Now you see it, now you don’t.

When I was a kid and lived in the Midwest, we used to go on the weekends to a little town called Saugatuck, Michigan where my family had a fishing boat. There was a toy store downtown that sold magic tricks, which I frequented. I vividly remember entertaining my parents and loving feeling like I was excelling at this game of illusion.

I still like tricks. The difference is now I like tricks when they solve a problem, make something easier for the client or end user, or even make something appear in a way in which it is not like an illusion. I enjoy the creativity of using Tableau beyond what “it is meant for.”

The tricks I’m going to share are just a few very, VERY, simple back pocket tricks I like to use regularly and why I think they are magical. These are not new and I cannot claim any invention of them – they are just simple to use!

1. Empty text boxes as lines

I know there are some folks out there that import pictures to make arrows in their dashboards, but I often don’t have time for that so I use filled text boxes and Unicode characters instead (see previous blog post: Unicode). Also, I often like to add annotations or lines separating part of my dashboard and inserting a text box as a line is very effective. Usually I set the height or width (depending on the direction of the line) to 2 for a thin line or 5 for a slightly thicker one. In the layout section of the dashboard you can fill the text box with a color thus making it appear as a line (View viz). I add another text box with a unicode triangle or circle to make it appear as though I inserted an arrow.

Here’s a great example from Sarah Bartlett (@sarahlovesdata) that I love (View viz) in which she uses text boxes for call-outs.

2. Sheet swaps

I’ve become a big fan of sheet swapping. Why? Because often end users want to see a graph in more than one way. I hate adding two graphs of the same data points and like to maximize my dashboard space. For example, I recently had a client who wanted to see trends over time and also a year-to-year comparison.

  1. Create your two worksheets and name them.
  2. Create a string parameter called “View” with the two (or more) sheet names that you want to use in your swap. You can rename the fields so they are more appealing in the parameter drop down list if you so choose.
  3. Create a calculated field called “p.View” that simply has the parameter [View] in it.
  4. On the first worksheet, drag your [p.View] calculation to the filter shelf and select the name of the sheet. Change the parameter to the other sheet name and then repeat placing the calculation on the filter shelf for your second worksheet.
  5. Open a dashboard and put out a vertical container. Place both worksheets in the container and add the parameter to the worksheet.
  6. Remove the titles (create a dynamic worksheet title if needed) and then test that the parameter causes one sheet to show at a time!

Swap directions

Swap Final

3. Blank boxes to cover interactivity

I recently saw using blank boxes to cover worksheets in Mike Cisneros’s (@mikevizneros) “Tweet Around the Clock” viz (View viz). He has a few detail charts that at first appear as though they are just an image, but the interactivity is covered by a blank box. This can be helpful when you don’t want people to interact with a portion of your dashboard or any type of selection/hover is just going to be distracting.

Tweet Around the Clock

I recently used this in my Ecological Footprint viz (Here) to cover up interactivity in my legend.


Post a comment with any other handy simple tricks you use regularly in your dashboards. I’d love to hear!!


One comment

  1. Here’s a great one I use quite a bit in my work dashboards!

    IF SUM([Number of Records]) (does not equal sign) SUM({FIXED: SUM([Number of Records)}) THEN “filter(s) in use” ELSE “” END

    Show this in it’s own worksheet, and make sure all of the dashboard filters/filter actions affect it. Bring it to the dashboard. Now you know whenever the data has been filtered!


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