How to build your first advanced dashboard in tableau?

Building your first advanced dashboard

Creating dashboards with tableau is an interactive process, there isn’t a  “one best method”. Starting with a basic concept, discoveries made along the way lead to design refinements. Feedback from your target audience provides the foundation for additional enhancements. With traditional BI tools, this is a time-consuming process. Tableau’s drop and drag ease of using facilities resulted in the rapid evolution of designs and also started encouraging discovery.

Introducing the dashboard worksheet

After creating multiple, complementary worksheets, you can combine them into an integrated view if the data is using the dashboard worksheet. Figure 8.8 shows an empty dashboard workspace.

The top-left half of the dashboard shelf displays all of the worksheets contained in the workbook. The bottom half of the same space provides access to another object controls for adding text, images, blank space, or live web pages in the dashboard workspace. The worksheets and other design objects are placed into the “drop sheets here” area. The bottom left dashboard area contains controls for specifying the size of the dashboard and  a check box for adding a dashboard title.

You are going to step through the creation of a dashboard using the access database file that ships with tableau called coffee chain. You will create the dashboard by employing the best practices, recommended earlier in the post.

The example dashboard is suitable for a weekly or monthly recurring reports. The specifications have been defined and are demanding. The example utilizes a variety of visualizations, dashboard objects and actions. It will include a main dashboard and a secondary dashboard that will be linked together via filter actions.


Figure 8.8: Tableau’s dashboard worksheet

Read through the rest of the post first to get an overview of the process. Then, step through each section and build the dashboard by yourself. When completed, your dashboard should look like figure 8.9


Figure 8.9: Completed coffee chain dashboard example

The dashboard follows the 4-pane layout recommended earlier in the best practices section of this post, but it is actually a 5-panel design with the small select year cross-tab acting as a filter via a filter action. The main dashboard in figure 8.9 includes a variety of worksheet panes, an image object with a logo, text objects, dynamic title elements, and a text object containing an active web link. The example, employs a cascading design that links the main dashboard to a secondary dashboard via a filter action. The secondary dashboard contains more granular data in a crosstab and an embedded webpage that is filtered by hovering your mouse over the crosstab. This example is designed to use many of tableau’s advanced  dashboard features  included in tableau desktop version 8 and were included in Mindmajix Tableau Training. The major steps required to complete this example are:

  1. Download the post “bringing it all together with dashboards” dashboard exercise workbook from the book’s companion website. Refer to Appendix C: “inter works book website” for additional details.
  2. Define the dashboard size and position the dashboard objects in the dashboard workspace.
  3. Enhance title elements, refine axis headers, and place image and text objects into the primary dashboard.
  4. Create a secondary dashboard with a detailed crosstab, webpage object and navigation pane.
  5. Add filter, highlight and URL actions to the dashboards.
  6. Finish the dashboard by enhancing the tooltips and testing all filtering and navigation. Add a read me dashboard to explain how the dashboard is intended to be used to data sources and for any calculations created that may not be obvious to the audience.

Defining the dashboard size

One of the first things you should consider when assembling  worksheets in a dashboard is the available space that your audience has to view the dashboard. Will it be viewed on an old overhead projector with limited resolution and brightness? Or, will the audience consumes the dashboard on a personal computer or a tablet computer? For this exercise, assume that the majority of people will be viewing the dashboard on laptop computers. A small number of people will view it on desktop computers.

The easiest way to start a dashboard is to click the new dashboard tab. Figure 8.8 shown earlier in the post highlights the new dashboard tab at the bottom of the workspace.


Figure 8.10: Dashboard design shelves

Position the worksheet objects in the dashboard workspace

Placing worksheets into the dashboard workspace can be done by double-clicking on the worksheet objects at the top of the dashboard shelf. Tableau will automatically  place them into the view. Alternatively, drag the worksheet object into the view  and place it in the exact position you desire. Tableau provides a light gray shading as you drag objects into the workspace indicating the space, that it will occupy when you release your mouse button.

Unless custom titles were added in the worksheets, the titles that are displayed in the dashboard for each worksheet reflect the worksheet tab names. A variety of dashboards objects can be accessed and placed into the dashboard workspace using the dashboard and layout objects displayed in figure 8.10

Dashboard area 1 includes worksheet objects, objects for controlling the orientation of the group of objects horizontally and vertically, objects for adding text, images, live web pages, or blank space. By default, tableau uses tile to place objects in their own panes. Selecting the floating option makes objects float over other  objects which are already in the workspace. As you add worksheet objects to the dashboard, a small blue circle with a check mark will appear next to its icon.

Layout area 2 includes objects that have been added to the dashboard as well as layout options. Dashboard area3 at the bottom allows you to define the sizing of the entire dashboard and the individual objects included in the workspace. Before any worksheets are added into the workspace, define the dashboard size to accommodate the worst-case  scenario in which the dashboard will be viewed-(800×600) pixels. The option laptop in the menu provides this exact size.

To view more options, click on the size shelf as shown in figure 8.11 so that additional ways size can be controlled.

  • Automatic – expands the dashboard to fill the available screen space
  • Exactly – allows you to lock the dashboard’s width and height
  • Range – enables the designer to define minimum and maximum limits.


Figure 8.11:Dashboard layout, size definition

The exact mode allows you to set the worst-case parameters for space. After completing your design, you may want to change the size mode to the range and define specific limits so that the dashboard can expand to fill.

Automatic mode expands or contracts the dashboard to fill the available screen resolution of each computer viewing the dashboard. If any of your audience has a high resolution graphics card, the dashboard might look out of place. The range option allows you to define specific maximum limits so that dashboards designed for compact spaces don’t look too sparse on large monitors. If someone is using a very low resolution monitor to view the dashboard, minimum limits can be set for the dashboard pixel height and width. Once the dashboard size has been defined you are now ready to add individual worksheet  objects to the dashboard. Figure 8.10 displayed earlier shows six different worksheet  objects that are available to add to the dashboard. There are two ways to add objects into the dashboard. Double-clicking on a worksheet object causes tableau to place that object into the workspace automatically. To control the placement of an individual object more precisely, drag the object into the view. As long as your left mouse button is depressed, tableau will preview the area that the object occupies by shading it in gray.

Double-clicking on each worksheet object in the order in which they appear in the dashboard (excluding the market crosstab which will be used in a separate dashboard) will result in the worksheets being  displayed in the dashboard shown in figure 8.12


Figure 8.12: Initial layout of the coffee chain dashboard

Each worksheet has been added into the dashboard and the placement of the each individual views can be improved. Reposition the spark line, object by clicking inside the spark line object pane to activate it; and then use the handle at the top and center of the object, by dragging it into the lower-right area of the workspace. Then, reposition the select year crosstab into the upper-right area above the color legend. When these steps are completed the dashboard pane should look like as one in figure 8.13.


Figure 8.13: Repositioned worksheet objects

Add a title to your dashboard by selecting the show title option in the bottom left of your dashboard shelves. The default title will be the name of the dashboard worksheet that was created by the tableau. Edit the title text by double-clicking on the default name and type in main dashboard-sales analysis. Edit the title font to Arial, 12-point and select a light gray color. Make sure that the title is left-justified. After adding the title it should appear as you see in figure 8.14


Figure 8.14: Dashboard with title object added

Using layout containers to position objects

Layout containers allow you to group objects horizontally or vertically within the dashboard workspace.

