Engine Works

Under the hood of Alteryx: tips, tricks and how-tos.

This is the second chapter of a 3-part series. Part 1 discusses your preparation. This part focuses on the preparation of the workflow.


Series Agenda

  1. Part 1: Prepare yourself and your audience
    1. Identify and write down the value for your audience.
    2. Select your battle. You can not focus on everything; what is your priority?
    3. Never start a demonstration by a huge and complex workflow.

  2. Part 2: Prepare your workflow
    1. Prepare an easy-to-read title.
    2. Align, distribute, ventilate and don't forget to activate the "Wifi"
    3. Frame the functional module of your workflow.
    4. Complementary colors are less aggressive.
    5. Find a way to explain the workflow in almost one sight.
    6. Annotations to help understanding.
    7. Macro & containers to minimize the complexity
    8. Pre-execute the workflow!

  3. Part 3: Enrich your workflow with visual effects
    1. Pictures with effects to highlight hidden information or important steps
    2. Hidden containers to display additional information in one click
    3. Be fun and creative using background; try your company's branding and logos


For the record, we are here to convince your manager, Jessica, that Alteryx is a huge solution in your context. You want to be sure that the value you see is highlighted by the visual of your workflow.


Once you are sure she understands the value of your project around Alteryx and you have demonstrated the philosophy of Alteryx (from Part 1), then and only then, you can demonstrate your workflow.


Most of the following rules are here to make the first look smooth and help “Jessica’s brain” to understand faster. That is very important. We are animals who look for patterns. We do not watch every tree of a forest to check if it has every characteristic of a tree. Our brain looks for patterns of the trees, find them and then move on. So your job is to ease the research of those patterns by Jessica’s brain, so it will be able to focus on what you're saying.


If there are no visual guidelines and uniformity, her brain will struggle to find a pattern and it will send this information: “Not clear!! Complex!” = Bad first impression 😲


Here are the common sense rules to apply:


1. Prepare an easy-to-read title

This is the first thing that everyone will read, so take some time to prepare it. Do not just put the standard comment with standard white background color… Please. You can add also some explanation. It is a good way to show the maintainability and annotations.





  • Let the text breathe; do not make the reader become claustrophobic just by seeing your title.
  • For the heading, I prefer a dark background with white "ink."
  • If the workflow is small enough, I also prefer a banner that spans the whole workflow. But in any case, do not focus only on the text and extend it to the right.
  • Combine several comments on top of each other. One comment for the background color, other comments will be transparent for the text.
  • Adapt the color of your title background to the colors you use in your worklow (“Smooth colors are less aggressive"). You can also adapt it to your company's colors and even add a logo.

Tip: As building this kind of nice title banner takes a few minutes each time, you can build your own template just once, and copy paste it.


2. Align, distribute, ventilate & activate the "WiFi" (wireless connections)

Remember that Jessica does not know the tools. So she will only judge if it looks clean or not. She is only going to look for visual patterns. You can quickly see if it is a mess or if it is aligned. So take some time to ventilate the different branches/ parts, distribute the tools and align them. As she is not going to follow the workflow in detail feel free to use the wireless connection option to make any messy connections disappear.





Align objects horizontally or vertically:


  • Ctrl + Shift + - = vertical alignment
  • Ctrl + Shift + + = horizontal alignment



Distribute objects regularly:


To transform a connection to wireless, right click on the connection:




3. Frame the functional module of your workflow


Once more, help her quickly understand the main components of your treatment. Jessica will not analyse tool by tool but she wants to understand the framework. Do not let her wait for your detailed explanation to understand the main module. This is human, to start to analyse what you see and look for meaning. If she does not see any meaning… she will have a bad feeling.





Put some quick self-evident explanation for each module so that she can find a sense to those steps.





To do so, use the Comments, Comments and Comments tool again. You can sharply resize, align and select the color. Then you can visually show which are the main module/ steps/ functionalities ofyour workflow is. Jessica does not have to guess, it is already shown.


Try to align the size of the comments to help the eye to find the pattern. If every comment has a different size, Jessica’s brain will try to understand why and conclude that it is officially a mess.




Tool Containers are good for implementation, but they are not the best fit for a good looking workflow as they fit to the internal tools they contain. Meaning you cannot align it pixel by pixel.


In the “looks clean” context the only usage for containers are to me:


  • Hide complexity at the very beginning by closing a container but still need to open it later in the demo
  • Keep a surprise within the presentation. Yes, surprises are good! 😊
  • Hide/display a screenshot within the container to explain purpose at different steps of the workflow


4. Complementary colors are less aggressive

Standard color palette is not your best friend. Smooth is beautiful. Discover the loveliness of the smooth pastel color. This is like going to King’s ball and trying to impress the court. Harlequin is not your best friend. I prefer Princess Elsa style.




