ToolTIPS – Basic Edition

ToolTIPS – Basic Edition

I once heard someone say, “a baby cries every time you use the standard tooltip.”  I’m not sure if that’s true, but I might!

A good tooltip can put the finishing touches on a great desktop viz!  Tooltips can provide context, additional information, directions, url menus, and even demonstrate an author’s attention to detail with a clean and polished look.

However, you should design content assuming no one will ever see the them.  Let’s be honest, some people just cannot be bothered to interact with a visualization.

I am looking at you “How do I export to Excel?/How do I print?” people.  

Therefore, you should focus on making an effective visualization first and foremost.  You should be able to understand the purpose of the visualization without the tooltip.  If someone stumbles onto your beautiful/functional tooltip later, they will be even happier.  #bonus.

With all that said, tooltips can be an important part of user experience.  I thought I would share some of my ToolTIPS to get you started!  In fact, I love them so much this will be a three-part series: basic, advanced, and mobile.

The Basics

1. Keep it short and sweet 

Don’t load every dimension/measure you have into a tooltip.  Try to keep tooltips minimal unless context is needed to drive a point home.  Also, remember if the tooltip is covering a large portion of the screen, it is hard to garner any insight while they are active.  Use good titles and labels in addition to the tooltips.  Text is not bad on a dashboard, you just need to manage the amount and placement.

2. Use plain language

Make the text easy for your readers to understand.  Spell out acronyms.  If you create a table calculation, please change the label!  No ‘Moving Average of Sales from the previous 2 to the next 0 along Table (Across): $X,XXX labels please!  Huh?

3. Don’t repeat information

How many times do you see someone label every mark in a view and then repeat the exact same information in the tooltip?  This is a good opportunity to remove some pixels from the screen.  If you have nothing else to say about a mark, turn off the tooltips completely.  If you can provide some additional insight that is not already visible, use the tooltip.

4. Use font colors and weights

Tableau 10 Colors
Tableau 10 Colors

Tableau actually does a good job on the default colors.  I stick to variations of lighter colors for labels and bold/darker colors for important dimensions/measures.  Here is my technical description for this: use Black two-down and three-down.   How would you describe it?

I add in other colors only when it makes sense within each viz to make something stand out.  For example, Clinton (blue) vs. Trump (red), increase vs. decrease, etc.

5. Spacing and lines make a difference

I will often add subtle spaces of font size one or two to space things out.  I use this to separate titles, data presentations, and action instructions.  If my main font size is 10, I might use 5 for lines to give them space on either side.  You can add lines by simply using the underscore  ‘________’.

6. Clean it up

Unless you are building a dashboard for work and someone needs to view the underlying data behind a particular mark (Server/Online), turn off the command buttons!  Command buttons are just a way for someone to break your viz.  They appear when you click on a mark.  The buttons allow to keep/exclude via a filter, group marks, create sets or view data.  On Tableau public, you just see Keep Only, Exclude and View Data.  I don’t like them because there is no back button.  You have to hit reset to start over.

Uncheck command buttons to turn these off.  Look at the difference in the width of the tooltip.


I hope these were helpful tips.  Be on the lookout for part two of this series.  The advanced post will be more about calcs and actions.

Below are several of my recent tooltips.  Click to launch the interactive dashboard.

Thanks for reading.

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