Tristan is a Data Visualization Freelancer who likes to combine different techniques to find the best way to represent data. He regularly creates tools and videos to help people build their next projects or level up their skills. Tristan is the 2017 Iron Viz Champion, and current Tableau Visionary.
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PolicyViz Podcast Episode #237: Tristan Guillevin
Welcome back to the PolicyViz podcast. I am your host, Jon Schwabish. On this week’s episode of the show, I am excited to have Tristan Guillevin – that’s my worst French accent, by the way – join me on this episode of the show. Tristan is now a freelance data visualization designer consultant, and he does a lot of his work in Tableau, and he’s created some amazing Tableau add-ons, you might call them. He has a free open source site where you can go drop your data in and it will create Tableau templates for some more Bespoke data visualizations like [inaudible 00:02:20] charts, core diagrams, Sankey diagrams, those sorts of charts that can be more difficult for us to create on our own, and he’s created this great tool where you can just drop in your data, download a Tableau file, open it up, and you’re on your way. So I wanted to talk to Tristan about his work, about his journey to becoming a freelancer, and what he has planned in store for this tool that he’s created, and open it up to the community. So we’re going to get right to it. Here’s this week’s episode of the podcast with Tristan Guillevin.
Jon Schwabish: Hi Tristan, welcome to the show. Good to see you.
Tristan Guillevin: Hello. Good to see you too.
JS: I’m really glad we got to finally do this. I’ve been rescheduling on you, like, a million times. But I finally got you.
TG: I know scheduling can be difficult, no worries.
JS: Yeah, we are, but we got it, and I caught you now. So you’re in Mexico for a little bit?
TG: I am in Mexico for a while, yes.
JS: So for folks who don’t know, Tristan has this new fantastic, well, does lots of great work in general, but the reason that I want to chat specifically because you have these new, I would say, several tools, they’re all within the same sort of ecosystem, but several tools that help people create different, more advanced, more Bespoke visualizations in Tableau with just a couple of clicks, which is pretty amazing. I want to get there in a little bit, but I want to start by talking about your personal journey over the last few years because right towards the beginning of the pandemic, you started your own company, became a freelancer, moved countries, like, didn’t just move down the block, so you started this whole thing. So I’m just curious, what were you doing, what are you doing now, and what was that transition and change like for you?
TG: Yes, okay, so I think the best to answer that is to really start, let’s say, from the beginning, when I finished school, I always wanted to be kind of independent in some way. It’s something no one in my family has done, my family are like pure worker in the factory, and they don’t know anything about starting a business or something, and me neither. But I just like the fact of being independent, to not necessarily have a boss, and to not to have – to have freedom of working with who you want, where you want. So if, right now, I can be in Mexico, it’s exactly that, the freedom to choose. But yeah, I had no idea how to start that, and I also had no experience, so I started working in a consulting company for two and a half years just working with different clients, learning Tableau, getting better data visualization with Tableau.
Then for two and a half years I worked with a startup in France, so smaller team, but this time not as a consultant really, part of the team, working on a product. That’s where I learned mostly the coding aspect, GitHub, working in a project with multiple people with just like a consulting that goes from client to client. And then COVID happened, so that was five years after I started, COVID happened. And it was a bit of that weird timing, because I was also kind of finishing my project with that startup. What we planned to do, to build what we wanted to build was done, was almost finished, and we were wondering, okay, what to do next. And since there was also COVID, no one knew really what to do, how it was going to change and the impact.
So I asked my company, and I have to thank them to allow me to do that is I say, well, I would like to start being kind of independent freelancer, would you allow me to start working part time, so part time freelance, and they said, okay, for us it’s even good, because we actually don’t really know what to do right now, so you will work three days with us, and two days as a freelancer, and I started to do that for seven months. And after seven months, I chose definitely that path, and yeah that was not necessarily something really interesting for me to do, and actually the entire team that I was working with in the startup, they also all left. So it was kind at the end, and it was a good transition. I have to say it was also a time where companies started to accept fully remote working. So the place that I was living was not necessarily being that important compared to one or two years before. So I could work with clients in different parts of France, or in different parts of the world, while being in France, and that’s how it started. So it was not like, yeah, I quit everything from one day to the other to go that way. It was like a bit of, lucky to be at the right – it was aligning, my work let me do it, and it was a good moment to start.