Use a horizontal layout container for the dashboard title

In figure 8.15 the “interworks” logo is aligned horizontally to the right of the dashboard title.


Figure 8.15: Title and logo in a horizontal layout container

The title and logo alignment in figure 8.15 was achieved using these steps:

  1. Drag a horizontal layout container to the top of the dashboard.
  2. Drag the title object into the horizontal container.
  3. Adjust the height of the horizontal layout container.
  4. Place an image object into the right side of the layout container.
  5. Position the title and image within the layout container.

Add a horizontal layout container to the dashboard by dragging the horizontal object from the dashboard shelf in the area above the title bar as you see in figure 8.16


Figure 8.16: Adding a horizontal layout container

Before you let go of the object be sure that the gray area highlights the full width of the dashboard at the top. This will ensure that the title object occupies the entire width at the top of the dashboard. After releasing the mouse button, don’t worry if the vertical space occupied by the layout container is very large-you can reposition it by dragging up from the bottom edge of the layout container. Then drag the title object into the horizontal layout container.

Now that the title is placed inside the horizontal layout container you can drag an image object into the layout container in the dashboard as you see in figure 8.17.


Figure 8.17: Place an image object in the layout container

Now it’s time to assign a specific image to the image object. Use any image file you prefer for the logo. The example shown uses the “interworks” logo.


Figure 8.18: Fit and center the logo

Reposition the title and image objects within the layout container by clicking in the title object space. Then, point the mouse at the right edge of the title object until your pointer changes to a horizontal pointer. Drag the edge to the right to align the logo with the left edge of the vertical space occupied by the year filter cross-tab object. Your logo should now be positioned directly over the right side vertical space over the legends.

Make the title bar narrower by pointing at its bottom edge and  dragging up. The logo probably isn’t centered within the image object. To fit and center the logo on the image object, click on the object to access the drop-down arrow and expose the objects menu as you see in figure 8.18

Select fit the image and center image. Your logo should now be resized to fit in the space.

To complete the title area, add the URL associated with the logo to the image pane. Set the website address by clicking on the image pane to activate the menu, pick the set URL option and type in the website address. Now when the logo is clicked and web access is available, a browser session will open and the website will be displayed.

Now that the dashboard title is complete, turn your attention to the area on the right side of the dashboard containing the year filter crosstab along with the color shape and size legends.

Positioning the select year cross tab and legends

Look at the completed  dashboard again in figure 8.9 and notice that the color legend for sales under budget has been repositioned below the bullet graph, the sales size legend is gone, and a text box containing a website link has been added to the bottom. At this point your legend area should look like figure 8.19.


Figure 8.19:Right  vertical layout container

By default, tableau places a vertical  layout  container in dashboards that have legends or quick filters. This means your dashboard already has a layout container in that space. You can view it by clicking on any  pane within that space and select  the menu using the drop-down  arrow in the title bar-then click on select layout container. Notice that all of the elements on the right side of the dashboard are in that space except the image pane containing the logo that you have added to the horizontal layout container next to the title.

Insert a text object just below the sales by year cross-tab and type in scatter plot on one line, then legends below that. Format the textbox with a light gray using the object menu to access the formatting via the drop-down arrow in the title bar. Center the text from  there as well.

Then place another text object below the product type, color legend with the text, click below for the author information, and below that add any website address you desire. I used a shortened version of my personal website (http://bit.ly/1buoIOT). This is another way of placing  active website links into a dashboard.

Delete the sales size legend by accessing the legend  menu via the small (x) appearing on the top right side of the object. Next reposition the sales under budget size legend by placing it below the bullet graph in the lower left area of the workspace. Resize the fit of the select year crosstab in the upper right of the dashboard so that it fills the entire view. Use the crosstab objects menu drop-down arrow and select the menu options fit/ entire view.

Finally, reduce the amount of horizontal space used by the legend area by dragging the left edge of the vertical layout container to the right. Be careful not to obscure any of the legend text. You are done with the layout container styling for now. If necessary, you can come back and make additional refinements later, your dashboard must now look like figure 8.20

The dashboard is starting to take shape, but the worksheet objects dosen’t utilize the available space well. The text used in the color legend below the bullet graph is partially obscured. In addition, the bullet graph, and spark line objects are displayed in identical row headers-creating redundant link that can be removed if you ensure that the rows are sorted in the same way. In the next section you’ll learn how to deal with these issues so that the dashboard utilizes the available space more effectively.


Figure 8-20: Dashboard with improved legends

Positioning and fitting the dashboard objects

The general layout of this dashboard is good. The upper left quadrant contains a crosstab overview of performance. The scatter plot shows how promotional spending relates to profits and sales (although it isn’t clear that the size of the marks on the scatter plot provides relative sales amounts). The bullet graph and spark line provide complementary views of actual sales performance  versus budget. Color is used in two different ways. In the scatter plot, color  is used to distinguish a product type. In all of the other charts use a muted 2-tone color scheme to highlight under-budgeted sales.

To make this dashboard communicate the information more effectively, it requires the following steps:

  • Ensure that each worksheet object fits its entire view.
  • Create more descriptive titles for each pane.
  • Make the bullet graph and spark line sort in the same order.
  • Hide the redundant row headers in the spark line chart.
  • Reposition the worksheet objects to better utilize space.

Ensure that each worksheet object fits its entire view

Start by changing the fit within the bullet graph pane. The most straight-forward method to access the fit menu is one we’ve used a few times already-clicking on the title block of the pane and exposing the pane menu. Alternatively, you can expose the same controls from the layout shelf by selecting the bullet graph and right clicking. Figure 8.21 shows that you can access the same menu using either of the methods.


Figure 8.21: Fitting the bullet graph object

Change the bullet graph fit from normal to entire view. You should see the graph fill the pane completely.

Notice when you click the bullet graph pane in the layout shelf, the context of the position and size shelf changes to display the values for the bullet graph pane. You now see the pixel position and size of that particular pane. At the bottom of the shelf you will see that the show title option is selected and the floating pane option is not. If the floating pane option were selected, this pane could be placed on top of the other panes in the dashboard-floating over the area. This choice wouldn’t be appropriate for the bullet graph. Later in the exercise, we’ll utilize a floating pane. Repeat the same process for all of the data objects so that all of them fill the available space.

Create more descriptive titles for each data pane

Adding more descriptive data  object titles will make it easier for the audience to intercept the dashboard. Edit the titles by double-clicking on each data object title bar and replacing the <sheet name>text  with the following title text:

  • Bullet graph-sales vs. budget by product
  • Spark line-sales trend
  • Cross-tab-summary by product type
  • Scatter plot- sales vs. Marketing expense
  • Select year-change the font to Arial, italics, 12 point, brown

Figure 8.22 The dashboard after completing the title editing.

The size, color, and style of the title font used for the select year crosstab in the upper right of the dashboard reminds the audience about the filtering provided within that object. Providing instruction this way accomplishes the intended purpose in minimal space. Later in this post, an action will be added to the crosstab allowing the user to filter other charts in the dashboard by year. Next you’ll see creative ways to use sorting text objects and mark labels to improve the legibility of the charts  in the bottom half of the dashboard.

Improving the bullet graph and  spark line charts

In figure 8.22 you can see that the bullet graph and spark line have the same row headings. The duplicate headers are an inefficient use of space. The chart is meant to be used together to see performances versus budget and trends over time,but they are not perfectly aligned. The title of the color legend below the bullet graph is partially obscured and needs to be edited so that it is legible. Apply these improvements with the following steps:

  1. Make the row sort order in both charts identical.
  2. Hide the row labels in the spark line.
  3. Turn on mark labels and hide the header in the bullet graph.
  4. Improve the color legend below the bullet graph.
  5. Precisely align the spark line and bullet graph rows.


