Viz Journal | Chess

Hi everyone! This is officially my first blog post on my new website, so let’s get this party started!

I thought I would document my viz process, from why I decided to create a viz to the design choices, as well as any ups and downs along the way.

I wanted to do a 3D Tableau viz for a while, and I had some ideas for what I could do. After putting this on the backburner for a while, I started to think about what objects might look good as a 3D image in Tableau. Maybe an item from a hobby or something from a movie or TV show? That’s when it hit me. I loved The Queen’s Gambit late last year, so why not build a 3D chessboard?! I also started looking at Google Trends data for “chess” and knew I had to incorporate that in the viz, as there seemed to be a spike in interest around the time the show was released.

Now, before I go any further, I wanted to give a huge shoutout to both Alex Varlamov (Twitter/Tableau Public) and Anya A’Hearn (Twitter/Tableau Public) for their absolutely fantastic blog posts (3D Models in Tableau/The 3D Tableau Full Monty) which enabled me to create my viz – thank you so much! Creating the 3D image was the first thing I started with, and I went through a LOT of iterations before landing on the finished result (more on that later).

All the steps I took to create the 3D image are explained in both of those blog posts, but I’ll give a brief rundown of how I did it. I found a model of a chessboard that I liked the look of from this website and downloaded a SketchUp (.skp) file. Then I installed the free trial of SketchUp, loaded up the file and exported it as an object (.obj) file. Alex then states the steps needed to prepare the data so that it is ready to pop into Tableau. He has a Python script and he also gave instructions on how to do it using Excel if you’re not familiar with Python. I personally decided to do it with Alteryx as that’s what I’m most comfortable with.

Here is a picture of my workflow:

Once I outputted both of those as two separate .csv files, I popped them into Tableau and joined them together and followed the steps in Alex’s blog. After that, it was a matter of adjusting the transparency, colours and I also added lines to give it a “wireframe” effect.

*record scratch*

I wish it went as smoothly as that! To get to the result I had pictured in my mind, it took me a few days of experimentation, tweaking and searching for the best 3D model.

Let’s take a moment to look back at the failed attempts…

(Yes, I had 5 folders of different attempts. Oh dear…)

Here is the first chessboard I came up with:

What IS that? That chessboard is definitely, let’s just say, lacking. By this point, I very nearly scrapped the idea of creating the viz, but I decided to push forward and keep going. I also thought about just having a queen chess piece instead of a whole chessboard (because of The Queen’s Gambit), so I came up with this:

Things were looking a bit better, and I tried actually building out a dashboard and mapping each element out.

Here are some of my first dashboard attempts:

I wasn’t liking what I was seeing, and I especially didn’t like how the chessboard didn’t really look like a chessboard. This lead me to going through the whole process again and recreating another 3D object (which was quicker now that I had an Alteryx workflow) and I much preferred how this one looked:

Then I experimented more with a different dashboard layout…

But it still didn’t feel right! I started to think about how I could make this viz look a bit different whilst keeping the black and white split. So I came up with this:

I added a shadow effect to the black box to make it look like it was standing out on the white section, and I tried to make the chessboard itself the main focal point of the viz. I was finally starting to see the viz come together at this point, which was a great feeling!!

I decided it looked a bit empty, so I wanted to include some kind of border. I also wanted to add a checked pattern to the chessboard - I did cheat a little bit here and I drew it out in paint and then placed it underneath – oops! But it worked, yay!

Here is the first attempt at a border:

I liked the lines here, but it didn’t feel balanced to me, and there was a big open space on one side next to the chessboard. I settled on just creating a border around the chessboard itself, and then we had the finished viz:

Link to interactive viz

I think I exported an image of my dashboard over 50 times during the entire design process, as it really helps me to see an overall view and to check if anything needs to be changed. It involved a lot of trial and error, but I’m so happy to have finally created a 3D Tableau viz!

I hope this gave a little insight into my design process and the twists and turns it took to get to the end result!