Tableau Tips Volume 1

Yesterday, I was on a conference call with Robert Rouse, Andy Cotgreave and Steve Wexler. We were looking at a dashboard that Robert had created and it included some sparklines. We were pondering better alternatives for the design, including a discussion about the color and the axis scale. Robert mentioned that he did the axis in a particular way because of the labels, then he mentioned that if the lines were gray the labels would show up better over the lines. The issues with the labels didn't really concern me, I simply said, "I'm not worried about the labels, we can just move them wherever we want." Robert quickly responded, "yeah, I sometimes forget about things I learned many years ago." and we were all set. Robert moved a few labels around on the dashboard and problem solved. After a quick second, Andy Cotgreave jumped in and said, "Wait, what?" He saw Robert moving these around and had no idea that these labels could be manually adjusted. Andy and I both posted to Twitter about this and as it turns out, there were lots of people that had no idea that this was possible. It reminded me of a really great Tableau Think Data Thursday talk, by Shawn Wallwork, Steve Wexler and Peter Gilks. If you haven't seen it, you should check it out here.

This got me thinking about all of the little things I've learned in Tableau over the years. Unfortunately, I can't point to when I learned some of these, or who might have shown them to me, so I can't give everyone the credit they deserve in all cases. Regardless, I decided to post a few of these, so here it goes.
Click on images below for full screen

#10 - Moving labels around with a simple click and drag.

This simple, but effective tip will allow you to put finishing touches on the visualization. Those pesky marks, just not showing up in the right place. Combine this with some axis formatting and you can get label placements right where you need them.

#9 - Removing chart borders and adding axis lines.

Tableau defaults to borders around the entire chart and headers, leaving you with the option of top and bottom borders (Row Dividers) or right and left borders (Column Dividers). However, if you remove them and add "Axis Rulers" you can have a really clean axis line, with a line on just your X or Y axis or both (using Sheet), but without the extra border lines.

#8 - Aligning and sizing floating tiles using Dashboard pane.

When using multiple floating tiles there is typically a need to align them and size them. By using the Dashboard pane, you can control the exact placement and size of the floating tiles. Simply use the X/Y position and the width/height of the object you want to align to and enter those values in the other objects. This will ensure that they are all aligned and sized exactly as needed, for example into a single row with the exact same size and horizontal placement.

#7 - Moving a floating tile off of the dashboard canvas.

I first saw this tip in a post by Joshua Milligan here. I've used this a number of times for various things. Keep in mind, these items will show up in Presentation Mode, but they will be hidden from view when publishing to Tableau Server or Tableau Public.

#6 - Using an animated gif to show play control.

The Play Control in Tableau is really powerful, however, when publishing to Tableau Public there is no play control option. The user can only click through the play action one step at a time. One common solution is to create a video and load it up to YouTube. Then you can embed the YouTube video in the viz. For shorter clips, another great option is an animated gif. This is what is being used on this page to show these tips. They can be embedded into a Tableau Viz to show the end result of any play control action. Here is an example showing a MLB visualization done by Craig Wortman. The longer the video, the larger the files, so be mindful of load times. Note - Tableau won't play animated gif files when placing them in a Dashboard as an Image tile, but if you place them as a Web Page tile they will work, so you'll have to load your animated gif to a hosting server or use a Dropbox link from your Dropbox folder.

Add an Image tile to a blank dashboard and copy and paste this link as the URL in a Web Page tile on blank Dashboard to try it out. This can also be used as a background canvas for a viz as well.

#5 - Adding more than six columns.

I learned this tip from Steve Wexler a few years back. This is probably one to avoid using because no one likes wide text tables. However, you might find yourself in a situation where you need this. In my use case, I was trying to catalog the music collection at our church when my wife was the interim music director. The data is all dimensions, names of pieces, composers, arrangers, publishers, etc. Everything worked great until I ended up with 7 blue pills on the Rows. At that point my first ID column went crazy with the Title. Under Analysis, click Tableau Layout, then Advanced. Increase the "maximum number of row labels" (up to a maximum of 16) and everything will work well, although I had to format my ID field to avoid rotated text. At first you might be confused as to why "adding row labels" increases the number of columns, but if you look closely at where the pills are located (on the Rows) and how Tableau is building them then it makes perfect sense.

#4 - Expanding record count in View Data window.

By default, when you view data in the "View Data" window, Tableau shows 10,000 records. You can sort these records by clicking on any field and you can select "Copy" to copy the data to your clipboard. If the data set is larger than 10,000 or if you simply want to have more records, just type in a larger number. You can view large data sets in this window, but be careful how big you go otherwise you could be waiting a long time for Tableau to view the data.

#3 - Using URL paths in Tableau Public or Tableau Server.

For any Tableau visualization on Tableau Public or Tableau Server where permission is available, you can use the URL in a number of great ways. For example, you can append ".pdf", ".csv" and ".png" to the the visualization URL and Tableau will return a PDF, CSV or PNG file. The PDF and PNG will be images of your visualization view and the CSV option will download a CSV file. For example, here is a URL to a Tableau Public visualization:


Appending various things (updated 9/17/2017):
https://public.tableau.com/views/ClockTimes/TableauTime.pdf?:showVizHome=no (returns a PDF file)
https://public.tableau.com/views/ClockTimes/TableauTime.png?:showVizHome=no (returns a PNG file)
https://public.tableau.com/views/ClockTimes/TableauTime.csv?:showVizHome=no (returns a CSV data file)

In addition to file downloads, you can also apply filters. For example, if you wanted to send someone a viz where the starting filter was pre-selected or based on an IP address you could pre-filter the field "state" to make it more personal.

Here is an example of a Mass Shooting visualization by Andy Kriebel. The default in the visualization is all years, but with a simple addition to the URL we can pre-filter the visualization to 2015. Click here for more information on filter using URL parameters from the Tableau Knowledge Base.


This can be combined to filter and create a PDF.

This same approach can be leveraged to do other things as well, for example, a button in the viz for the reader to download the data. See Andy's "Greatest Tableau Tip EVER" here for details on how to build this.

#2 - Use keyboard keys for easy multi-selection.

I use this next tip all of the time. On any selected canvas (example, chart or map), you can use CTRL-A to select all of the points. If you hold down the Control key then you can multi-select points. For example, you can quickly select certain states and group them into a region.

This can also be useful in dialog boxes, for example when grouping things together or assigning color. The Shift key will select everything between the first and last click and the Control key will select or unselect individual items. Here's an example assigning 2 colors to 50 states. First step is holding the Shift key down, selecting the first and last state in the list, then holding the Control key down to unselect one or more states.

#1 - Saving Your Custom Color Palette in Tableau.

If you follow my blog then you've probably seen this one before. This was a tip I discovered back in August of last year. On the Think Data Thursday webinar, Shawn mentioned that custom colors that are manually assigned in the color window don't carry over across Tableau sessions. I was confused, because I had the reverse problem. I couldn't get them to go away. After tinkering with why some colors would stay and others disappeared, I realized what was happening and created this blog post. This has been really useful for me, so I put it as #1, at least for this list. In short, if you click the "Add to Custom Colors" button the colors do NOT save across Tableau sessions, but if you click or enter the color and then drag the color from the large color box to the smaller Custom Color boxes then they will save from session to session. Note - the settings for these custom colors follows the install of Tableau, not the workbook from machine to machine.

I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any questions feel free to email me at Jeff@DataPlusScience.com

Jeffrey A. Shaffer
Follow on Twitter @HighVizAbility