DS11 Dashboard Week // Day Three: Foreign Gifts in Power BI

by Ellie Mason

This morning marks the mid-week day of our dashboard week and I was feeling just about comfortable with the format: understand the data, clean the data, explore and visualise in Tableau. However, Andy threw a curve ball in this morning and one of the rules for day three was to use Power BI and not touch Tableau at all! I did mention yesterday that I wanted to specifically learn something I didn’t know how to do, everyday this week….and learning Power BI definitely falls under this category.

The data we were using was nice and clean –

I think this was a really fun challenge as it took us almost back to the beginning in regards to learning a new software. This was really interesting as I could see how far we’d come in terms of our data analytics knowledge, but it was also fun to learning a new software! Especially given how fierce the competiion is between the various data visualisation softwares.

In this post I’ll talk through how I approached today and will give my first impressions of Power BI. As I’ve only spent one day on Power BI I don’t feel I can do a full comparison yet, so I plan to write a more detailed comparison later over Christmas.


My approach

The first step I took was to look through the Power BI tutorials, both the introductory YouTube video and the Getting Started page. This helped me load the data and start creating a few more exploratory chart.

Inevitably when I first started I kept making comparisons between Power BI and Tableau. This meant that I quickly became frustrated because I knew what I wanted it to do but didn’t know how – which was the whole point of today.

Once I thought I had a basic understanding of building a report in Power BI (charts and formatting), I took it back to basics again and explored what I actually wanted the dashboard to say. I drew on a few post-it notes and sketched out various designs on paper. This helped me focus and I decided I wanted a sort-of KPI dashboard that gave an overview by year of the total amounts given, to and from who.

A quick sketch to focus my analysis


Initial comparisons/ first impressions of Power BI

I think that I’ve been so Tableau focused over the last 3 months and have never used Power BI before so I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. But, I have to admit that I’ve so far been relatively impressed by Power BI.


There are a few things, straight off that are a bit more intuitive than Tableau:

  • The charts are automatically set to filter or highlight each other. The maps zoom and the bars highlight the proportion that the filtered category makes up. This is similar to what Tableau Prep does when working on the Step shelf, but so far this isn’t as easy in Tableau.
  • The report layout is more user-friendly than Tableau, with a simple click and drag to move charts which are also automatically grid-aligned. I really love everything to be aligned so this is super helpful as it’s just so easy with the grid lines. In Tableau, whilst things are aligned in containers, when items float there is no way to judge the relatively aligning of them.
  • The addition of shapes into the view, like lines. In Tableau, to separate sections, either lots of white space has to be used, or coloured backgrounds or even fiddling with the fixed height of coloured vertical containers. Whereas in Power BI you simply click add line and you can rotate it how you like and it’s so simple. This echoes Microsoft’s PowerPoint capabilities.


However, there are somethings that I really missed from Tableau:

  • Whilst containers can be fiddly, they are so useful for testing out whole new designs on your dashboard – for example moving a whole set of charts to one side or to the top of the view. I like to not only draw out designs on paper but test a lot of my designs in Tableau.
  • I’m a geographer and so being limited to just 4 or 5 maps in Power BI is a shame – especially as you can’t edit which layers are shown. This was frustrating as I wanted to overlay cities with the states they were in. This would’ve been great with the drag/align feature in Power BI, but there was no way to make the map transparent, or turn off the sea or country background. Tableau’s maps are so easily customised, especially with the input from MapBox.
  • The whole software seems quickly than Power BI. This may be because I’m not sure how to use it properly or optimise it after less than a day using it, but the charts took a while to update.

So that’s my quick, one-day of use impressions of Power BI.

I’ll do a more deep blog with pictures in the next few weeks, but I think that Power BI definitely has it’s uses – though potentially more as a reporting/ KPI dashboard tool, rather than the true data exploration and visualisation that Tableau gives.


Final Visualisation

See below for a picture of my final dashboard or click here to see an interactive version where you can flick through the years. I went with green as my highlight colour as the majority of donations were monetary. Green also stands out against the grey background – chosen in an attempt to make the maps look nicer! Let me know what you think!


My final Power BI Dashboard

Fri 01 Feb 2019

Fri 01 Feb 2019

Fri 01 Feb 2019

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