Visualizing Data with Tableau

An introduction to Tableau Public using Skyrim mod data

Lesson Level: Beginner

Last Updated: 2020-06-23

Created By: Theo Acker

What is Tableau?

Tableau is a powerful and popular drag-and-drop data visualization tool that allows users to create interactive visualizations without any programming. It has a free version called Tableau Public that anyone can download and use. The only caveat is that you have to save your visualization online. There are ways to hide your creations so that they are not searchable and are not visible on your profile, but this would not be good enough if you have truly sensitive data.


The purpose of this tutorial is to give you a working knowledge of Tableau so that you feel comfortable working and experimenting with it using your own data. We will cover how to make a map, a bar chart, and a scatterplot, how to add filters and formatting, and how to combine multiple charts together into one visualization.

If you follow along with the material in this tutorial, by the end you will have a visualization that looks similar to the one below:

The dataset used for this visualization is a collection of Skyrim mod data. More information about the dataset (and what Skyrim mod data means) will be provided in the next section.

The following section is optional. Tableau Public is what I used throughout the tutorial and should be sufficient for most use cases.

Tableau Public vs. Tableau Desktop

Tableau Public is available for free. While there are a few differences between it and Tableau Desktop, which requires a license, both have the same basic functions available. Students and instructors/researchers are eligible for free, renewable, one-year licenses. However, I would not necessarily recommend applying for a license just because you can. Consider the pros and cons of getting a Tableau Desktop license before you decide.

Tableau Desktop: Pros

  • You can keep sensitive data private (by saving to your computer rather than Tableau Public). This will not be an issue in many cases, since if you have sensitive data you will probably work with it and anonymize it before creating a visualization, but if it is an issue it will be a very important one!

  • It is easy to save your work as you go. Tableau Desktop allows you to save to your computer, which is a much faster process than saving to the Tableau Public servers.

  • You can establish live connections to data sources. This means you can connect to online sources and/or sources that update regularly. This is less of an issue if you use Google Sheets. While Tableau Desktop will almost certainly provide faster updates when you make changes, Tableau Public is able to connect to Google Sheets.

  • Some people reply to Tableau questions on the forums by posting a sample workbook. Oftentimes, these workbooks are not saved to Tableau Public, meaning you will only be able to open them if you have Tableau Desktop.

Tableau Desktop: Cons

  • You can only renew your license as long as you remain a student or instructor.

  • If you save a workbook and then your license expires, you will only be able to open that workbook with Tableau Public if you saved it to the Tableau Public servers. In a pinch you could sign up for a free trial and use that handful of days to open all of your Tableau Desktop workbooks and save them appropriately, but this is certainly not ideal.

  • You have to renew your license every year. If you forget, you may be without Tableau Desktop for a little while.

Final Thoughts

There should currently be no difference in actual functionality between Tableau Desktop and Tableau Public. So even if you do not have a license or you have a license but it expires, you will still be able to do all the same things as far as creating worksheets, dashboards, and stories. As a caveat, just because that is the case now does not mean it always will be. Keep in mind that Tableau is proprietary software, so the company could limit functionality at any time they like. Hopefully this will not happen, but it is always good to be aware of the possibility.