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 guide will focus on the Pie Chart.
In this guide, we will start with an example chart and introduce the concepts and characteristics of it. By analyzing a real-life dataset: Rossmann Store Sales, we will learn to build a pie chart, step by step. Meanwhile, we will draw some conclusions from Tableau visualization.
Here is a pie chart example from When to Use Pie Charts – Best Practices. This example compares a good pie chart and the bad one, and then leads to best practices for a pie chart, such as:
Pie charts are among the most widely used charts in business and data journalism. They are used to visualize the part-to-whole relationship.
So, why is the pie chart so popular? In my opinion, there are the following reasons:
Specifically, in Tableau, a pie chart is used to show proportion or percentage values across the dimension. To create a pie chart, we need one dimension and a measure. Tableau supports another measure displayed as Size to compare in a group of pie marks, but this usage is not recommended.
Among all the common charts, the pie chart is the one with the most vocal “against” voices.
There is a famous quote:
Friends don't let friends use pie charts.
Robert Curtis explains the pie chart's natural defect from the perspective of perceptual limitations:
There are certain attributes that are intuitive and obvious to the human eye, such as spatial position, color, and length. We are not as good at noticing area and angle, and those just so happen to be the two main aspects of a pie chart.
According to the opinion of Ryan Sleeper on Don't Use Pie Charts:
The pie chart's primary limitation is that people are much better at comparing lengths and heights, as you would see in a bar or line chart than they are at comparing areas within a pie.
Further, the long tail results, or the thinner pieces of a pie, tend to become unreadable.
Pie charts are also a very poor vehicle for communicating changes over time.
He lists three main shortcomings of a pie chart. From that, we can summarize the best practice to build a pie 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 the data wrangling and feature engineering for this dataset. You can download my version from Github for a better exploratory data analysis.
We will build an ordinary pie chart to analyze the composition of sales by StoreType.
As a standard chart, we can click on Show Me and see the request for the pie chart.
For pie charts, try 1 or more Dimensions, 1 or 2 Measures.
As we see in the Show Me tab, to build a pie chart, we need at least one dimension and one or two measures. So. we multiple-select "StoreType" and "Sales" by holding the Control key (Command key on Mac), then choose "pie charts" in Show Me. Tableau will generate a raw pie chart automatically. The second measure will display as Size. If it is not provided, the first measure will do.
Alternatively, we can build a pie chart manually:
Sort the slices to make a more clear comparison.
Right-click on "StoreType" from Color and click Sort... Sort by Field in Descending order. Select "Sales" Field and make sure "Sum" is the Aggregation.
Optimize this pie chart:
In the current version, Tableau does not support to adjust the thickness of the border.
Add well-formatted and informative labels, which we have discussed the importance of before.
Hold the Control key (Command key on Mac) and drag "StoreType" and "SUM(Sales)" twice into Marks - Label.
Right-click on the first "SUM(Sales)" and choose Quick Table Calculation -> Percent of Total.
Format the first "SUM(Sales)" as Percentage and set Decimal places to 1.
Format the second "SUM(Sales)" as Currency and set Decimal places to 0.
Expand Label card and click the button of Text to edit the label. Edit it as:
<StoreType>: <% of Total SUM(Sales)> <SUM(Sales)>
Set the Font size to 10, color to Match Mark Color, and Bold.
We may prefer to put labels inside in some situations. According to this thread from Tableau, we can select a particular slice and drag its label inside for Tableau 10.5 and above. For this version, remember to change the color of labels to white.
The above pie chart illustrates the sales distribution grouped by StoreType. We can intuitively see whether the proportion of a StoreType is more or less. "a" contributes more than half of total sales while "b" contributes very little.
By cooperating with informative labels, pie charts make up for the inadequacy of inaccurate comparison. If we pursue more accurate data, we can refer to labels.
Since the pie chart has many shortcomings, it is necessary to think about plan B. For the above pie chart, I built a series of alternatives. They have their own characteristics and are suitable for different scenarios.
These alternatives to pie charts will help reduce your time to insight, while also making your analysis more accurate, precise, and actionable.
You can download this workbook Alternatives to a Pie Chart from Tableau Public.
In this guide, we have learned about one of the standard charts in Tableau - the Pie Chart.
First, we introduced the concept and characteristics of a pie chart and we also pointed out the shortcomings. Then we learned the process to build an ordinary pie chart. In the end, we discussed the alternatives to a pie chart.
You can download this example workbook Standard Charts 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 [email protected]
If you want to dive deeper into the topic or learn more comprehensively, there are many professional Tableau Training Classes on Pluralsight, such as Tableau Desktop Playbook: Building Common Chart Types.
I made a complete list of common Tableau charts serial guides, in case you are interested:
|Categories||Guides and Links|
|Bar Chart||Bar Chart, Stacked Bar Chart, Side-by-side Bar Chart, Histogram, Diverging Bar Chart|
|Text Table||Text Table, Highlight Table, Heat Map, Dot Plot|
|Line Chart||Line Chart, Dual Axis Line Chart, Area Chart, Sparklines, Step Lines and Jump Lines|
|Standard Chart||Pie Chart, Tree Map, Scatter Plot, Box and Whisker Plot, Gannt Chart, Bullet Chart, Bubble Chart, Map|
|Derived Chart||Funnel Chart, Waterfall Chart, Waffle Chart, Slope Chart, Bump Chart, Sankey Chart, Radar Chart, Connected Scatter Plot, Time Series, Word Cloud|
|Composite Chart||Lollipop Chart, Dumbbell Chart, Pareto Chart, Donut Chart, Radial Chart|
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