Hex-maps, as the name suggests, is a technique for representing spatial data. Here is an example of a hex-map:

One of the reasons to use a hex-map is to get around the “Alaska effect”. This effect primarily isolated to when looking at US spatial data but, using hex-maps is still useful in other contexts as well. The Alaska effect is due to the size of Alaska and its lack of proximity to the “lower-48” any kind of geographical precision becomes distorted. Not only that, the US also has states like Hawaii that are well away from the rest of the country and you often have very poor looking visualisations. And one particular solution is a hex-map. When size of the state is irrelevant using a hex-map is the best approach.

You might be wondering, why are hexagons? The answer is tessellation, which is just when the shape is repeated over and over again which covers a plane without any gaps. It is possible to achieve this with a square and triangle however, the hexagon has a couple of advantages. One such advantage is that the distance from the centroid of a hexagon to its neighbours is the same in any direction. Another advantage is that it the lack of any acute angles means that there are no areas of the map that are outliers in any direction. And finally, the softer shape of the hexagon means that it is better at representing spatial changes.

So, lets create a hex-map. And we will do it with the map of Australia. I’m simply showing the concept and it really doesn’t matter which country you do it for. Also, it is likely that you will never have to do a hex-map when dealing with Australia as the geography doesn’t pose the same sort of issues that the USA has.

To start with, I created an excel file with coordinates for each state and the full name of the state and the abbreviation, as seen below:

This can then be used to join to the main data that you want to analyse. Then in Tableau drag the row and the column values into their respective view, like so:

Then change the “Mark” type to shape, and you can change it to your desired shape and in this case it will be a hexagon. Finally, you will have something that looks like this:

You can change the row and column values to make it more like Australia, or any country that you are attempting to recreate.

That’s it, you have now created a hex-map. And this can be extended to suburbs and localities as well.

The Data School
Author: The Data School