Tableau Tips - Volume 4 "Using Unicode Characters in Tableau"

ASCII characters seemed to have resurfaced again in Tableau. A long time ago in a Tableau version far, far, away. A young Jedi named Andy Cotgreave came up with this great technique for putting bar charts in tooltips in Tableau. Hopefully, Tableau will release the "Viz in Tooltips" functionality in the near future. This same technique that Andy used has been leveraged for many other things. Most recently, Rody Zackovich posted More ASCII and String Charts in Tableau . If you have not seen this you should definitely check it out. Some great ideas on how to do all sorts of charts.

I've actually had a few occasions in the last few months where I've used Unicode characters and it's been very helpful. Some people at my office were surprised at just how much you could do with these, so here's a short list of additional things that I've found that you might find helpful. As usual, the awesome Tableau community will likely build on them and find even more clever and useful ways to use them. There are some advantages to using them since you can format and color them like text and put them anywhere text can be placed. But first things first. What are the Unicode characters?

List of Unicode Characters

Just Google "Unicode Characters" and you will find long lists of them.

I think you will find these two lists of Unicode characters especially useful.

Ding Bats
Miscellaneous Symbols

Here's a catalog of lists, but note, these won't all work in Tableau and can show up a bit different on Tableau Public.
Unicode 9.0 Character Code Charts

See this page for additional information about using these special characters in HTML and with fonts. Also, not all fonts support all of the Unicode characters. See this page for more information about font support for Unicode.

Note - Unicode characters are dependent on font. There are only so many glyphs that load with a font and there are far more Unicode characters. As a result, Unicode characters can show up differently on different platforms using different fonts, etc. I've tested some of these aon a variety of platforms. They worked well for me on Tableau Desktop, Tableau Server and Tableau Public. However, loading one viz with Unicode characters on my mobile phone using Tableau Public did NOT work. So when using Unicode characters, be sure to test them on your intended platforms.

Click on images below for full screen

#10 - Storypoint Navigation and Icons

Here's an example of Unicode used as Storypoints navigation.

And for Icons in Storypoints navigation.

#9 - Add Icons or KPI Indicators to any text area

Jim Wahl wrote about using Unicode in tooltips back in 2015 and a few others before that.
Here's a list of arrows and some samples:

Here's an example of a Unicode character on an axis label and as text on a dot plot.

#8 - Unicode characters can be in your data

Yep, a field in Excel that is imported or just copy and paste right into Tableau. In the same way you can use them in Excel, you can bring them in as data in your field.

#7 - Use them to make a custom legend

I made a dot plot recently and wanted my color legend to be round shapes instead of the squares that default in the Tableau color legend. One option is to make a custom worksheet with shapes, but Unicode was actually much faster. I didn't need the color legend to filter, so I just created a text box and dropped in some Unicode characters and formatted the colors and I was done in seconds. I just used the Unicode character for a circle and thick straight line.

#6 - Use them in parameters and filters

#5 - Use them as icons on maps

#4 - Use them in calculated fields

#3 - Export to PDF in High Resolution

Unlike shapes and images, text and Unicode will Print to PDF in high resolution. This was very helpful when I need to export high resolution graphics out of Tableau into PDF. More on that another time.

#2 - Create textured charts in your data

In this example, I combined #8, importing Unicode in the data, along with a textured shape. This allows me to create a textured bar chart. Something that you can't do with a typical bar chart in Tableau.

#1 - Just for fun

There are all kinds of characters that are available, so be creative and have fun playing around with them. You can probably see that the possibilities are endless. We've seen some creative uses already, but Unicode characters can really be used anywhere that text in used in Tableau. For example, charts, tooltips, labels, annotations, filter, parameters, map labels, calculated fields, axis Labels, and they can even be imported in as your data. I'm sure you'll find new uses for them.

Here are some random characters uploaded to Tableau Public.

Here is another one I did last month using KK Molugu's Viz Art in Tableau. His serene landscape has been disturbed by an airplane. This was done using the page filter and a Unicode character.

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

Jeffrey A. Shaffer
Follow on Twitter @HighVizAbility