Figure 8.22: Improved dashboard titles

Make the row sort order in both charts identical

Hover your mouse over the bullet graph title pane. This will expose the GO TO  sheet navigation control. Click on the small box with the arrow (see figure 8.23) to jump to the bullet graph worksheet


Figure 8.23: Jump to the bullet graph worksheet.

Edit the sort order of the product type and product field pills on the row shelf so that the rows in both charts sort identically . Access the sort menu for each field by right-clicking on the field pill on the row shelf, then select the sort menu/manual sort option as displayed in figure 8.24


Figure 8.24: Editing row sorting


Figure 8.25:Hiding the spark line row headings 

Repeat the same steps in the spark line worksheet. When this step is completed, tableau provides a visual cue in the product type and product field pills confirming that a sort has been applied to each field in both worksheets. The cue is a small bar chart that appears on the right side of each field pill.

Now that the bullet graph and spark line are sorted the same way, you can hide the product type and product row tables in the spark line worksheet- hence saving space and eliminating redundant data ink. Right-clicking the product  type and product pills on the row shelf exposes the menu as seen in figure 8.25.

Hide the spark line row headings by selecting any row header, right-clicking, and uncheck the show header option. Do this for both product type and product.

Turn on mark labels and hide the axis header in the bullet graph

The bullet graph can be edited to provide more vertical space by hiding the axis header at the bottom of the chart. These axis labels provide valuable context. If the dashboard were going to be printed and consumed on paper, it would not be a good idea to remove the axis header.

When dashboards are consumed interactively on a computer, mark labels can be used to replace axis headers by presenting important details on demand-when a mark or heading is selected. Mark labels can always be displayed, but in this case space would be better utilized if the labels are displayed only when the user wants to see them. To make the mark labels appear on demand, go to the bullet graph worksheet and click the label button on the marks card to expose the menu seen in figure 8.26


Figure 8.26: Bullet graph mark label menu

The axis header at the bottom of the bullet graph can be hidden by pointing at the axis header area, right-clicking, and unchecking the show header option. The view on the left side of figure 8.27 shows the menu selection, and the resulting appearance of the bullet graph is shown on the right.

Removing the axis header in the bullet graph is a compromise that the mark labels enable by providing sales details via point and click selections of the mark or row header due to the limited space requirements for this dashboard, which is an acceptable compromise.


Figure 8.27:Hiding the bullet graph axis title

Improve the color legend below the bullet graph

There is one more item near the bullet graph that needs to be addressed. In the view on the right side of figure 8.27, you can see that the color legend title is partially obscured. This can be addressed by erasing the legend title, then adding a text object to the left of the legend. This technique allows for more precision in the alignment and positioning of the text to describe the legend colors. It also provides a means for centering the legend below the bullet graph.

Erase the legend title by accessing the legend menu via the drop-down arrow that appears when the legend is clicked-on, then uncheck the show title option. Now add a text box to the left of the legend by dragging a text object to the left of the legend as shown in figure 8.28.

The legend can be  precisely positioned beneath the bullet graph by dragging the right edge of the new text object to the right or left. These changes have reduced the amount of space required for the bullet graph and the spark line.

Precisely align the scatter plot and bullet graph rows

The sales trend spark line is not actually plotting the monthly sales value. It is showing the percent change versus prior month to accentuate the pattern of monthly changes. Refer to post “Tips, Tricks and Timesavers” for a full explanation of the reasons why this way of presenting the data may be helpful. This detail is an important fact that should be communicated to the audience.


Figure 8.28: Replace the legend title with a text object.

As you can see in figure 8.28, the legend below the bullet graph is also causing a misalignment of the charts. While a blank object could be placed below the sales trend spark line to address this problem, placing a text object there addresses the alignment need, but also allows for the addition of text to describe exactly what is being plotted in the sales trend chart. Align the two charts by dragging the bottom edge of the chart objects to position them so that the rows in both graphs are perfectly aligned. Figure 8.29 shows the appearance of the full dashboard with these style enhancements completed.

The bottom half of the dashboard looks very good now. The color legend title is centered and the legend title is clear and legible. And, the rows in the bullet graph and spark line are aligned so that users can see product sales compared to plan and the related sales trend.

Although this wasn’t discussed in the preceding text, the blue/gray color scheme is used to denote the actual sales versus budget sales in the crosstab and bullet graph, is also now being applied to the spark line. Blue trend line sections in the spark line now also denote sales that are under budget. This was achieved by placing the calculated  value that was used in the two other chart sales under budget, on the marks card for color in the spark line work sheet.

To see more details regarding how the value was calculated, refer  to the glossary entry for Boolean values. If you have downloaded the workbook, used in this example, from the comparison website, point at the field in the measures shelf, and select the edit option to view the calculation.


Figure 8-29: The updated dashboard

To finish refining the dashboard appearance, there are a couple of items that need to be addressed-adjusting  the vertical space used by the top and bottom halves of the dashboard and an edit to an axis header in the sales vs. marketing scatter plot.

Improving the crosstab and scatter plot

Look at figure 8.29 presented earlier. You can see that the summary by product type chart contains  too much empty space, but the lower half of the dashboard would benefit by having more pixel height-particularly, the sales trend spark line. Compressing the vertical space used for the top half of the dashboard will address that issue and provide more room for the bullet graph and the spark line at the bottom. Also, adjusting the amount of horizontal space provided to the row headers and the numbers may be necessary to ensure that larger numbers can be displayed in the object.

Note the addition of the text object containing “% change vs. prior month” not only adds descriptive text, but also helps to align the bullet graph and spark line charts.

Because the size legend for the sales vs. marketing expense scatter plot was removed earlier to conserve space, it would be useful to find a way to let information consumers know that the size of the marks in the scatter plot denotes the relative sales value of each mark. These issues will be addressed with the help of following steps:

  1. Adjust the horizontal space used by the row headings in the crosstab chart and reposition the horizontal space allocated to each chart.
  2. Compress the vertical space occupied by the crosstab and scatter plot.
  3. Edit the scatter plot axis label to provide information related to the size legend that was removed earlier.

Figure 8.30 summarizes these steps visually.


Figure 8.30: List items to address.

Reposition the amount of horizontal space occupied by the crosstab row header by clicking on the row and dragging to the edge of the header column to the left or right so that the heading fits comfortably on one row. Then drag the edge of the crosstab pane to the right or left and to allow enough room for the numbers in the crosstab to be expressed

To reduce the amount of vertical space occupied by the top half of the dashboard, drag up from the bottom of the crosstab and scatter plot objects.

Repositioning of dashboard objects like this is common, and you can achieve these kinds of adjustments at any time.

The axis title at the bottom of the scatter plot can be edited by pointing at the axis title, right-clicking, then selecting the edit axis menu option. This will expose the menu you see in figure 8.31.

Add the text mark size-sales $  to the dialog box title in the edit axis menu as you see in figure 8.31. Clicking OK button locks in the change. After completing these steps the dashboard, it will look like one in figure 8.32.


Figure 8.31: Editing the scatter plot axis title


Figure 8.32: Dashboard with improved positioning and fitting

The dashboard looks finished now. The white space in the charts at the top has been reduced and the bullet graph and spark line have more room to breathe. The majority of the appearance editing in the main dashboard is complete.

In the next section you will learn how to use the data in the main dashboard to create actions for filtering and highlight related information in the main dashboard objects.

Using actions to create advanced dashboard navigation

Tableau’s quick filters provide an easy method for filtering dashboards and worksheets. Refer to tableau’s manual for details on quick filters. This dashboard example purposefully avoids using quick filters, because tableau actions provide even more flexibility and in many instances, provide better initial load speed than quick filters-consistent with the best practices recommended earlier in the post.

Actions facilitate discovery by altering the context of  the dashboard based on selections made by the audience. In this section you will create actions that utilize all of the available ways tableau can invoke actions. You’ll build actions that:

  • Filter and highlight the main dashboard.
  • Facilitate navigation to the supporting dashboard.
  • Filter a detailed crosstab in a new supporting
  • Call and filter an embedded website in the supporting dashboard
  • Return the audience to the main dashboard from the supporting dashboard.

Using the select year crosstab to filter the main dashboard

The select year crosstab in figure 8.32 is titled by using a different font style and color to make it stand out and provide a brief instruction in identifying that the crosstab serves as a filter. Building filter actions in the tableau can be done in as few as three clicks. Create a filter action using the select year crosstab using these steps:

  1. Click on the select year crosstab to activate the object.
  2. Select the drop-down arrow to expose the menu.
  3. Pick the use as filter menu option to create the filter action.
  4. Edit the filter action so that the sales trend spark line isn’t filters.

Figure 8.33 shows the menus related to steps two and three from the list above.


Figure 8.33: Making a filter action

After finishing step three, you should be able to click on one of the years in the crosstab, and every chart in the dashboard will be filtered to show only the selected year. Clicking the sales header in the crosstab  will cause the dashboard to be filtered for both years.

Creating filter actions this way is very easy, but it would be better if the sales trend spark line always showed both years. Tableau generates a filter action from the use as filter option. You need to apply it in such a way so that the filter action does not apply to the sales trend spark line graph, which requires editing the generated filter action.

To edit the filter action generated by tableau, access the dashboard menu option, then select the actions menu to expose the actions dialog box. You can see the unedited filter action below on the left side of figure 8.34.

The edit filter action that tableau generated applies to all of the target sheets in the main dashboard (dashboard 1). The edit filter action dialog box on the right side of figure 8.34 shows the changes applied in that screen shot.

  • Recommended – give the action a more descriptive name
  • Required – uncheck the spark line in the target sheet area.
  • Optional – select the leave the filter clearing option.

Naming the filter action very specifically makes it easier to identify the exact purpose of the action. This is useful in two ways. First, if you need to come back months later to edit the action, a specific name makes it much easier to find it. Second, if the run action uses the menu option, the name field will appear in tooltips or when users point  at headings-to trigger the action. Being descriptive there is important for users. You will see this type of action later in this post.

Unchecking the spark line in the target sheets area means that the spark line will no longer be filtered by year. Because the spark line requires very little space to clearly display two years of data, it makes sense to leave that chart unfiltered.

Finally, the leave the filter option causes the filter action to remain in place when the action is removed. For example, if the year 2013 is selected (and then the filter action is removed by pressing the escape key (ESC) or by clicking on white space within a chart) the chart objects affected by the filter action will continue to display only in the year 2013-until another selection is made in the select year crosstab.


Figure 8.34: Editing the filter action

Adding dynamic  title content

The dashboard now includes a filter action that gives users the ability to filter for the year 2012, 2013 or both years. Dynamic titles are a good way to provide visual confirmation that the objects in the dashboard have been filtered correctly. Figure 8.35 shows the full dashboard filtered for the year 2013 with dynamic titles that include the year.

You can see that the crosstab, scatter plot, and bullet graph are filtered for the year 2013 while the spark line continues to display both years. Matching the font of the dynamic title elements to the select year crosstab title color provides a visual link for the audience. Adding  changeable title elements is done by inserting fields from your data in the title. Edit the title by double-clicking on the title; then select the insert menu option to position the field into the title as you see in figure 8.36.


Figure 8.35: Dashboard with dynamic titles


Figure 8.36: Adding a dynamic field to chart titles

Alternatively, you can directly type the field name in as long as you include the wrappers (<select year>) before and after the field name. Note that the (<select year>) added in the title is not the name of the crosstab. It is a similarly-named custom date field that was added to the source data. Refer to the “creating customized date fields” section of the post “building your first visualization” for  more.

The custom date is being used in the dashboard to override tableau’s default behavior, which gives users the ability to display tableau’s default date hierarchy (year, quarter, month, etc.), due to the space limitations imposed for this dashboard, it is desirable to limit the display of dates in the select year crosstab to show only year.

In the next section you’ll learn how to use the color and size legends to create highlight actions.

Auto-generating highlight actions from legends

Highlighting helps users see related information in dashboards more easily. Users can generate highlighting from legend by activating the highlighting tool that appears when you point at a legend as shown in figure 8.37.


Figure 8.37: Highlighting from a legend

Highlighting this way is effective for looking at one dimension at a time. In figure 8.37, the product type herbal tea is being highlighted in the dashboard. The  same single dimension highlighted can be in the product legend.

When these selections are made, tableau creates highlight action automatically which is termes as power feature. By activating and highlighting from both product type and product legends, tableau generates a highlight action that is the combination of both the color and shape legends. The tableau creates access to the dashboard menu and actions sub menu just like you did for the filter action. Figure 8.38 shows the action dialog box and the edit highlight action dialog box that is accessed via the edit button.


Figure 8.38: Editing the generated highlight action

When tableau creates these highlight action, it will automatically apply them to every worksheet object in the dashboard. In this case, uncheck the select year crosstab in the target sheets area so that  the highlight action isn’t applied to that object. Notice that the target highlighting area at the bottom includes the combination of both product type (color) and product (shape) in the action.

This action will persist if the workbook is saved and will be available for anyone consuming  the dashboard. Highlighting will now occur if marks or headings are selected within the dashboard as you see in figure 8.39


Figure 8.39: Highlighting from a mark

The highlighting in figure 8.39 was triggered by selecting the green circle in the scatter plot. The highlight action uses the combination of color and shape to highlight product type and or/product in all of the other charts with the exception of the select year cross that was removed from the action.

Because tableau has built simple controls for triggering actions it is possible to build them even if you don’t understand exactly how they work. If you know how to edit actions, you can advance your knowledge through experimentation.

Understanding the action dialog box

Actions can apply to one or several dashboards or work sheets. This capability enables the creation of elegant cascading dashboard designs by using filter actions to link the contents of one dashboard to another related dashboard.

The steps to define filter actions and highlight actions are similar, but there are differences  in how the data needs to be expressed for highlighting to work properly. For example, highlighting requires exact field names that are visually differentiated in each view, where as filters don’t have this requirement. Figure 8.40 shows the filter and highlight action dialog boxes.


Figure 8-40: Filter and highlight action menus

The filter/highlight action screen is comprised of four main areas:

  • Name – define the name of the action as it appears in the dialog box and tooltips or header menus if the action is run using a menu.
  • Source sheets – controls where and how actions are invoked
  • Target sheets – defines where actions are applied and their behavior when cleared (only for filter actions)
  • Target filters/highlighting – limits what fields to be used to apply the actions

Name-tableau automatically assigns action names sequentially  by type. While this naming convention keeps things organized during  the design process, it isn’t helpful if you need to revise your design later. Giving actions very specific names will save time if later editing is necessary. When the “run action on” type is menu, the name also appears in related tooltips and header menus for executing the action.

Source sheets-contains a drop-down menu that  allows you to select any of the worksheets included in your workbook at the source of the action. Dashboard is the source sheet in this example. The block directly below specifies where the action will be invoked from in the dashboard. The checked panes indicate panes that will invoke the action. Unchecked panes do not invoke the action. Run action on specifies how the action is invoked.

  • Select-action will run using a point and click.
  • Menu-runs via point and click in a tooltip or by right-clicking the dimension heading in the pane
  • Hover-action runs as your mouse pointer hovers over a mark

The examples you have seen so far have used the select method to run on. Later in the post you will create actions that run on the menu and hover methods.

Target sheets – this defines what places the action must be applied in, including the (dashboard or worksheet) and the individual worksheet objects that are changed by the action. This defines the places that actions will be applied. The radio buttons on the right side of this area defines tableau’s behavior when the action is de-selected by the user.

For example, in figure 8.35 presented earlier, a filter action for the year 2013 has been applied. It explains how in an example, pressing the escape (ESC) key, or clicking on blank space in a worksheet object, will de-select the filter action. However, because the “clearing the selection will” is defined using the leave the filter option, the dashboard will remain filtered  for the year 2013.

The clearing the selection will area defines what happens when the action is cleared. Please note that this particular control applies only to filter actions and does not exist for highlight actions. The different behaviors that can be selected to occur when a filter action is cleared are:

  • Leave the filter – the filter action keeps only the last selected filter action.
  • Show all values – returns the worksheet or dashboard to an unfiltered state within the context of the dashboard or worksheet
  • Exclude all value – excludes the data from the view so the worksheets that are using the filtered data will not display any information when the filter action is removed

Target filters-tableau’s normal behavior highlight actions is to use any possible common field existing between the source and the target sheets to apply the action. For filter actions, it is the fields that make up the mark selected in the source sheet that derive what fields are included in the filter.

The target filters area gives you the ability to specifically restrict the fields that tableau uses to apply the action, if you choose the selected fields option. For example, in the highlighting example presented earlier in the post, the highlight action was restricted to the product type and product fields.

Filter and highlight action allow you to use the visualizations and legends in your views to create interactive dashboards that respond to selections users make even if the source and target locations reside in different worksheets. These types of actions are confined to a single workbook.

Tableau provides a third kind of action that allows you to pass the data from your workbook to an external website. The website can be materials in a separate browser session or embedded into a dashboard. These are referred to as URL actions. Figure 8.41 shows the URL action dialog box.


Figure 8.41: URL action dialog box

The name and source sheets sections for defining URL actions are similar to filter and highlight actions. However, a web page URL link field is used to define the target for the action. The small arrow on the right side of the URL  field allows you to replace or append fields from your data to the web address.

The URL options at the bottom of the dialog box allow you to deal with characters that may not be understood by the target URL via the URL encode data values. The allows multiple values option to give you a way to pass multiple list values (such as a list of products) as parameters to the URL. When passing multiple values you will also need to define how to separate each record (item delimiter), and the delimiter escape if the selected delimiter character is used anywhere in your data values.

In the next section you’ll build another dashboard that will complement the main sales dashboard just completed. This example will help you understand how to use your data interactively with data on an external website. You’ll also learn how to create a menu action to navigate from the main sales dashboard to the supporting dashboard, and another action will be used to provide navigation back to the main sales dashboard.

Embedding a live website in a dashboard

When completed, the next dashboard will include two primary objects-a crosstab with regional market metrics and an embedded website object. It will look similar to figure 8.42.


Figure 8.42: Dashboard with a live webpage

This dashboard has the same size constraints as the parent main sales dashboard. Navigation to and from the dashboard will be provided by filter actions. And the URL action to search the embedded website will be triggered by hovering over the market analysis crosstab.

Assemble dashboard 2

Open the dashboard worksheet and set the size to exactly 800×600 pixels-a  size consistent with the main dashboard. Then select the show title option to display a title object and type in the dashboard title as shown in figure 8.42 (dashboard 2- market analysis and comparison to a retail website).

Drag the market analysis worksheet into dashboard 2. Edit the pane fit by setting it to fit entire view so that the crosstab fills the full amount  of space available. Next add a web page object to dashboard 2 by dragging it into the bottom half of the dashboard  pane and click the OK button on the edit URL pop-up that appears without adding any website address. When you add the URL action, that data will be supplied by the action. Your dashboard should  have two panes now. The web pane will be blank. It should look similar to shown in figure 8.43.


Figure 8.43: Partially complete dashboard 2

The bones of the supporting dashboard are in place. Now you can perform actions to navigate between the dashboards and to activate the webpage via a URL action for the web page object. This requires three separate actions:

  1. Create a filter action using the bullet graph in the main sales dashboard to filter the market analysis crosstab in dashboard 2.
  2. Make a URL action in dashboard 2 to filter the web page object in dashboard 2.
  3. Add a filter action to return the user from dashboard 2 to the main sales dashboard.

Creating the filter action to navigate from the main dashboard to dashboard 2

You will now create a filter action that will be triggered from the bullet graph in the main sales dashboard to the market analysis crosstab in the supporting dashboard. The purpose of the action is to allow the audience to analyze sales of a selected product type and product-by market.


Figure 8.44: Defining the navigation filter action

Understanding what information is passed in the filter action is important. When you create actions, always check to ensure that the result is correct. If you don’t ,you could potentially present incorrect information. The market analysis crosstab in dashboard 2 doesn’t currently include the product type, product, or select year fields. This will present a problem that requires trouble shooting. Don’t be concerned about it as it isn’t unusual  when assembling a new dashboard to revise the design as you build to accommodate filtering and highlighting needs. Duplicate the filter action as you see in figure 8.44.

Once you have completed the filter action, test it by trying to run the filter. Figure 8.45 shows the tooltip that will appear when you point at a mark in the bullet graph.

The tooltip is displaying the filter action created in the last step as blue text  at the bottom of the tooltip. Clicking on the blue text should take you to dashboard 2. You can also execute the action by pointing at the row header and right-clicking to expose the action.

Using either method to trigger the action, the market analysis crosstab should be filtered for coffee, Colombian, and the year of 2012. The result should look exactly like figure 8.46.


Figure 8.45: Tooltip with a menu filter action


Figure 8.46: The filtered result in dashboard 2

The sales total in the target crosstab in dashboard 2 should be $62,824 for the specific selection made above. Try using the filter action on a few different markets in the bullet graph just to be sure that it is working properly.

The first time your audience uses a menu action like this, the contents of the market analysis cross tab  in dashboard 2 will not be obvious. The bullet graph displays product type and product information. The market analysis crosstab doesn’t display any information about product type, product, or year in the headings . In this situation adding a title that inserts dynamic field entries is very helpful. Figure 8.47 shows the market analysis crosstab with a title that includes thoese fields.


Figure 8.47: Market crosstab with dynamic title

You might have a problem initially in getting your dynamic title elements inserted into the title because you don’t have the product type, product, or select year fields on your marks card. If those fields aren’t included in the market analysis worksheet, you will not be able to achieve  the result you see in figure 8.47. This is a typical trouble-shooting situation. Go to the market analysis worksheet and add the fields to the marks card as shown in figure 8.48.

Now that the product type, product, and select year fields are available, they can be inserted into the title. Use font colors in the title to highlight the dynamic fields and use a lighter gray font color for the static parts. This emphasizes the items that the filter actions are currently displaying.


Figure 8.48: Fields added to the marks card

Making the URL action


Figure 8.49: URL action menu

Earlier, you placed a blank web page object in dashboard 2. Now you are ready  to build the URL action that will trigger a search on a retail website and display the result  in the web page object.

To demonstrate another way you can trigger the action, you will use the run action on hover method to execute the action. This means when users hover anywhere over the market analysis crosstab, the URL search will be executed. In an actual use case, it might trigger the action using select or menu.

Open your browser and search Amazon’s website for “coffee, amaretto.” When the search is completed copy the URL string from your browser. You will paste this code into the URL field to define the URL action in figure 8.49.

To enable tableau to automatically change the search sent to Amazon, you will replace the search  keywords contained in the URL string you copied from the website with fields supplied by tableau. Figure 8.50 shows the modified script with the field names inserted into the string.

Test the URL action by going back to the bullet graph in the sales analysis dashboard and execute the menu action with a different product when you hover your mouse pointer over the market analysis crosstab that should trigger another search of the website, and the product displayed should reflect new search criteria.


Figure 8.50: Inserting URL variables

Using embedded web page objects with URL actions provides a method for combining your data with information from the web without having to be a programming expert. URL actions can be used in many different ways. Hopefully you can see the potential for enhancing your dashboards with information from the internet.

Creating  a home button

To allow people using this workbook to easily navigate back to the main dashboard you are going to create one more action. There should be another worksheet in your workbook called nav button. You can see the crosstab in that worksheet from figure 8.51

The small navigation button crosstab displayed in the upper right of the dashboard (see figure 8.52) uses a calculation to create the text. Double-click on the arrow to return to the main dashboard. The field is named as return nav. The calculation is the text wrapped in single or double quotes. Placing the return nav  field on the row shelf, then changing the mark type to shape allows you to select any shape available in tableau’s shape pallet. Use the size button on the marks card to increase or decrease the size of the shape in the crosstab.

This crosstab will be placed  in dashboard 2 and used to hold a filter action to return the user to the main dashboard. Figure 8.52 shows dashboard 2 with the return nav worksheet placed next to the title at the top of the dashboard.


Figure 8.51: nav button worksheet


Figure 8.52: The home button


Figure 8.53: Action to return users to the main dashboard

If you have trouble getting the placement right, remember that you can use a horizontal layout container object to group the dashboard title and the return nav button next to each other there. Also notice that some additional text has been added to the title. In addition, below the market  analysis crosstab a text object has been added with a navigation instruction explaining to users how to trigger the URL action to the embedded website.

All that remains is to define the filter action to enable the return nav crosstab to navigate back to the main dashboard. Figure 8.53 shows the action dialog box to enable that feature.

This filter action completes all of the action examples for this workbook. Congratulations. It is now time  to take a final tour of both dashboards to determine what additional information  would enhance the information presented, now that all of the navigation, filtering, titles, and other features have been completed, tooltips can be customized to fill in any open questions. It might also be helpful to add a read me dashboard that contains text describing how the dashboard was designed to be used, while including contact information to users.

For all these reasons it is usually best to make tooltip editing the last step in your dashboard design  process.

Adding details on demand with tooltips

When the dashboard design is nearly complete, getting outside feedback at this stage is helpful. Your audience may want to look at data in ways you didn’t consider, which can lead to revisions to the layout, content, and filtering. Assuming that all of the design criteria  have been fulfilled, finalizing the design normally requires adding textual content to provide relevant details on demand that enhance the content.

Tooltips are the pop-outs that appear when you hover over marks in worksheets and dashboards. They are an efficient way to convey textual information because they only appear on demand. Tooltips contain the fields used in your views by default, and any other field that is used  as a filter or used on the marks card. They can also include manually added notes.

Dashboard and worksheet titles can also include explanatory information, but because of space limitations, the data added to them must be brief. In the remainder of this section, you’ll see how tooltips and titles can be used to enhance the example dashboards.

Using the tooltip editor

The tooltip editor is accessed from the work sheet/tooltip menu option. In dashboards, you can access the title editor by double-clicking in the title for worksheet object. Both editors provide light-duty word processing and other controls that allows you to insert filed into tooltips and titles. Figure 8.54 includes images of the tooltips editor and title editor bullet graph in the main dashboard.

You can see that the editors are very similar but that the tooltip editor on the left contains a few additional controls that are not in the title editor. First, there is an indenting tool in the tooltip editor at the top that allows you to align individual rows exactly. The tooltip editor also includes a check box called include command buttons. If it is checked, additional controls appear at the bottom of the tooltip as you see in figure 8.55.


Figure 8.54: Tooltip and title editors


Figure 8.55 : Tooltips with and without command buttons

Command buttons have been included in the tooltip on the left and excluded from the one on the right. If your information consumers are viewing  the dashboards using tableau reader, most  of these controls, with the exception of the keep only and exclude controls, will not be visible.

Notice that the tooltip in figure 8.55 has a variety of font sizes, colors, and styles being used. An underline is being used to divide the tooltip into sections. At the bottom of the tooltip, there is an instructional text followed by a menu action.

While you can be expansive in tooltips, titles have space restrictions, they serve the obvious purpose of identifying the content of object they are associated  with, but can also provide brief reminders. Figure 8.56 shows the completed main dashboard. Focus on the title areas.


Figure 8.56: Finished main sales dashboard

The titles include a few enhancements to provide small instructions. The dashboard’s main title includes a small instruction to provide information on highlighting. Text was added to the sales versus budget bar chart providing a hint regarding available details. Three of the five worksheet objects includes a dynamic field element that displays the year crosstab. These small instructions require very little space but improve the dashboard’s understanding ability.

Enhancing tooltips in the main dashboard

One of the big advantages in consuming interactive dashboards is the ability to utilize tooltips to provide more detailed information without taking up valuable space in the dashboard layout. The tooltips have been customized for every worksheet object in this dashboard. See figure 8.57.


Figure 8.57: Main sales dashboard tooltips

Each of the tooltips is positioned in figure 8.57 are in the same area as they appear in the dashboard. If you refer to figure 8.56, you can see that each tooltip is adding additional context in the view. The font color and style of instructions is consistently applied in the dashboard and the tooltips. The scatterplot, bullet graph, and spark line tooltips support the more graphical views with field details. And the bullet graph includes the menu action along with a small instruction immediately above the action text. These are small things, but they greatly enhance the depth of information provided by the dashboard. This is why it is generally best to do your tooltip editing at the very end of the design process.

Adding a read me dashboard

Most of the people don’t include read me worksheets in their workbooks. If you are serving a large user base, the additional hour of time required to document your work in a read me dashboard could save you time in the long run. A well-documented workbook that provides an explanation of particularly complex calculated values, the data sources used, experts consulted, or other ancillary details will reduce your phone and e-mail traffic. If you have to manage a very large number of dashboards, a well-documented workbook can jog your memory, if you need to revisit an old design or be an aid for training new staff.

The coffee chain data set used for creating the two sample dashboards in this post demonstrates that the size of your data isn’t as important as the quality of information you can extract from it. The market analysis information contained in dashboard 2 demonstrates how easy it is to use external information from websites with your data and make it interact with your proprietary data.

Next you learn about sharing your workbooks with others that may not have tableau desktop or tableau server licenses using tableau’s free tableau reader.

Sharing your dashboard with tableau reader

The most secure way to distribute tableau workbooks is via tableau server. But, when you want to share a workbook with someone that doesn’t have access to tableau server, tableau reader provides a free alternative.

Distributing content with tableau reader requires that you save the tableau workbook file as a packaged workbook. Tableau packaged  workbooks (.twbx) require local file sources such as:

  • Excel
  • Access
  • Text files (.csv, . txt, etc.)
  • Tableau data extract files (.tde)

If the data source for the workbook you want to share with tableau reader comes from a server-based database (SQL server, teradata, oracle, etc.), you must extract the source data first- saving extracted data as a tableau data extract- then save the workbook as a tableau packaged workbook.

Security considerations for publishing via tableau reader

Tableau reader is intended to make your workbooks available to anyone-even those that do not have a tableau licensed product. There are security considerations that you should be aware of when you distribute workbooks this way. Do not rely on filters to shield sensitive data that is included in the data sources used in the workbook. Tableau packaged workbooks are like zip files. They can be unpackaged which will expose the data sources file.

If your data sources includes sensitive information, you can exclude that data when the extract file is created. Figure 8.58 shows the extract data dialog box that is accessed by pointing at the data source (in the data window) and right-clicking.


Figure 8.58: The extract data dialog box

One way to exclude information when creating the extract is to exclude data by filtering, you can also use aggregation to reduce the granularity of the data included in the extract. For example, selecting aggregate data for visible dimensions aggregates the extract file so that it will include only data to support the visualizations in your workbook. In addition, any fields that you hide in the data window will not be included in the data extract.

Excluding sensitive information from the data extract file allows you to control the risk of data loss caused by unauthorized distribution of proprietary data.

Sharing dashboards with tableau online or tableau server

Tableau offers a cloud-based option called tableau online. This service provides a low cost alternative to share workbooks with licensed users of the service. Tableau server is a self-managed solution that can be maintained inside or outside of your organization’s firewall. Workbooks are published to tableau online or tableau server. People consuming the workbooks are granted access to them by a designated administrator that controls security.

The process for publishing workbooks to tableau server on tableau online is similar. Once the workbook has been published, authenticated users are able to access it using a web browser. See posts “using tableau server to facilitate fact-based team collaboration” and “automating server with tableau’s command line tools” for more details on tableau server and tableau online.

Over the past few years tablet computers have been growing in popularity. Tableau has been producing workbooks for table consumption which is a seamless experience for the designer.

In the next section,  you’ll learn about designing workbooks for tablet computers including security considerations and the differences in typical patterns of consumption between personal computer and tablet computer users.

Designing for mobile consumption

Just as the personal computer replaced the mainframe, and the laptop replaced the personal computer, even more mobile devices will eventually replace the laptop. This trend towards smaller and more powerful devices means more dashboards and visualizations will be consumed on mobile devices.

Leading technology research firms Gartner and international data corporation have reported on an explosion of growth in mobile devices. In November 2012 Gartner reported:

Gartner says 821 million smart devices will be purchased  world wide in 2012; sales to rise to 1.2 billion in 2013.

Gartner’s forecast also said that tablet purchases by business would  triple from 13 million units in 2012 to over 53 million units in 2016. Clearly business use of tablets is expanding rapidly.

This trend is echoed in the business information (BI) world with increasing number of people using mobile devices (tablets and smart phones) to consume data. Mobile deployment has become a key component of most successful tableau implementations. The next section describes the physics of mobile data consumption, security considerations, usage patterns, and the design. Best practices for building dashboards for mobile consumption.

The physics of mobile consumption

Mobile consumption of tableau dashboards is a function of the tableau server, tableau online, and tableau public environments. Since tableau doesn’t store data on your mobile device, a few prerequisites must be in place to enable mobile consumption:

  • Installing tableau’s native ipad or android application is not required (but desirable)
  • Provide a server name and internet address for the connection to tableau server.
  • Username
  • Password

Since mobile consumption is a default capability of tableau server, no additional configuration is required to enable mobile access. It should be noted that mobile device usage patterns can differ from non-mobile consumption. Mobile users typically use more sessions of shorter duration than desktop users. The interesting result of this usage pattern typically means increased session counts at the server level as users exploit the “just-in-time” nature of mobile access to data.

Security considerations for mobile consumption

Unlike the tableau reader or tableau desktop tools, tableau’s native apps for IOS and android are completely server based. This means  mobile tool downloads neither a data file nor a workbook file onto the tablet’s physical storage. All data and reports are accessed entirely through the web connection to tableau server.

If a user  were to lose a tablet, the only tableau-related information residing there would be information about workbooks (publisher, date modified, and name) rather than the sensitive data contained within the workbooks being accessed. Of course, any machine with access to secure information should be password protected.

Since mobile devices normally exist outside of the corporate network, options for network accessibility should be considered before deploying tableau for mobile consumption if they haven’t already been separately addressed.

Whether the tableau server has been positioned inside or outside of the DMZ (a secure area in a private network providing access to authorized users from the public internet) dictates what special procedures are necessary to enable mobile access. If the tableau server is not positioned within the enterprise DMZ, solutions to provide mobile access typically includes virtual private networks (VPN), log-on, or corporate specific browsers (e.g., http://www1.good.com/).

Once access to the tableau server machine is established, users can view dashboards and reports with the same authentication protocols normally used for desktop browsing. In this regard, specific mobile permissions are not configurable at the tableau server level without duplicating accounts or servers. If a completely separate set of mobile reports is desired, this is a process typically mediated through a separate server or as a function of proxy-based relays.

Typical mobile usage patterns

Users accessing tableau dashboards and reports from a mobile device typically have quite a different set of goals/intent for their experience versus those accessing data on the desktop. While this rule is not hard and fast, mobile users normally have a narrower scope and more defined user criteria.

Just-in-time use

The pew internet trust recently found that 86 percent of smart phone owners used their phone in the past month to make real-time queries to help them meet friends, solve problems, or settle arguments.

The pew report provided additional details regarding the activities that mobile users engage in when using their portable devices like:

  • Solving unexpected problems that they or someone else encountered
  • Deciding whether to visit a business
  • Finding information to settle an argument regarding facts
  • Looking up a score
  • Getting up-to-the-minute information

All of these activities are supported by tableau’s mobile environment. If users are able to satisfy these  just-in-time needs, they can seamlessly integrate that information into their daily activities.

Mobile design implications

Just-in-time use has significant implications for dashboard  and report design. Clearly, the mobile market is not at all homogeneous. You should not assume all of your mobile users will have the same intent. But, you can make some reliable assumptions about mobile information consumers and their desire for just-in-time information.

Mobile users want the most up-to-date information possible for asking questions and solving problems. Mobile users are more likely to be looking for a specific answer to a specific  question, rather than embarking on a multiple-hour session of complex analysis. This tendency should inform your dashboard designs for mobile consumption.

These requirements imply that mobile dashboards need to be more focused on specific areas and answering the kinds of questions that arise most frequently.

Design best practices for mobile consumption

Mobile device screens are obviously smaller than personal computer monitors, and your input method will be less precise than a mouse pointer. These differences were carefully considered when tableau enabled their products for mobile usage. You also need to think about how your dashboard designs need to be adapted for this kind of consumption. Mobile environment considerations include:

  • No mouse and no multi-select through click and drag
  • Lack of a control button and no multi-select through ctrl+click
  • Hover is not available as an action trigger.
  • The finger for pointing and clicking
  • Zoom by a pinch/expand gesture.

