As part of our efforts at work to encourage knowledge sharing among our “Super User” (aka Desktop License Holder) community, we are rolling out regular sessions where we all get together and discuss all things Tableau. Part of that agenda is set to include a “Quick Tips” session, and I’m lucky enough to be running the first run of that feature.
I had a few ideas in mind, largely pinching tips from the session that Jeffrey Shaffer and Andy Kriebel ran at the 2016 Tableau Conference in Austin, plus some content from recent London Tableau User Groups.
To help me on my way, I reached out to the wider Tableau Community to see what tips people valued, and I was greeted with a load of suggestions, many of which I have tried to incorporate in our inaugural tips session. At the request of Fi Gordon, this blog post covers the tips I’ll be sharing in a week or so. The workbook can be downloaded here.
Tableau is a new toy at work, so I’ve pitched this accordingly. The tips won’t reinvent the wheel, but they will prove useful to people new to Tableau.
Tip One – Info Button
Info buttons are great additions to dashboards, especially at organisations where Tableau is new and they can help end users navigate through and interact with the visualisation(s). To create one, you just stick Number of Records on Detail, set the Marks Card to Shape, and then select an appropriate shape to draw the eye.
You can download and use custom shapes. Just save them in: Documents > My Tableau Repository > Shapes. But check that the icon creator has agreed that their work can be used for free first. Once you have selected your shape, you can edit the tooltip to convey whatever message you want:
Tip Two – Alerts
This is a Kriebel special and it is probably inspired by Stephen Few’s use of alerts. There’s no need to write much when Andy went to the effort of creating and sharing a video describing the process. In general, if I were to advise new users what to do when it comes to Tableau, top of the list would be to subscribe to Andy’s YouTube channel:
In summary, alerts are a simple and effective means of drawing attention to performance. The workbook linked earlier includes a basic addition to the concept, by allowing users to add a parameter stipulating the value at which an alert should be triggered:
Tip Three – Dashboard Actions
We started to use these at work, and I think it was prompted by some training we received from Information Labs’ Carl Allchin. The idea is that you simply add “buttons” to dashboards (in the same way as you create Info Buttons in Tip One), and then configure actions to allow users to click from one dashboard to another.
When Selecting the “Forwards” Sheet on Dashboard 1, the user is sent to Dashboard 2.
Conversely, when clicking the “Backwards” Sheet on Dashboard 2, the user is redirected back to Dashboard 1.
It’s simple functionality to implement and it adds to the user experience. The only annoyance is that for some reason, you often have to click the button twice for the Action to occur.
Tip Four – Copy table calculations for reuse
A simple tip, but if you use the Table Calculation wizard, you can just cmd drag (sorry, I have a Mac and have no idea what the Windows equivalent is) the created calculation onto Measures in the Data Pane to rename and store the calc, rather than have it as an ad-hoc calc in the worksheet only. If nothing else, it fools people into thinking that you’ve written a complicated looking calculation!
Tip Five – Double click to open up colour options
Miguel Cisneros pulled this one out of the bag. The gist is that when you create a basic view with “something” on Colour, you might initially think that your colour options are limited to just picking from default palettes when you double click the colour legend:
You’d be wrong. If you double click the Data Item, you get this:
So you get far greater flexibility with colour selection, and you can even use the excellent screen picker pipette to choose a specific colour from your screen:
Tip Six – Horizontal axis titles on y-axis
This is from Jeffrey Shaffer in the video linked at the start of the post. In summary, you can’t rotate axis labels, so if you want a horizontally aligned label on the y-axis, you need to adopt a simple little “hack”:
Tip Seven – Calendars
This one was inspired by Andy Kriebel and Lorna Eden. A recent #WorkoutWednesday set a general calendar challenge, and Lorna shared some further calendar tips at the March 2017 London Tableau User Group:
Tip Eight – Label inside bar ends
This is a real nit-picking piece of design, but it is relevant for everyday office formatting. If you want to stick a label inside the end of a bar chart, it is more than a simple left-alignment of the label. There are at least a couple of ways to do it (you can use cell level Reference Lines too, but it’s arguably a bit fiddlier), but the downloadable workbook shows how it can be done with a dual-axis bar / Gantt chart:
Tip Nine – Big Numbers and Unicode characters
Steve Wexler posted about “Big Ass Numbers” back in February 2017, and it massively influenced my teams’ dashboard design. Allied with Big Ass Numbers is the simple formatting trick of using Unicode characters to denote the “direction of travel” of one of those numbers. This was suggested by Rody Zakovich, and here’s a link to a great blog post outlining the concept.
Tip Ten – Blanking “abc” in tables
Rebecca Abrahams suggested this one. An example of the end result is shown below (and obviously is part of the downloadable workbook).
Even found a video about it!:
Tip Eleven – Describe function
The final tip was courtesy of Jonathan MacDonald, and echoed something Eva Murray revealed at a London VizClub back in January 2017. Certainly in my work environment, there is an appetite to document the Hell out of every single thing you do. In any worksheet in Tableau, you can press Ctrl+E (cmd+E on Mac) to show the Describe window:
This summarises the construct of the worksheet. From a data governance perspective, it can be a quick and dirty means of populating the “Description” of a dashboard if your company is particularly hot on documentation.
A recording of my Quick Tip session is here: