Unicode for all

U·ni·code / ˈyo͞onəˌkōd / – A SQL coding unicorn.

Okay, okay, that isn’t true at all. A unicode character is, as defined by Google, is “an international encoding standard for use with different languages and scripts, by which each letter, digit, or symbol is assigned a unique numeric value that applies across different platforms and programs.”

Since that is a mouthful, for me these are just symbols, but I regularly use them in Tableau for custom legends, to show increase/decreases in values, for custom number formatting, or even as faux arrows/points in a dashboard.

Below is an example of how I use these unicode characters to create a static legend that looks much better than Tableau’s native legend (which I wish I could customize as I’m personally not a fan of the square).


The second, and very common, use for unicode characters is to indicate change. Using the up (▲) or down (▼) arrows in a tooltip can be very effective to visually show the direction of change.

Here’s an example using the Superstore data set of how you can use these characters in the tooltip.

Percent Change

The calculations are simple. You need one for the percent change, one for a negative value and another for a positive value. I like to use two value calculations so I can add color to the tooltip as well, but you could do all of this in one calculation instead.

Step ❶ : Percent Change in Profit: (ZN(SUM([Profit])) – LOOKUP(ZN(SUM([Profit])), -1)) / ABS(LOOKUP(ZN(SUM([Profit])), -1))

Step ❷: NegIcon Profit Change: IIF([Change Profit]<0,”▼”,””)

Step ❸: PosIcon Profit Change: IIF([Change Profit]>0,”▲”,””)

Step ❹: Add to tooltip and put color on the fields to make them dynamic.


Simple, but effective. Other useful ones are: ✔ ✖ ✚ Since Tableau has a set of symbols to use in your graphs, these characters can be used to create custom legends as well so that you don’t have to use Tableau’s auto-generated shape legend.

Here is the link to the site I utilize: http://data.jimw.me/icons.html

As mentioned in the beginning, below is a last example of how I’ve used text boxes and a unicode circle character to mimic an annotation line and dot. Lots of ways to creatively use these in your vizzes! Good luck!

Resume Timeline

Tableau Resume


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