Viz Journal | Chess

Priya Padham
5 min readOct 26, 2021


Hi everyone!

I wanted to do a 3D Tableau viz for a while, and I had some ideas for what I could do. I thought about doing a 3D building or some kind of sculpture, but I ran into some issues which prevented me from going forward with those ideas. After putting this idea on the back burner for a while, it randomly occurred to me that I could do something entirely different. I started to think about what other 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 chessboard?! I also started looking at Google Trends data for “chess” and knew I had to incorporate that in the viz, too.

Now, before I go any further, I wanted to give a huge shoutout to both Alex Varmalov (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 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 — it took me a few days of experimentation, tweaking and figuring out the best model to get the result I had pictured in my mind. 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, 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 go 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 add some kind of border. Also, you may have noticed that the chessboard now has that checked pattern on it — I did cheat a little bit here and drew it out in paint and then placed it underneath the chessboard — 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 final result:

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! 😊



Priya Padham

Tableau Visionary | 3 x Tableau Public Ambassador |