ToolTIPS – Mobile Edition

ToolTIPS – Mobile Edition

Welcome to the third and final part of my ToolTIP series, the Mobile Edition!  If you missed the Basic and Advanced editions, check them out too.

I love designing for mobile devices!  There is a huge difference when designing for mobile, it is not just making it smaller!

What’s so different about mobile?  For starters the obvious, the canvas is tiny!  This tends to force a longer viz than you would design for a desktop.  I really don’t think this is an issue at all on mobile.  Scrolling is pretty normal behavior on a mobile device and most of us don’t even give it a second thought.  For example, think about the last time you read an article, email, text, or Twitter feed.  How many times did you scroll?  Was your finger tired?  Did you curse the user experience the entire time?  I doubt it.

So right off that bat, we have recognized one major difference in the mobile experience.  Tooltips are no exception, the experience is different on mobile devices.

In my opinion, tooltips on mobile are clunky.  

Why?  Maybe I have fat fingers, but it is hard to select marks on mobile devices.  Tableau does a pretty good of selecting the mark closest to where you tap, but it is still a clunky experience.  Unless you designed the mobile experience from the ground up, your desktop tooltip is probably too large for a phone.  This can make it hard to deselect a mark to dismiss the tooltip.

Even though tooltips are one of my favorite things to format, I tend to not use them at all on mobile.  What?  Isn’t this is a blog post about mobile tooltips?  Where are the tooltips?  I will show you some alternatives.

Sheets as Tooltips

Push it off the screen…

One way to avoid having to deselect a tooltip that pops up on a mobile device is to turn tooltips off and have a sheet appear with the same information.

The following dashboard uses Presidential poll data from  Google Sheets scrapes the site every day placing the five most recent poll tables into separate sheets that are unioned in Tableau.  The data automatically refreshes on Tableau Public.

The visual is simple.  It shows the spread of every poll recorded.  I wanted this to be a simple gauge of the election: more dots on either side immediately gives you a pulse of the polls. I didn’t want to bog it down with all the details.  The interaction needed to be simple so no tooltips.  The bottom of my dashboard show details of the source and my blog footer, but tapping on a poll changes the view.


How is this done?  Floating Containers.  The entire dashboard is floated, but the footer floats way off the screen.  There are five elements in this container: 3 sheets, a png and a blank object.


There is one action that will filter the details when you tap and exclude all when you clear the selection.


The result is very similar to what I would have put in the tooltip, but it doesn’t pop-out in front on the visualization.  The entire original sheet is still visible making it easy to deselect or select another mark.

Also, the background color of the ‘tooltip’ will change to blue/red/gray with matching mark text depending on who won or if there was a tie.  I would have had to write three calcs to color text like that in a standard tooltip.  I also would not have been able to change the background color.

Here is the interactive visualization:

Collapse within a vertical container…

A few weeks ago, I was experimenting with mobile tooltip options for #MakeoverMonday.  The subject was Alan Rickman’s film career, you know ‘Hans Gruber’ from ‘Die Hard’!  Oh yeah, he also played Snape in Harry Potter (I admit I haven’t seen any of those though).

This one was selected as a Viz of the Day, but it isn’t my best work.  I think they liked the embedded GIF.  Who doesn’t like GIFs (besides you Pooja)?

I created a line chart showing the gross total for each film.  I removed movies where he only had a cameo role.  Four out of the top five grossing films in Rickman’s career were roles considered to villains or dark in nature.

I didn’t want to have the tooltip pop-up and cover most of the line chart on a phone.  Again, this entire dashboard is floated.  However, like above, I tiled the line chart and tooltip sheet in a floating vertical container.  Tapping on a film will filter the tooltip sheet and exclude when cleared (The same action setup as what was shown above).  Using the container is what allows the line chart to shrink when the tooltip sheet expands.


This one is slightly different than the example above because the original sheet is compressing in this case.  However, all points are visible and can be selected with ease.  If I had used the tooltip, it would have covered about half the line chart.

Also, because it was a sheet, I was again free to format everything.  I used orange text over a brown background to blend with the other elements in the viz.  I hope we will be able to change the background on tooltips someday!

Here is the interactive version:

Dynamic Text and Labels

One thing I learned/stole from Pooja Gandhi are hover actions and highlight labels.  I like them a lot.  We all know that hover actions don’t work on mobile, but did you know you can still use them on your viz for the desktop experience?  Tableau automatically converts them to select actions on mobile devices.

I recently created a viz of Jeffrey Shaffer’s insane Halloween data.  He got 822 kids this year, I got 7.  If you are on a desktop, you can hover on the line/heat map to bring up the dynamic text and highlight labels.  If you are on a phone, just tap.

In this case, I think the dynamic text and highlight labels act as the ‘tooltip’.  It took a few calcs to do it, but I like the user experience.

Here is the interactive version:

I do think Tableau continues to work on the mobile experience.  As I was writing this, I went on my Tableau Public profile and looked at a mobile viz with standard tooltips.  I noticed the tooltips now dismiss as soon as you start scrolling.  It does not deselect the mark, but at least the tooltip disappears.  I don’t remember it working like that before.  Maybe that is something new for #data16 in Austin?  Come say hi if you are lucky enough to attend the conference!

Thanks for reading!

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