JS: Yeah, it’s great that they let you sort of downshift a little bit for them, and everybody, and it all seemed to work out. So now, we’re sort of where, like, the end of 2020 or so, and you’re full time freelancing, but you’re living in France. So then you said, I’m going to try a different country.
TG: And it’s always something I wanted. I moved to the Netherlands mostly for personal reason, because I really wanted, but it was a first step into a new country. But yeah, right now, we are also, yeah, figure out which country will be next, because we are not necessarily – I will not say not attached, because we like the Netherlands, but it’s like, also wanted, like, having that will to see something else, and not necessarily as digital nomad that don’t live in a place but just go from, I don’t necessarily like that aspect, but more like, let’s see, in which place we really feel like living. And those things can change through your life, right? Maybe at some point, you like something, and 10 years later, you like something else.
TG: And I like the freedom to be able to do this, more or less.
JS: So tell us as much as you can about the freelancing work that you’re doing, like who, I mean, you don’t have to obviously reveal names or specifics, but like…
TG: Yeah, no problem.
JS: Yeah, what is the kind of work that you’re doing, and maybe even more to the point, like, what is the work that really gets you excited – I’m sure just like working in an office or some of the freelance work that you’re kind of like, okay, and some of the stuff really gets you excited. Now that you’re sort of in it, you’ve been doing it now for what, about two years?
JS: Two and a half years, yeah. So what are the different types of projects that you’re working on?
TG: So first is more like what I don’t want to – I think that is easy, and it’s [inaudible 00:09:32] I don’t have a full time client. I don’t want to spend five days a week for client, because I think that is just going kind of back as being an employee in a place. So I have currently two main clients, and I’m just helping them with Tableau stuff. So it’s like they want new dashboards, they have problematics of performance, they don’t know how to do certain things, so I’m helping those two clients to be better at the Tableau, develop dashboard on them. And that is kind of like a, I don’t know if you have that saying in English, that [inaudible 00:10:15] so it’s like those two clients that I have been working for the past two years, and we have this relation of we trust each other. And I don’t have a specific amount of day, and neither are specific days in the week, they just ask me to do things, I do them, and then we have this ongoing…
JS: This ongoing relationship, yeah.
TG: So these are my stable income, if you want to say. And then, apart from that, from time to time, I have like new people reaching out and be like, oh, I’d like you to help redesign dashboards, because we have some things, and we don’t necessarily like how it looks, and we have seen what you have been doing on Tableau Public, we would like you to help us design. And that could be like really short project of two-three days, just pure, pure design, and then, after that, maybe I don’t hear from them for six months. And after six months, they will be like, hey, we have a new one that we would like your input. So it’s really free, I really try my best currently to not work full time for a client, to have the time to build the things I’m building. Because I think this has always been my kind of plan when I started, is like, I have a three-year plan. So the first year when I started, it was really about working as much as possible to have kind of emergency fund within my company, to be able to then do something. So the first year was really working a lot.
The second year was more about learning new things, because I like to learn new things, and if I am able to create the tool that I’m doing, if I want to stay relevant, I want to learn. So I spent a good amount of time learning Webflow, to create website, Figma for more the design aspect, and Svelte for the coding aspect. So before I was just the Tableau guy, and now I can really be like, okay, I can have this kind of complete vision of like Tableau is for BI, let’s say, for company; Webflow is to make my website; Figma is to do my design; and Svelte is – and D3, Svelte and all that, the web thing is because I also create things on the web. So that was my second year spending a lot of time learning those things and not necessarily doing anything with that, just learning. And now, that third year, I’m really focused on sharing, so sharing what I’ve learned, and sharing trading tools and really use what I learned to create things. So that’s why I created those tools, and I have other things I want to create, also make probably online courses by the end of the year to also teach, give back.
