Advanced Tableau Dashboard Formatting Tips and Techniques

Today, we are covering advanced Tableau dashboard formatting best practices that will help you get better in developing your design processes. Once you have mastered these, you will turn your dashboards from being mildly insightful to instantly impactful charts.

Advanced Formatting & Dashboard Best Practices 

Formatting Tableau Dashboard Layout Containers 

Tableau Layout Containers control the spacing between dashboard components.  They allow you to format common elements and move multiple dashboard objects at the same time.  

Tableau Layout Containers come in one of two options: Horizontal or Vertical.  

  • Horizontal - groups worksheets and dashboard components left to right across your page and allows you to edit the height of all elements at once.  
  • Vertical – groups worksheets and dashboard components top to bottom down your page and allows you to edit the width of all elements at once. 

Tableau Layout containers correspond with the button in the middle of the left side Dashboard panel labeled “Tiled.”  This is the Tableau default option. 

Tableau Dashboard Layout Formatting

Floating Elements

Floating elements are exactly that: elements that float exactly where you want them on your dashboard.  They can overlay other charts or dashboard elements, such as a color legend next to a map (in the blank ocean part).  Floating allows you to control the exact spacing between objects as well as the heights. 

When to Use Which 

Tableau Layout containers are good for sizing and spacing multiple items at once, saving time.  Floating is good to emphasize certain areas or layer concepts in one dashboard.  Floating is also good if you want exact control of your formatting. 

Effective Tableau Dashboard Layouts Formatting

The Golden Ratio (or Fibonacci Sequence), is a ratio found in patterns we see all around us, and have been found to be aesthetically pleasing.  Here’s a sample of harmonic spacing using the Golden Ratio: 

Tableau Dashboard Formatting

We can use the same Tableau layout to help us prioritize the content and message we want to share in our dashboards.  Here’s an example of some chart positioning overlaid. Check here more tableau dashboard examples following the fibonacci sequence

Formatting in Tableau Dashboard

Tableau Dashboard Layout Formatting Best Practices 

  1. Emphasize the most important thing on your Tableau dashboard formatting by making it largest or stand out in some other way. 
  2. Your eye starts at the top left, so put a key insight there, or a key navigational element that will guide them through the rest of the Tableau dashboard format and lead them to the conclusion they need to find. 
  3. Use Tableau dashboard floating elements to focus formatting and cluster elements (like legends) with their associated charts. 
  4. Use tiled Tableau dashboard layout containers to create uniformity, and size and move things together at the same time. 

Formatting Tableau Dashboard Titles and Labeling

Look at enough infographics in the New York Times and you’ll start to see some commonalities: 

  • A good Tableau dashboard formatting always include descriptive titles, often with the key insight right there. 
  • Often use of subtitles provide further clarity or details, or highlight a second key insight on a great Tableau dashboard formatting implementation
  • People who knows best Tableau dashboard formatting use call outs or tooltips to highlight key details in the actual view. 
  • They provide instructions on how to interpret the chart, as well as how to use the chart (i.e. click here to see more detail). 
  • They provide descriptive axes on charts and legends. 
  • They orient the entire view for clear readability. 

The more you use the same Tableau dashboard formatting techniques, the more polished your view will become. 

Here are some examples of well-implemented Tableau dashboard formatting techniques:  

Tableau Dashboard Formatting
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Tableau Formatting
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Formatting Tableau Dashboard Color Choices 

Great Tableau dashboard color formatting can enhance or detract from a viz.  Used effectively, you can turn a dashboard from mildly insightful to instantly impactful.  The following are some Tableau dashboard color best practices: 

Do 

  • A great Tableau dashboard color formatting uses sequential or diverging color schemes to encode continuous ranges of numeric values. 
  • Use stepped color rather than the completely continuous ranges as stepped are easier to perceive 
  • A great Tableau dashboard formatting typically use 5 colors or less in a palette 
  • 4 colors = quartiles (bottom 25%, 50%, 75%, and top 25%), 5 colors = quantiles (0-20%, 21-40%, 41-60%, 61-80%, 81-100% of the values) 
  • Knowing what the stepped colors ranges are actually representing (i.e. quartiles) can help you quickly identify the top and bottom performers and know what range your middle data is falling into 
  • Better Tableau dashboard formatting use color to encode categorical (Dimension) variables. 
  • TRY: Use one and only one color encoding per dashboard. 
  • Choose the key issue your dashboard is tackling 

Don’t 

  • The use of the same color for two different variables will ruin your Tableau dashboard formatting
  • Don’t use the same continuous color scale for different magnitudes 
  • Draws a relationship that may be incorrect 
  • The use an overwhelming amount of color will also be bad for your Tableau dashboard

Tableau Guided Analytics 

You want to avoid competing with yourself in a dashboard.  Start with a high level insight and then help the user drill down to further levels of detail to understand further or know where to take action.  This is called “Guided Analytics.”  This approach can best be utilized by using all three types of Dashboard Actions, in conjunction with the above principles. 

