the misuse of the non-synchronized dual axis. Next, we learned how to build a line chart dual axis with a line. In the end, we talked about other variations of the dual axis line chart.
In the second part, we will practice the line chart dual axis with dot.
You can download this example workbook Line Chart and Variations from Tableau Public.
In conclusion, I have drawn a mind map to help you organize and review the knowledge in this guide.
I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions, you're welcome to contact me at [email protected].