Tips and Tricks – Think Data Thursday

Tips and Tricks – Think Data Thursday

I recently hosted a Think Data Thursday session along with Shawn Wallwork that can be watched here. For the sake of this session/blog, all the tips and tricks shown below uses the Superstore dataset that ships with Tableau. You can download the workbook I used for this session here.

Tip # 1: Take your line charts a notch up

How do you take a simple line chart from basic to something unconventional but still usable?

A simple basic, continuous line chart is a great way to visualize trend in your data over different intervals of time. But what if you are trying to answer questions on the fly about discrete data within your continuous line chart?

Example: How many months had a profit range of $25,000 to $30,000?

There are a number of different methods to achieve that in Tableau. A particular way that I like is to use constant reference bands mixed with a dual axes approach.


Drag the Order Date pill on columns and Profit on rows

Duplicate the measure so it creates another marks card on the left

Change mark type of the secondary axis to ‘circle’

On the secondary axis, drag a calculated field: left(datename(‘month’,[Order Date]),1)

(to capture the first letter of the month) on label

Click on the dropdown of the secondary profit pill and select ‘dual axis’

Right click on the secondary axis, and click on ‘Synchronize Axis’

Right click on the primary axis in the view and select ‘Add a Reference Line’

And do this:


Repeat the process of adding multiple reference bands until you have your desired ranges specified. Final view:


Why do it this way?

  1. Eliminates the need to have tooltips
  2. Eliminates the need to have axes labels altogether
  3. Eliminates the need to label individual data points
  4. Eliminates the need to have legends because the color blocking serves as a legend
  5. Visual color blocking aids your users to see months that fall into certain bands with ease
  6. Could also serve as an effective and usable worksheet for device specific dashboards because it is clean, clear and precise
  7. Could serve as an effective worksheet to use in viz-in-a-viz (when it is released) because it is compact and descriptive

What doesn’t work too well with this approach?

  1. Constant (as the name suggests) reference bands, would mean that it is not dynamic and wouldn’t change based on your data
  2. Prep-work required to setup can be extensive

Tip # 2: Use icons overlaid on shapes

This is a great method when you have icons of different sizes and dimensions and you still want some uniformity in design. This is pretty simple to achieve but has a great impact on your visualization.

Drag a dimension of interest on columns or rows depending on your design preference.

Also drag the same dimension on ‘shape’ on the marks card

Turn off the dimension headers

Drag MIN(Number of Records) pill next to your dimension and duplicate the pill again so you will have two different marks cards created on the left, giving you an option to format the marks cards individually. Click on the dropdown menu of the second pill and choose ‘Dual Axis’

This creates two copies of your icons on the view, click on the first marks card and change the mark type to ‘square’. You instantly see how uniform all the team logos look, while still allowing the individual team logos to retain their originality. You will need to change the size slider on both marks cards to make sure it looks good. Final view:


Tip # 3: Change mark types in the same view

This is a great method when you have audiences of varied mind sets, where some like to see the data represented in a line chart format and other like it represented in a bar chart format (regardless of what the data calls for).

This method again uses a dual axes approach. Create a ‘mark type’ selector parameter as shown below:


Create 3 calculated fields as shown below:




Drag ‘Bar Sales’ and ‘Line Sales’ on rows and use a dual axis setting

Drag ‘Datename Column’ calculated field on columns

Turn off headers and turn on labels on both axes

Change mark types in the parameter to see how the view scales and gives a disguised look of having different mark types on the same view

The basic idea is that the member that is not selected in the parameter is nulled out and the scaled view with a dual axis approach makes it look like we are using different mark types on the same view.

Additionally, when the mark type setting is ‘bars’ in the parameter, you can drag order date on columns on the first most position to see how different months did in different years.

Tip # 4: Show/Hide Annotations

Having an ability to show and hide annotations can be an effective way to reduce unnecessary clutter on your dashboards. To do this, begin by creating a show/hide parameter like shown below:


Create 2 calculated fields, one for when ‘show’ is selected in the parameter and other for when ‘hide’ is selected in the parameter:



Place both calculations on rows side by side and order date pill on columns. Use a dual axis setting. When you select ‘show’ in the parameter, you can begin annotating. On the marks card that’s created with ‘hide annotations calc’ pill, you can turn on labels.

Tip # 5: Use empty/transparent images over text boxes to set URL

Take a little screen shot of an empty page like a word doc, use PowerPoint or any other photo manipulation tools and make the image transparent. Use this image over text boxes or any other element on your dashboard and set URL to let your users connect to an external data source.

Tip # 6: Active Zone Layering

I learnt this trick at TC15 last year, and thought this was a very effective method to use. Use a string parameter to highlight a chart on your dashboard. This helps get your users to focus on exactly what you want them to focus on. Create a string parameter with a dimension of your choice, I am using category:


For each different member of the parameter, create a calculated field that will be used on the color shelf and will act as an underlying floating sheet. Something along the lines of:


Create similar calculations for Office Supplies and Technology. Create 3 separate worksheets and place the 3 newly calculated fields on to its respective sheet. I named the worksheets as ‘Furniture Color’, ‘Office Supplies Color’ etc. to remember it later. Then simply, place the colored worksheets underneath your main view on your dashboard.


On your individual worksheets (main views), you might want to drag the dimension on filter and only have a member of the dimension selected. Also, you will want to change the parameter setting as you navigate through  the creation of each worksheet to change the parameter selection so you can change the color of the null value to match your dashboard color.

I hope you find these tips useful. If you have any questions, you can ask me in the comments below or post a question on the community forums. Thanks for reading!

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