JS: Right, that’s great. So that’s a great segue to the next part, which is this, your site generally, and particularly this tool that you’ve been building out, which I believe at the moment has six different, I guess, templates that you call them, templates tools to build different types of visualizations. So network diagrams, Sankey diagrams, bump charts, beeswarm charts, Voronoi treemaps, which I should say, if I recall correctly, the Verona treemap one that you have is like multiple different shapes, it’s not just like in a square or in a circle, it’s like you can sort of…
TG: It can choose, yeah.
JS: Yeah. And then a chord diagram. So these are amazing, and I know that there’s lots of ways that people try to build these in Tableau natively. But I’ll just say so, well, actually, I’ll just say how I use it, but why don’t I just let you describe how people can use them, and then, I want to learn more about, like, what’s going on under the hood a little bit.
TG: So they started to exist, because I was mostly, it’s a mixed feeling of being lazy, and I noticed the way it was, it had to be done before. So before I was like, you had to take your own data and make some joints and scrape a lot of calculation, create table calculation, and basically the old tutorials were really long. Okay, now you need to create these calculated fields, write this, and it was just like a really long process. And before doing that tool, I never did a Sankey, I never did anything in Tableau because I didn’t want to go through all of that.
JS: All the steps, right, exactly.
TG: And like I said, last year, I spent a good amount of time learning new things, and I was like, well, it’s really so easy, or much easier to do a Sankey in D3 with Observable or anything than doing it in Tableau. Right?
TG: And then, I think that’s what I like when you learn different things, and I made a talk a year ago at Elevate, it’s on my YouTube channel about how being constantly a beginner and having that beginner mindset opens connection or create connection in your brain, I would say to be like, okay, I know how to do this, and I know how to do that that is completely different. But maybe there is a path that could connect those two things to create something new, and that’s exactly what happens. So because I was able to create like a [inaudible 00:15:50] or a Sankey on network diagram with D3 as well, I was also like, well, maybe there is a way to convert the SVG, like an SVG into a polygon, and there are libraries that does just that. It’s like you gave them, you give the library a SVG path, and it converted into a polygon. So a set of dots that are connected, right, a set of coordinates that you can connect. Tableau cannot read SVG, Tableau doesn’t know what SVG is. But Tableau is really good at making polygons. So as long as you have like a X and a Y, and a plus, you can write pretty good. So I was like, what if I use – so when you use my tool, what you see is pure SVG generated with [inaudible 00:16:40]. And when you click on I want that visualization in Tableau, the tool will convert the SVG into polygons put that in a data source, and package it with a Tableau workbook. And then, when you open the Tableau workbook, you have that template that you never really see, it’s just like a template connected to the data source that you just generated visually. So I think I started by explaining how it works before saying how to use it. So to use it…
JS: Yeah, but that’s really interesting, I do want to get to how people can use it, but before that, so I feed my data, and we’ll get to that in a second, it generates the polygons, and then, how does it get to that part to Tableau so that when I – because when I download from your site, I download a Tableau workbook. So have you built sort of like a Tableau template that it feeds in automatically, because the data is always going to be in that same structure?
TG: So for each of the visualization, there is a Tableau template, a file that is connected to some dummy data, but that dummy data has the exact same structure, because I am in control of the structure, the data source. And then, when you click on download, it does a few things, because a Tableau file is just an XML file. So you can pass the XML, and change a few things. So, for example, my Tableau template have a fixed size of 1400 by 1000. But when you use the tool, you can configure the width and the height of the [inaudible 00:18:32] and then, I’m just going through the XML, and replacing that 1400 by your [inaudible 00:18:38]. So it just changed a little bit of things in the XML file, and then, the template is always connected to data source that is called network.csv, or cod.csv or sankey.csv, and I’m just replacing that dummy file by the one you just – by the one generated by the tool, and I packaged it, and I put it in your download folder.
JS: So I upload a CSV, essentially, it converts it to an SVG, then to XML, into Tableau. And at the same time, that XML and the CSV is what I end up pulling down as the user.
TG: The only difference is kind of the, yes, main thing is your initial CSV that you input will not…
JS: Right, that doesn’t come back, right.
TG: Yeah, exactly. I’m just reading that the tool is, and actually, that’s I think something really important to say is, like, the tool is not keeping any of the file, it just read it and used, so if you refresh the page, it slows, right, the file is not stored anywhere. And so, it’s just reading through the file, generating some coordinates or some polygons, and then, when you download, you actually download those polygons’ information that you can then use to make your visualization.
