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Tableau 101: Formatting Tips and Techniques for Proactive Dashboard Development, Part I

By: Matt Sinisi | January 24, 2019

We’ve all been there. We’ve reached the “end” of our dashboard development but something is just not right. Maybe something is a little off. A font size here, an axis line there, maybe number formats are sporadic throughout. Before we know it, we’re spending hours eyeballing adjustments to ensure everything looks perfect before we set it free into the world of consumption.

Instead of resorting to this reactive kind of development and willingly jumping down the rabbit hole of edits and slight changes (and undo-redo cycles) towards the end, we could aim to be aware of these fine details in our dashboard development. We can take control of formatting from the beginning, throughout the process, and only leaving the QA at the end. The following strategies in part one of our two part series offer tips and techniques for clarity and consistency and applying chart formatting.

Level 100: Format for Clarity and Consistency

Formatting highlights the critical points of your dashboard. Axes, labels, tooltips, and lines all work together to speed up time to insight. When used effectively, these visual elements draw attention to the insights present in your data. When used ineffectively, they can distract from your message.

Formatting in Tableau is a delicate balance of using just enough emphasis without using too much. This blog post will show you some tips and tricks for achieving balance in your dashboard design.

Strive for Continuity

This is less a tip and more a frame of mind. It is being strategically proactive and employing techniques at the beginning and throughout the development process to ensure seamless formatting, sizing, and best visual concepts are consistently being met. A few points to consider:

  • Work from a workbook template and save as whatever will be your new workbook. This will ensure any defaults for the data source configured in that workbook carry through all workbooks built on that data source with less manual effort.
  • Work from a dashboard template. Create a dashboard with the size, branding (any logos, colors), and fonts you need and name the sheet Template. Then, when you’re ready to create a new dashboard from your worksheets, just duplicate the template and work from there (repeat as needed). This will ensure the end user’s eyes don’t jump from dashboard to dashboard when consuming your content.
  • Create and distribute a design best practices guide. This will help achieve a few things. It will get newer users skilled-up faster when they have this sort of reference material available. It will also cut down on design time, since you won’t have to guess which color to use for which dimension, or which size font to use for your KPIs.

Level 101: Apply Chart Formatting

Formatting can be applied to fields, axes, labels, and other features in the view. You can change number formatting, remove lines, change labels, and make many other changes with a simple right-click.

Right-click on a field to change its number formatting:

  1. Right-click on a field in the view.
  2. Click on Format
  3. Apply number formatting using the Format pane to the left of the view.

 

TableauFormat1

Apply Line Formatting

You can minimize the amount of lines (and maximize whitespace) by turning off the lines for charts in the default workbook formatting. However, a nice touch to any chart, especially those with positive and negative values, is to add zero lines.

TableauFormat2

 

This is a subtle alteration, but it can be visually appealing to see the bars having a platform from which they appear.

Format lines for the entire workbook using the Format menu:

  1. Click Format on the menu bar.
  2. Apply formatting to the entire workbook by clicking the Workbook… option.
  3. Use the formatting pane to the left of the view to format lines and fonts universally across the workbook.

Apply Axis Formatting

You can minimize the number of tick marks that are visible on the axis. Too many tick labels can be overwhelming and cause confusion for the end user of your dashboard. Axis titles can also add clutter to your view and distract from your overall story.

You can clean up your views considerably just by cleaning up the axis.

TableauFormat3

The changes are subtle, but once again result in a cleaner view for the end user.

  1. Edit the axis by right-clicking on the axis and selecting Edit Axis
  2. Select the Tick Marks tab.
  3. Change the Major tick marks to Fixed.
  4. Change the tick interval to a greater value than is currently set. This will reduce the number of tick labels.
  5. Close the window by clicking the X button.

 

TableauFormat4

Make Your Tooltips Stand Out

We finally have Viz in Tooltips. And they are awesome. But we don’t want our Viz in Tooltip to fade into the dashboard views behind it.

Edit those worksheets that you place inside the Tooltip to completely contrast the dashboard behind it. This makes sure it stands out to the end user and lets them know this is something worth seeing.

TableauFormat5

Turn off Tooltips

There is nothing quite like an unformatted tooltip that offers no new or necessary information that tells the end user your dashboard did not get the TLC it deserved to become the real deal. You’ve seen this before:

 

TableauFormat6

This is definitely not ideal from two perspectives. First, this is information we already know. So what is the need? Second, and likely the most critical, the end user begins to lose trust that things appearing in tooltips matter. Think of all the additional context and insights they miss out on when they decide hovering doesn’t matter. The solution here is pretty simple: if there is nothing worth showing here, don’t show it. Sometimes that is the case, and there is nothing wrong with turning them off. Simply click on the Tooltip box on the Marks card and deselect show tooltips.

TableauFormat7

Sometimes, less is more.

Be Mindful of Custom Fonts

Custom fonts are cool. But once you publish up to a server, that server needs to be able to recognize those fonts to be able to render them correctly. If the font libraries are not installed, it will fall back on whatever the default font is for the server machine, and there is a chance that it could mess up your locally formatted dashboard. The best way to avoid this is to stick with the defaults. I know, not so much a tip, but still a good practice and important thing to keep in mind.

Check back soon for the second part of our post where we’ll cover default formatting, building holistic dashboards, and how to brand your dashboards.

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

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