Mapping the Area: Digging In With Tableau Desktop

By: Greg Herzing | July 19th, 2023

Data analysis and manipulation in Microsoft Excel can be a repetitive and arduous task in business analytics. Learn how Tableau Desktop offers a better way to prepare, share and explain your data.

“This data light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” – Every Tableau Customer

Anytime is a good time for reflection, so let’s recall where we’ve been in our journey so far. Remember all the way back when you were just planning on hiking to Tableau Data Base Camp? You broke out Tableau Prep Builder and packed your bags full of useful data arranged just the way you needed it to be to make your hike and your analysis comfortable. Then you stepped back and asked yourself the very appropriate question, “how long is it going to take me to hike to camp?” So you built yourself a dashboard, built in some parameters, and determined that you can make it there in 5.58 hours. Great analysis! That’s when we found out that the map didn’t make the trip with you.

Now, we may not have a map, but we sure can build one with Tableau! Tableau has fantastic mapping features from its ability to deduce the role of geographic data roles which allows the user to create real world maps in just a few clicks, custom mapping styles to let you personalize the appearance of your maps, and location intelligence features to allow you to add layers of data and information.

However, since where we’re going isn’t on just any map, we’re going to make our own using X, Y coordinates, custom Tooltips, and background images in our dashboard.


Connect to your data set and plot landmark points

Well, we’re back on the trail trekking toward Data Base Camp to meet the other Data Scouts.  Since you forgot the map, we’re going to make Tableau create our map for us: load our map!

Let’s make sure that we have all of the information for this map.  Make a table to inventory the data.  You remember how to click and drag.  Remember, Affirmation #1 in the Data Scout Handbook is “If you can click and drag, you can Tableau!”

Tableau Desktop

We can use that!  Now we’ll start the mapping by creating a scatter plot that shows our X and Y locations.

  1. Create a new sheet. Drag the field “X” onto Columns and “Y” onto Rows.  Strange, but this doesn’t look like a very good scatter plot.  That’s because Tableau automatically aggregates your measures to help with visualization.  In this case we are more interested in the individual marks.Tableau Desktop
  2. From the “Analysis” menu de-select “Aggregate Measures”. That’s better!  Six distinct points.


Tableau Desktop


Add and format your custom map image

Since this is a custom map for our journey, we’ll add a background image of our landscape.


  1. Go to the “Map” menu and select “Background Images”.
  2. Click “Add Image”Tableau Desktop
  3. Name your image something useful. We’ll call our’s “Data Scout Landscape”.
  4. Select “Browse” and navigate to the location of your image or enter a URL for Tableau to reference.Tableau Desktop
  5. Define the X and Y coordinate system for your map / image. In our case we want a square map about 16 units in length and height.  Click OK and see what happens!

Tableau Desktop

BOOM!  We have points plotted on our map!  Edit the axes to fix the origin and end point for each axis at 0 and 16 respectively.  This will lock in our aspect ratio.

  1. Double click the X-axis.
  2. Select “Edit Axis”
  3. Under “Range” click “Fixed” and enter 0 for the “Fixed Start” and 16 for the “Fixed End”.
  4. Repeat for the Y-axis.


Enhance your custom map with data

Let’s add some context to our map.  Now we’ll know where we’re heading and in what order we’re heading there!

  1. Drag “Order” and “Landmark” onto the Label card.

Tableau Desktop

We’ve been playing with the “Marks Card” a bit here, and it’s important to know a some of the things you can do.  You’ve already added label data to your map marks.  Since this is an adventure map, I think “X” should mark the spots instead of open circles, don’t you?

It’s easy to change the way marks look using the “Shape” option.  Just click “Shape” and then select the shape you’d like your data to be represented by.

Tableau Desktop

Similarly, you can change the size and color of your marks here as well.  I’ll let you figure this part out.

We can make our text labels stand out better too by using the “Label” option.  Increase the font size to 12 and make the text Bold.

Tableau Desktop

Awesome!  But there are more ways that we can add context to our data visualizations in Tableau.  I’m talking about Tool Tips, scout!  These things are powerful.  We’re talking about dashboards inside of dashboards!