TG: And so, the main difference between what was before, and that’s why I felt the need of creating this is it’s not a template in the sense of you are not following a tutorial, it’s really you input your file, you drag and drop a few things, and you click and you have it. So in that sense, it’s easier. It’s also, I know there is some extension in Tableau that you can download that allow you to create those things, a diagram network, Sankey. But the result will be D3 visualization, so SVGs, it will not be native Tableau. And what I create is pure native Tableau using maps layers. But the biggest disadvantage of my tool as it is right now and it’s something I know and I’m aware, and I need to find a solution for that is, it’s no longer connected to your data. So if you create like a network, and you have suddenly new nodes appearing, or if you make a Sankey, and your values change, you need to regenerate the new coordinate, that goes through the tool again. So I would say currently is really good for people who want to do Tableau Public visualization, because it really, it’s like a one-shot, you have your data, you publish it, and it’s done. So there is no refresh. I also know some journalists have been using it to create some network of some piece, because also once it’s printed, or when it’s done, it’s done, right?
JS: It’s done.
TG: Currently, it’s not usable in a business scenario where your data will change, because you will have to go through the tool every day to regenerate [inaudible 00:21:48]. So that is not currently, but, I guess, eventually, I will find a way. Also, I think it’s one point that I won’t mind working with someone who has an idea how to do that, to be like, hey, I would like to help you on – I’m not looking for any employee, I think I’m not at that stage, anywhere that stage right now, but to work with another freelance or someone who has an ID, I’m completely okay to take that part, to tackle that part. Yeah, because it really…
JS: Yeah, no, absolutely. But to this point, because we were talking about this before we started chatting for the show, it is worth noting that if I wanted to create several beeswarm charts, and I wanted to have them linked in terms of the action, you know, I have two beeswarms, and I click on a dot, and the dot highlights on the other beeswarm chart, that I could do using your tool.
TG: Yes. So you can do this, for example, also, on my Tableau Public, I have examples, I have actually one that I think does exactly something like that about Latin music artists. When you click on an artist, it will highlight in all parts of the dashboard. So not only on the network, but also on the line chart, on the bar chart and everywhere. So you can link multiple highlights action, even if the data are on different data source, and using parameter action. So when you click on anything, you will put the value of what you click. So in my case, the name of the artist, I put that in a parameter, and in all the other worksheets, I have a small calculation, say, if the name of the artist is equal to that parameter value, well, then it’s true, right? And then, you can follow when it’s true, and then, follow when it’s false, and then, the user is really always is when you click something, it highlights everywhere. So if you’re this one, you will have three different data sources, one for each beeswarm that you generate, but then when you click on one, you can use the same thing that you put the value in a parameter and then you are have it everywhere.
JS: So it’s not connected to the raw data, but it is connected kind of enough that you can build a, I mean, I don’t even know what the right framing in here, but you could build a comprehensive dashboard, even though you couldn’t use real time data or updating data. But I think it’s important for people to know that you can still use the tool and link it to other visualizations in your dashboard simply by kind of importing one workbook into another workbook, and then, using parameters to sort of link that together. So I think that’s important to know. But I want to get back because we sped ahead, but I want to get back to asking you to describe how people use it, because there’s a lot of options that you can play around with, like, on your site in the browser itself before you render the Tableau workbook.
