Designing Tableau Visualizations for the iPad

When Tableau released version 6.1 last year they also released the first iteration of their iPad application. With it, users have the ability to connect to any Tableau server they have access to and not only view but interact with visualizations on Apple’s brilliant touch screen device.

Making Tableau workbooks available for consumption on the iPad couldn’t be simpler either. Just publish your workbook to server as you normally would and Tableau handles the rest. Tap, pinch, zoom, select and rotate are all available to your users just as they expect from any other iPad application, and without a single change required in your workflow.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things we can do to maximize your users’ experience. Below are my top quick tips that I share with all my clients and students that are designing for the iPad their first time.

  1. Set Your Width
    The iPad has a pixel resolution of 1024 by 768 and as we all know, it can rotate. This provides users with great functionality but introduces another variable we have to account for as designers.

    I typically recommend designing for one mode: either landscape or portrait. Then, choose an exact dashboard size appropriately. Not only will an exact size benefit us from a design perspective, it most likely will improve our speed performance as well by maximizing our cache hit ratio.  

    My preference tends to be landscape and I find setting an exact width of 1000px to be near perfect. From there, I choose a height appropriate for my dashboard. This provides users a clean interface without the need to scroll multiple directions and allows them to more easily focus on the dashboard itself rather than the mechanics of viewing it.

    Above all else, be consistent. Like the use of instructions, actions and tooltips your users will get acquainted with consistent design and find it much more enjoyable to use.

  2. Be Concise
    A good tip for all dashboards but even more important for the iPad. Like designing a dashboard for a blog, our real estate is more limited on the iPad and we need to maximize the effect we have in that space. 

    Choose the number of visualizations you include carefully. As a general rule of thumb, I recommend no more than a 4 pane view for most dashboards. The same holds true for the iPad, although 2 or 3 panes can be even more effective.

    Remember, our goal in any data analytics project is to provide insight into our data. Our effectiveness at doing so decreases as our dashboard becomes more complicated and difficult to decipher. We would never want our users to have to wade through endless lines and columns of a cross tab when a simple bar chart clearly delivers the intended answers. Likewise, we don’t want our users to have to scan through an excessive amount of panes in order to capture the message we’re looking to deliver.

  3. Limit Your Actions
    Like most of us I believe Actions are the most powerful tool available within Tableau. With them, we can filter data across disparate sources, provide guided analytics to our users and offer drill downs to more detailed dashboards with as little as a click. Most of us have come to rely on them, as we should.

    On the iPad we have a few considerations, however. With a mouse and a web browser we can be as precise as we want. Need to select multiple points? We can click-drag select or use ctrl-click to select marks not near each other. With an iPad, we’re down to a single tap or tap-drag for selecting nearby marks, no longer able to use a ctrl-click. From what I’ve seen, URL actions are also not supported -actually, they are! See below for update. If you’re dashboard heavily relies on URL actions you may rethink your approach for use on the iPad. Above all else, it takes slightly more effort to tap or tap-drag select the exact marks you intend to on the iPad. 

    For all these reasons, I always recommend limiting the use of actions on dashboards you know will be used heavily on the iPad. When used deliberately and precisely they can be as effective as before. But when used in excess, you may find you’re only frustrating your users while they haphazardly try to manipulate the dashboard using the iPad’s touch interface.

UPDATE - URL Actions

Austin Dahl, a member of the development team that brought us Tableau's iPad app, noted in the comments URL Actions are supported. The common issue most users will run into (including myself) is Mobile Safari's pop up blocker (also a common occurrence for users viewing reports in Safari on a Mac). I assume the setting is enabled by default as I don't recall making the change on my iPad. I also don't recall receiving any notification that a pop up was blocked, although I may have simply missed it during testing. In any case, if your design relies on the use of URL Actions it would be best practice to call attention to Mobile Safari's pop up blocker settings so your users can choose to adjust accordingly.

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