You can also try to adapt the color to your company's branding fonts and colors.


Fewer possible colors is better. White plus another color is a good combination. Using only white like in the starter kits could be fine, but on bigger workflows when you zoom out, two colors help to see the different modules and not confuse between comments outline and connections.


Tip: It can take time to find the appropriate combination of color. So again, do it once and put it in your starter template (with the banner you created) and use it for any new workflow.


5. Find a way to explain the workflow in almost one sight

When opening Alteryx Designer, the main question is “How will I explain a complex workflow within the Designer?” You do not want to explain step by step and hope she is nicely waiting for the very next step to understand. Jessica is expecting a full comprehension at this very beginning and then (maybe) will agree to go in detail step by step.


A good spot is to do it is the point in your presentation when you switch to Designer, on an high level view of your workflow. To do so, try to adapt the zoom to be able to display the entire workflow without too much scrolling. While on this screen you can validate the audience’s understanding of what the workflow is doing.


So, do not forget to zoom enough… if not, she will try to understand with no success.





Tip: Sometimes Designer is not the best place to explain the underlying concept and value. A short and clear PowerPoint presentation can often best suit this need. Do not hesitate to explain and validate the concept on another medium. When you are sure they have understood, then switch to Designer.


Of course it is a good habit to have the colored frames talking about the same functional modules that you have explained in this “pre Designer” session. For instance, the previous workflow is a real one that I use to present. As there a lot of interesting concepts within, I have a 5-slide deck to explain it before even opening Designer. When I am sure they get my point, and have also identified their main concerns, I open Designer.


Do not overload your audience! Take things step by step. First the concept, then its application within Designer.


Tip: You can also add some images or screenshots within your workflow to better explain the process and the steps (following a geospatial workflow for instance).


6. Annotations to help her understand

Put annotations everywhere. Jessica does not know yet know what each tool does, so her brain is trying to guess. The annotations are here to explain the purpose of the tool not the configuration.


Why this qualification? Once more: simplicity. As Jessica does not know the tools, and even less their configuration, she does not have any context. So the only thing that she can understand is the purpose.




If you have time, and your workflow is not too big, you can also write annotations within transparent Comment tools and "send to back," as this is done in the Alteryx Starter Kit. But it takes time…






If in doubt, drop the questionable annotation and keep the few that are meaningful for the overall understanding of the workflow. There is a second objective in having clean annotations: you then also demonstrate how easy to understand and maintainable it is. If at first sight Jessica understands, then everyone will!


7. Macros and containers to minimize the complexity

When presenting a huge workflow to Jessica or your colleagues, you have so many things to say that you will not present everything in detail. And you must realize that few in your audience want to understand these details. Jessica  mainly wants to understand why she should pay you to use this solution (and pay for the license).


So remember the “Christmas tree rule” and do not hesitate to:


  1. Simplify your workflow to focus on the main/expected components and functionalities.
  2. Hide the irrelevant/ complex parts that are not worth mentioning and visually complexify the workflow.

You know it works in real life and you want to focus on the real value. So do it: Focus visually! There are two ways to hide unnecessary complexity: Macros and Containers.

  • Containers: quicker to use
  • Macros: opportunity to put a fun/ ice breaker icon AND to demonstrate the power, simplicity and maintainability that comes with macros


Up to you.





Or you might want to focus on a specific part (here “Business understanding, historical Analysis and Forecast”) then hide the others (Here “Management of manual adjustments and comments”).





8. Pre-execute the workflow

In case your workflow takes more that 30 seconds to run, pre-execute it before demonstrating. Unless of course you want to prove that it is far faster than the previous solution.


This might be your nightmare! Sometimes you want to show an important step, then realize you have forgotten to execute the workflow, then launch it and every one is stuck on your screen because you can not show anything anymore as this is executing… Bad experience. You want to pre-execute ! 😊


Let’s stop this second part here. The next chapter will be about enriching your workflow with visual effects.


You can find the two others chapters here:


Banner image by Oleg Gamulinskiy

22 - Nova
22 - Nova

This is super helpful @StephaneP 🙂

5 - Atom

This is so hlepful for me!

8 - Asteroid

This is really good advice and an excellent overview!  I had tried to codify guidelines like this so that everyone on your team would produce workflow output similarly.  I've let it go a bit but the document is here: https://community.alteryx.com/t5/Alteryx-Designer-Discussions/Alteryx-Standards-Document-Feedback-Re...  Hopefully adding this type of overview content to that document would help create consistent output in your organization.  

Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

This is very soothing to my OCD! Wonderful series.

Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

Well done Oleg!