TG: Yeah, so I think I’m at the stage that building the tool is really, I don’t know what to say, fun, in the sense that also Svelte is really fun to use, like, I really rediscovered that I like to code with Svelte. And so, if someone has a bug, or if someone has a request, someone would like to add something new, it’s really easy to add the thread, and I remember for this one, before you could only have like an X value, and now you can have X and Y, like, those kinds of requests. I can easily change and break things, and also come with solution. So it’s all the tools are bit like that. So you upload your file, it can be CSV, it can be Excel file, sometimes it needs to be a JSON in the case of the network. And then, you have a certain amount of, depending on the chart, you have a certain amount of parameter that you can change, so, for example, in a network, you can change the different forks that you will apply. In [inaudible 00:26:18] you can change the size of the bubble. In the Sankey, you can change the padding, and just released the core diagram, and you can also change the spacing, the size of the arcs. You can change a good amount of things. And then, when you expand the result in Tableau, and I think that’s what makes it different, and that’s what people – I see a lot of people using it, and creating things on Tableau Public is because I started because I wanted to create those things, right, I started because I wanted to make me being able to do network of Sankey more easily. So I also noticed that if I just gave the coordinates of the polygons, I could have the visual, but it was kind of ending there, right? I was, okay, how do I customize, how do I personalize it. So I was really trying to put as much information in the export for you to be able to go beyond that. So, for example, if you create a network diagram, the export could be just the position of the circles and the lines, and maybe the size of your circle. But if in your JSON, you have other attributes, like, for example, I made one, like, the first one about Marvel movies, then in my JSON file, I also added the phase. So Marvel movies are released in phases, so phase one, phase two, phase three, phase four. And if the information of the phase is in the data, then when you export the result in my tool, you will also find back that phase information for you to use it in colors. So if you create a beeswarm, for example, yes, I’m going to give you the coordinates of the points. But I’m also going to give you as many data that I can to help you maybe relinked that to another CSV where you have more information. So you can then make a join between the file that I’m giving you, and your own data to add more information, because maybe you need much more information. So I’m not just exporting the position, I’m exporting whatever I can…
JS: As much as you can, right.
TG: Whatever the tool can have in the extraction, and I’m giving you that.
TG: In the core diagram, for example, I think it’s always difficult to put colors in a core diagram, I never really know if it’s like how do you – there is so many ways to make a core diagram. So I’m giving you what is the name of the source, what is the name of the target, and the value of the source, the value of the target, so you can also then make your own calculation saying, well, if the value of source is higher than the value of the target, then I will use the color of source to see each core will have the color of the one that is superior to the other. Or you can choose to do the opposite. So actually I was giving the flexibility to the users to create those things and…
JS: Right. And then, like you said, you could try to join your original data or another dataset back onto that.
JS: Yeah, I also want to know, like, for listeners, because I was using it to make a beeswarm chart, and I wanted to do something kind of specific, and then, I just like DMed you, and you’re like, oh yeah, hold on. And like, two minutes later, you’re like, okay, that’s fixed. And like, there was this new capability, so like, it is a really interesting project that I think is giving a lot to the community, I was going to say Tableau community, but I think it’s beyond that, because you don’t really have to be a sophisticated Tableau user, because you can just download and double click. But really, you can do a lot in the tool itself, like, in the browser.
TG: Yeah, that’s why someone asked me to add SVG export. So now I’m not, like on the Flourish, or I’m not – they allow you to, like, I’m just by myself. But if you want, you can create core diagram, and export the results in SVG [inaudible 00:30:50]. And then use Illustrator to finish your work or anything. You can also just export the CSV, just the data generated, and then, probably I am not a Power BI expert, but you could also use that CSV as a source in Power BI too. And I don’t know if Power BI allows you to create polygons, but we’re not like – and like, in the end, you will just have like coordinates. Right? You will have coordinates of polygon. So if you want to input that in any other tool that you want, please do.
JS: Yeah, it should work.
TG: My expertise was always Tableau, and I have always – I started with Tableau. So for me it was – it started as how can I make those visually more easy to build in Tableau. But then, yeah, I was like, well, if I can generate coordinates, then probably you can just put them anywhere you want.
JS: Right, should work anywhere. Do you have plans for more?
TG: Yes. I think I try to release two type of charts every month. So now we are beginning of March, I’ve just released today the core diagram. And I think the next one will be stream graph. I’ve already started, and I think also it’s like a nice visualization that is not by default, it’s not in Tableau, so yeah, why not. And sometimes, people reach out to me and be like, hey, I would like this and that, and I evaluate. So, for example, one was about gauge chart.
JS: Yeah, gauge chart, yeah.