  • A great Tableau Dashboard formatting guides your audience’s attention through the viz 
  • Format your Tableau dashboard so it answers one question at a time 
  • Allow people to drill down – hierarchies and pop-up charts can improve your Tableau Dashboard Formatting
  • Allow them to drill through – url actions passing key data as a filter 
  • Allow them to explore from different angles – parameters and story points 
  • Add annotations to highlight key points also improves Tableau dashboard formatting

Advanced Tableau Tooltips 

Tableau Tooltips provide more detail on demand, and if used effectively, can take your Tableau dashboard formatting to the next level.  This fits perfectly with the idea of guided analytics.  Look at the difference between these two tooltips. 

Tableau Tooltip Formatting
Tableau Dashboard Formatting Tutorial

Both the above Tableau Dashboard formatting use the same information, but one uses natural language to make the insights more comprehensible.  To create the second tooltip: 

  1. Drag Marketing Channel to Columns and Profit to Rows. 
  2. Drag another instance of Profit to the Tooltip shelf and use the down arrow to create a Quick Table Calc of “Percent of Total.” 
  3. Click on the tooltip icon on the Marks card. 
  4. Delete the “Marketing Channel” header, leaving only the dynamic dimension field, denoted by angle brackets < >. 
  5. Delete the other two text fields in the tooltip, leaving only the dynamic dimension fields. 
  6. Now ensure your tooltip has the following sequence of text and fields: <Marketing Channel> generated <SUM(Profit)> in profit for the timeframe, accounting for <% of Total SUM(Profit)> of the total profit. 
  7. Bold only the three dynamic fields. 

Tableau Conditional Formatting

Now let’s take this a step further, using a calculation to create some conditional formatting to produce the following tooltip: 

Tableau Conditional Formatting
  1. Highlight the Marketing Channel dimension with your cursor and set it to the top blue color at the top right of the color strip on the drop down color menu. That color will be constant. 
  2. Double click the Percent of Total Pill that is on your Tooltip shelf.  That will eliminate the pill’s color and enable you to see the underlying Percent of Total calculation. Hit Ctrl A to select that whole formula and Ctrl C to copy it. 
  3. Now we’re going to create 2 new calculations that we’ll bring into our tooltip. Click the down arrow at the top left next to Dimensions, and choose “Create Calculated Field.” 
  4. Type in the following formula: if sign( SUM([Profit]) / TOTAL(SUM([Profit])) ) <0 then SUM([Profit]) / TOTAL(SUM([Profit]) ) else null end. 
  5. Most of this formula is just pasting what we already copied – the percent of total formula. 
  6. We start with an if statement, which as you recall has syntax If <condition> then <result> else <result> end. 
  7. The sign function simply looks to see whether something is positive or negative. 
  8. So, this formula is saying “if the percent of total profit is negative then show the percent of profit, otherwise (else) don’t show anything at all.” 
  9. Rename this calculation Red Profit Label. 
  10. Now copy this entire calculation and then click ok. 
  11. Create a new calculation, again by using your drop down arrow at the top near Dimensions or by right clicking in the Dimensions pane. 
  12. Paste the calculation you just copied in. 
  13. But, this time, change the “<” to a “>.” 
  14. Rename this to Green Profit Label.  Click ok. 
  15. Drag both the Red Profit Label and Green Profit Label to the Tooltips shelf. 
  16. Back in the Edit Tooltip window by clicking into it, we’re going to change the last part of what we wrote by deleting the Percent of Total dynamic field and replacing it with both of the Label calculations we just created.  It will look like this. 
  17. Color the Green Label with a green color and the Red Label with a red color to match the above image. 
  18. Click ok and mouse over the different bars in the chart.  Notice how the color changes if it’s negative or not.  You now have conditionally formatted tooltips that provide a lot of additional insight and clarity. 
Tableau Format Tooltip

Practice Your Tableau Dashboard Formatting Skills Now 

Getting the Tableau dashboard formatting and aesthetics right often takes as much or more time as actually building the Tableau dashboard.  Getting your Tableau dashboard to truly be a guided analytic, that conveys key insights at a glance, is hard work!  That being said, you’re becoming more pro in your skills, so it’s time to embrace this Tableau dashboard formatting challenge. 