You can add descriptive data, numeric data, AND most impressively visualizations within the Tool Tips!  Let’s add them all, shall we?


Make each landmark special with Tooltip customization

A Tooltip is viewed when a user mouses over a mark.  Below you can see that four items are already populated in our Tooltip.  Tableau automatically adds any data point, dimensions and measures, to the Tooltip.  And sometimes that’s fine.  Sometimes it can be distracting.  And sometimes it can be, well, just better.  We’re going to make this Tool Tip WAY BETTER!

Tableau Desktop

We want to know more about his mark.  I want to know what the George Box Monument is.  Why does it exist?  I don’t like how this is formatted either… too many rows.  I also want to know how far from Base Camp the George Box Monument is, and I’d like to have a visual to remind myself what is significant about George Box.

The first parts are easy to remedy.  You can edit a Tooltip just like you would a worksheet header which is much like formatting in Word.

Right now the Tool Tip set up looks like this:

Tableau Desktop

But to achieve the format that I’m looking for I need to make some changes.  Here is a single formatted line that accomplishes the same thing as the default Tableau Tooltip.

Tableau Desktop

And here is how it displays on the viz.

Tableau Desktop

What’s the next stop on our journey and how far is it from the George Box Monument?  Well, next stop is Base Camp!  We’re almost there.

We can add these details to the Tooltip now by dragging the fields onto the Tooltip box in the Marks Card. Notice the little word bubble type icon next to our new fields and the “T” icon next to our labels.  This helps you as the Creator of this visualization understand what data are shaping your view and how!

Tableau Desktop

To add the fields to the display of our Tooltip we will edit the Tooltip again.  To add the “Next Stop” and “Next Hike” fields to the text in the Tooltip, click “Insert” and click the desired fields.  The fields can be used in a sentence as a variable as seen below.

Tableau Desktop

The text then displays like this in the visualization.

Tableau Desktop

Lastly, what about that image?  Well, lets use the “viz in Tooltip” feature to accomplish this.


Legendary Tooltips for a legendary journey

First, we need to create a simple table visualization that will use a “Shape” to identify our landmarks.  Custom shapes are accomplished by creating a directory in the “My Tableau Repository.”  Load your folder with your pictures, icons, or shapes here and they will be available in Tableau for visualization!

Now for the viz for the viz in Tooltip:

  1. Create a new worksheet.
  2. Drag “Landmark” onto the canvas.
  3. Change the mark type to “Shape”Tableau Desktop
  4. Drag “Landmark” to the “Shape” box.
  5. Click the “Shape” box, “More Shapes”, then click “Reload Shapes”.
  6. Search the dropdown for your new folder.Tableau Desktop
  7. Assign your new shapes to the list of Landmarks by first clicking the list item on the left and then double clicking the corresponding shape in the box on the right.

Our final table after some formatting looks something like this:

Tableau Desktop

Since Tooltips reference a specific mark, the mark itself will act as a filter when moused over.

Edit the Tooltip one last time.

  • Click “Insert”
  • Under the “Sheets” option choose “Shapes”.
  • Edit the text to increase or decrease the number of pixels used for the viz in tool tip.
  • Click OK.

Tableau Desktop

Now, mouse over the Rivery mark and VOILA!!!

Tableau Desktop

Rivery is a complete SaaS ETL tool used to build and deploy ETL pipelines.  It makes the construction of advanced data pipelines very simple.  Not only does it have some sweet Viking iconography, Rivery is also a CoEnterprise partner.  Give us a shout on the Walkie Talkie, or contact us through our website, to learn more!

If you’re really interested, check out the other references in these stops.  Each can help you along your personal analytical journeys.

Next time we see one another there will be some trouble.  We’ll have to use Tableau to analyze our options for travel.  For now, enjoy the sites and sounds of your data landscape, and if you need a tour guide, be sure to give CoEnterprise a call.  We’ll be happy to lend you our binoculars, experience, and anything else we can provide.

Want to take your Tableau projects to the next level?
Learn more about how our experts can help grow your skills today.

Subscribe to our resources!

Sign up to receive our latest eBooks, webinars, blog posts, newsletter, event invitations, and much more.