These differences have significant implications for mobile design and feature, heavily in the following recommendations.  The emergence of mainstream touch screen-based operating system, including IOS, android, windows 8, smart tables, and smart screens, means many of the design criteria specific to mobile will soon be applicable to a far larger user segment.

Design implications related to screen resolution

Consumer display resolution should always be a primary consideration for dashboard design, regardless of the consumption environment. Since there are fewer possible resolutions available for mobile devices, it is easier to create “table friendly” designs. Fixed dashboard sizing-desirable for mobile  designs-also provides performance advantages at the tableau server caching level. As with all dashboard designs, it is best to err on the side of caution and size your view for the lowest resolution anticipated. This assures that information consumers won’t be forced to scroll to see all of the content. Tableau has predefined dashboard resolutions for mobile devices. You can also specifically define any resolution required so that your need not fit industry standard sizes.

Best practices for mobile design

Designing for mobile devices is similar to designing for personal computers. Many of the best practices in designing for the PC applies to mobile design. There are some additional allowances that have to be made due to the smaller screen size.

  • Design for a specific orientation.
  • Consider the limits of finger navigation.
  • Reduce the number of worksheet objects displayed.

1.Design for a specific orientation

The best dashboard designs for mobile devices should be optimized for a specific design. Most of the tablet dashboards that I’ve seen are designed for landscape mode viewing; however, what is most important is that you commit to an orientation and build the dashboard for viewing that way. Tableau’s dashboard worksheet includes two predefined orientations for tablets-one for landscape mode (1020×625 pixels) and another for portrait mode (764×855 pixels). You can tweak those values to fit any resolution needed by using the exact mode. This selection allows you to define specific pixel  height and width if the mobile devices you’re designing for don’t confirm to the default values.

2.Consider the limits of finger navigation

The primary interaction medium will be users’ fingers, which  do not  have the precision of a mouse. If a dashboard design feature is actuated through a filter or highlight action, ensure that the selection options are large enough for users to easily select without accidentally hitting a neighboring point. Nothing makes for a grumpier tablet user than one waiting for a filter that they didn’t intend to select.

To avoid this trap, design dashboards with one of two alternative navigations. Choose heat maps, bar charts, highlight tables, or bullet charts to trigger actions. These provide discrete layout boundaries and preclude overlapping or closely-spaced marks. Conversely, scatter plots have continuous axes that typically produce clusters of overlapping marks. This would not be a good choice for a filter action if precision is required. Figure 8.59  illustrates the point.


Figure 8.59: Chart style and finger navigation

The scatter plot on the left of figure 8.59 includes many closely-spaced or overlapping marks. This makes it a poor tablet-based action trigger because it is nearly impossible for the user to select a particular mark unless it is one outliers that are not included in the cluster.

The heat map on the right side of figure 8.59 has marks that are regularly spaced. No mark is too small to provide a good click target. The heat map not only communicates data effectively, but also provides for easy action triggering. To ensure that the smallest values were large enough, the mark size was edited-increasing the minimum mark size to avoid all possibility of individual marks being too small to click.

Tableau has also tuned quick filters by changing their behavior, making them automatically expand into versions that are more easily selected using your finger on mobile devices. This doesn’t require any special effort when you design the dashboard. Tableau detects the consumption environment and changes the design  of the quick filter automatically.

These design differences provide a mobile-optimized interaction, though it does slow the experience slightly vis-à-vis consumption on a PC. For example, three selections are required to initiate a mobile quick filter- one click to activate the quick filter dialog, another to pick a value, and a third to return to the dashboard.

3.Reduce the number of worksheets being displayed

Due to the reduced screen size of mobile devices it is best to use not more than three worksheet objects in a dashboard. One of those may need to be a very small crosstab limited to a single measure. Designs with too many worksheets objects are generally difficult to see.

A tablet dashboard example

The following example was created with the superstore sample data. The dashboard has two primary data visualizations, two quick filters, one parameter control, and a filter action triggered by selections made in the heat map. You’ll also see how using a small crosstab with a shape can be used to hold more detailed instructions within a tooltip. Figure 8.60 shows a sales dashboard that is designed to be consumed using a tablet in landscape mode.

The dashboard in figure 8.60 uses best practice techniques. The dashboard contains two data visualizations. The top heat map displays sales and  profits using size and color. Region and project categories are displayed in rows providing discrete separation that will allow the user to filter using a filter action executed by selecting marks. The lower portion  of the dashboard contains a histogram,  that displays sales or shipping cost information. A parameter control (select histogram measure) allows the user  to change the measure being displayed in the histogram. The histogram also uses color to depict profit values. A quick filter allows the user to select the year being viewed in both charts. The histogram also contains a parameter control that allows the user to change the sales bin size range for each bar, and the small label at the top of each bar shows the record count for the sales bin.


Figure 8.60: Tablet dashboard in land scape mode

Figure 8.61 shows how the quick filter for year pops out when the user selects the select year filter– making it easier to select the appropriate year. After the selection is made, the filter will collapse to its former size. The histogram bin-size is changed using a slider-type parameter control that pops out as well, as you see in figure 8.62.

A filter action placed in the heat map allows the user to filter the histogram to display the related values in the histogram below. As you can see in figure 8.63, selecting a mark also causes a tooltip to display related details.

In figure 8.64, a small crosstab using a light bulb shape contains navigation instructions.


Figure 8.61: Expanded year quick filter


Figure 8.62: Bin size parameter control


Figure 8.63: Filter action  and tooltip


Figure 8.64: Small instructions near the work

When the user points at the light bulb image, a tooltip is displayed that contains detailed instructions.

For someone needing timely information regarding sales by product line, this dashboard provides an easy to navigate, just-in-time environment for that  purpose. The dashboard provides  details in the worksheet object, titles that change based on the filter  and parameter selections are made. The portions of the titles in bold confirm those selections.  See figure 8.65.


Figure 8.65: Titles confirm filter and parameter selections.

This mobile dashboard is designed to load quickly and answer a specific set of questions. It loads quickly, filters quickly, and is easy to read because it is designed to answer a specific set of questions related to sales and shipping costs.

Performance recorder to improve load speed

Distributing content that loads fast and responds quickly to query requests is one of the most critical aspects of dashboard design. A slow-loading dashboard will not provide a good user experience.

Tableau provides a built-in tool called the performance recorder that provides detailed information about your workbook’s performance  characteristics. This tool analyzes tableau’s log files and builds a tableau workbook that analyzes the key performance attributes of your workbook.

To use the performance records start tableau. Go to the help menu and select the option start performance recording, then open the workbook that you want to analyze. When you have the workbook open, refresh  all of the worksheets, and use features so that queries are generated and rendering of visualizations occurs. When you are finished, return to the help menu and stop the performance recorder. Tableau will generate a dashboard that looks like figure 8.66.


Figure 8.66: Tableau performance recorder

The dashboard generated by the performance recorder gives you information on the data connection, queries and rendering speeds. If you have a workbook that loads slowly, the performance recorder gives you the ability to find speed leakages and test corrections by comparing updated performance recording against your original record.

Now that you’ve seen how to create dashboards that perform and communicate well to your audience, in the next three posts you will learn about installing , configuring, and managing tableau’s server-based information sharing products.

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