White paper

Visual Analysis for Everyone

Dr. Pat Hanrahan, Chief Scientist and co-founder Tableau Software
Dr. Chris Stolte, CDO - Tableau Software,
Dr. Jock Mackinlay, Director of Visual Analysis - Tableau Software,

Although visual interfaces and databases are two of the success stories of the computer revolution, their synergy to date has been modest, probably because visual interfaces have focused on human capabilities while databases have focused on efficient query processing. Unlocking this synergy will shift us from data workers to data thinkers, people who can use data at the speed-of-thought.

Tableau Software was founded on the idea that analysis and visualization should not be isolated activities but must be synergistically integrated into a visual analysis process. Successful visual analysis software unites data exploration and data visualization in an easy-to-use application that anyone can use.

This paper discusses the three problems that must be addressed when trying to do effective visual analysis:

  1. Ineffective information presentations
  2. Poor exploratory capabilities
  3. Difficult user interfaces

This whitepaper describes how Tableau's visual analysis software solves these problems with a declarative visual query language (VizQL) that simultaneously describes how to query data and how to present it visually. The result is a fundamentally new way of interacting with databases and spreadsheets. Software products based on VizQL can be used for tasks that range from everyday question answering that require small data collections and simple visual analysis to mission-critical tasks that require very large data collections and deep multidimensional visual analysis.

About the authors


Dr. Pat Hanrahan

Chief Scientist and co-founder Tableau Software

Pat Hanrahan is Tableau Software's Chief Scientist. He is also the CANON Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, where he teaches computer graphics. His current research involves visualization, image synthesis, and graphics systems and architectures. Before joining Stanford he was a faculty member at Princeton. Pat has also worked at Pixar where he developed volume rendering software and was the chief architect of the RenderMan Interface - a protocol that allows modeling programs to describe scenes to high quality rendering programs. Pat has received two Academy Awards for Science and Technology, the Spirit of America Creativity Award, the SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Achievement Award, the SIGGRAPH Stephen A. Coons Award, and the IEEE Visualization Career Award. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Chris Stolte, CDO - Tableau Software

Dr. Jock Mackinlay, Director of Visual Analysis - Tableau Software