TG: Yes. And I see why, because it’s difficult to make them in Tableau. There are a lot of tutorials about how to make them in Tableau. But also I feel that this is something that needs to be connected to your data, right? It is really, you want your gouge to update, and show you. And if you have to go through a tool to generate it every time, it’s like maybe one day if I manage to do the refresh…
JS: Yeah, that last shot, right.
TG: So yeah, I’m just – and so, currently I’m focusing on making visual tools for Tableau. But I also have a big idea that I would like to experiment this month or next month. That has nothing to do with visual, but also, since I already have something that can manipulate the XML of a Tableau file, and then, giving you back, I’m trying to think about new ways to automate things that are really annoying to do in Tableau, through a tool that will make it easier for you. So basically, what I’m doing, I’m building those tools because I want them for myself…
JS: For yourself, right, yeah.
TG: When I work with clients, I am always – I want to save time in, like, that’s the most important thing is like I want to be able to create things faster. So everything that is really fastidious, long, and that doesn’t bring anything is just a lot of clicks. I am trying to think of ways that I can make that a no-impact and faster.
JS: Yeah, absolutely. So you’ve got a lot of great stuff building it out, so before we wrap up, how can people find you, and how can they keep up to date on what you are releasing, so that they know like when that stream graph comes out that they’re itching to be – I am sure there’s someone listening to this is like, I want to make that stream graph, so how can they make sure that they find out about that?
TG: So it’s quite easy. I have spent a good amount of time making it [inaudible 00:34:51] LaDataViz. So LaDataViz, I am LaDataViz anywhere, right, on YouTube, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, everywhere you can find me as LaDataViz. So depending on your favorite social media or whatever, it’s LaDataViz. If you want to keep up to date on a daily basis, it’s mostly Twitter. So I’m just sharing as often as I can on Twitter the new things. And if that’s not your thing, and I completely understand, I have a newsletter that I send at the end of each month that just is a big recap of all the things that I’ve done during the months. So I’m not selling anything in those newsletters or anything is basically, like, okay, all the new features in the tools of March, and I just kind of list them. So those are the two things. And the third pillar of my communication is YouTube. We will be more and more on YouTube, so I started currently to do just the tutorials of how to use my tool in YouTube, but I also plan to do much more than just tutorials, like, really discussing about data visualization, good practices, maybe also, like, some introduction to Svelte and D3. Because my community is mostly, the people who are following me are mostly Tableau people, and I know a lot of them are afraid of coding or having this image of like, no, D3 is like that super complicated thing and on the web. But I really think that the new approach with Svelte and D3 simplify a lot. You don’t have the chain D3, you know, enter up and join. Those things you can – I think the experience of making visuals on the web in 2023 right now is much better than it was five years ago, easier, more enjoyable. So I also want to share those kinds of things to show people that it’s not that.
JS: Yeah, that’s terrific. Yeah, providing those skills, and the learning the tools for folks is fantastic. So I’ll be the first to say thank you if no one else has, but I’m sure many have already reached out, so thanks for making this. Tristan, thanks so much for coming on the show. Thanks for making these open tools, and I’ll look forward to the next set. So thanks a lot for coming on.
TG: Yes. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me. I know you have been using Tableau more and more, so maybe you [inaudible 00:37:34] Tableau visualization using my tool.
JS: Yeah, for sure.
TG: The community your listeners are who are not necessarily Tableau users can now see and try those tools and maybe discover that actually you can do for free also, because you have Tableau Public, so also you can create some key [inaudible 00:37:53].
JS: Yeah. Terrific. All right. Thanks so much, appreciate it.
TG: Thank you.
Thanks everyone for tuning into this week’s episode of the show. I hope you enjoyed that. I hope you will check out Tristan’s tool. I do have a big favor to ask. If you are listening to the show on iTunes or on Spotify, please consider leaving a review and a rating of the show on the podcast provider. The more people that get to know about the show, the more likely it is I can get bigger and better guests to join me on the show, so that you can learn more about data visualization, about presentation skills, and all those other things that you know that you can learn about here on the PolicyViz podcast. If you’re on YouTube and watching this episode, please give it a thumbs up, subscribe to the channel, or just leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you think about the show. So thanks again for listening to the episode of the show. Until next time, this has been the PolicyViz podcast. Thanks so much for listening.
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