  1. Create a new dashboard. 
  2. Start off and add a title: “Product Pricing Analytics.” 
  3. Set the Tableau dashboard to Floating in the middle left side pane. 
  4. Drag out the “# Products by Price Point” chart we created. It was one of the later charts in our exercises. 
  5. Click on the chart.  Now, click on the Tableau Layout tab at the top left.  You’ll see x and y and width and height coordinates.  Set those to x = 5, y = 58, w =372, h =346. 
  6. Drag out the “Profitable vs. Unprofitable Products by Price Point” Tableau chart (the tab labeled Pricing Heatmap).  It should also be floating. 
  7. Set the coordinates for this chart to x = 5, y = 412, w =372, h =356. 
  8. Eliminate the size legend and move the profit legend and size it to fit underneath the chart. 
  9. Click on the Product Category header and check Hide Field Labels for Columns. 
  10. Right click and Format the column headers of this Tableau chart.  Set the font size to 8 and make them a lighter gray color. 
  11. Set the Tableau chart to be Fit Width. 
  12. Go back into the “# Products by Price Point” chart.  Do this by clicking the square box and arrow icon at the top right.  
  13. Change the color scheme to Seattle Grays.  This isn’t the most important Tableau view, so we don’t want to draw as much attention to it with the varied colors.  Feel free to include a white or light gray Border in between the lines to separate them. 
  14. Now, go to the bottom and right click and create a new worksheet. 
  15. Drag out Order Quantity and Profit Margin to the Columns shelf. 
  16. Drag out Product Category and Product Sub-category to the Rows shelf. 
  17. Then drag out the Unit Price (bin) field, followed by Product Name and Avg Unit Price.  (You’ll have to set it to Average and make it Discrete by using the down arrow).  All that is still on the Rows shelf. 
  18. Right click the Unit Price (bin) and uncheck Show Header.  This will be important for our Tableau filter action later on. 
  19. On the Marks card, set the Order Quantity to a medium gray, again to provide detail, but not to call attention to itself. 
  20. On the Profit Margin shelf on the Marks card, drag another instance of Profit Margin to the color shelf.  This is the key metric – we want to call attention to the margins. 
  21. Turn on labels on both metrics, from the Labels shelf. 
  22. Right click on the Avg. Price field > Format. Font = Dark Blue, Bold.  Alignment =  Center.  This is the other key field – the price. 
  23. Unbold the headers at the top of the chart by right clicking > Format > font 8 and set them to the same gray color you chose for the previous Tableau chart. 
  24. Title this chart “Profit Margin per Product and Price Point.” 
  25. Go back to the “Product Pricing Analytics” Tableau dashboard. 
  26. Drag this new sheet out.  Also float.  Set the coordinates to x = 395, y = 58, w =600, h =740. 
  27. Set the color legend for the “# Products by Price Point” chart to floating and drag it inside the first chart, bottom right corner.  Right click on it and uncheck Show Header. 
  28. Drag the profit margin color legend to the top right above the right chart.  You may need to click the headers in this chart and drag then down to provide enough white space to fit the legend above the chart and below the chart title. 
  29. Double click the Profit Margin label on the legend and set the font to 8, and unbold it.  Then center it.  We want this to be descriptive, but not call attention to itself.  Click ok.  Now shrink the width of that legend a bit. 
  30. Set each of the chart title fonts to be a dark blue.  Do this by double clicking each one and editing the font. 
  31. Now unclick anything that is selected in the dashboard.  You should now see at the bottom left a section for size. It will default to either Desktop or Automatic.  Set it to Letter Landscape to provide a little more space. 
  32. Now add an action from the Dashboard menu.  Action > Add Action > Filter. 
  33. Check the first box in the top pane.  Set “Run Action On” to Select. 
  34. Uncheck the first box in the bottom pane.  Set “Clearing the Selection will” to Exclude. 
  35. Click ok. 
  36. Now click the white space in the top left chart.  The rest of your dashboard should go blank except for the titles. 
  37. Create a text box from the left hand side.  Drag it out.  Type in “If this is blank, click on a Price or bar segment in the top left chart.  This will filter to the details you want.”  Align this towards the top of the blank space on the right hand side. 
  38. Now click the down arrow on this text box.  Select Floating Order > Send to Back. 
  39. Now click again in the first Tableau chart and see what happens on the Tableau dashboard formatting.  You should quickly see which Product Categories and Sub-categories have problems and which Products have the worst Profit Margins.  Then, just fix any issue with the Tableau dashboard formatting. Once done, this should lead to instant insight and someone can take action on it. 
    1. Notice how we kept the color schemes consistent, and minimized certain things in favor of the insight we wanted to convey. That is what you should always implement on your Tableau dashboard formatting.
    2. Our Tableau dashboard formatting practice exercise also laid out the Tableau charts in such a way that the user is guided through the charts step by step and the key points are emphasized. 
    3. We used descriptive titles and instructions hidden in the Tableau dashboard formatting to help users engage with it. 
    4. Finally, we used labels appropriately in our Tableau dashboard formatting so that the end user could get a clear sense of the magnitude of the issue. 

We hope that you’ve learned a lot about Tableau Dashboard Formatting. Keep practicing to master the skill. You can also opt to enroll in our individual and Tableau in-person classes to become proficient!

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