Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Basic Dashboard Formatting in Tableau

Today, we will look at basic ways to format your dashboards to increase usability and improve interpretation.  The goal of a "perfect" dashboard is to alert a user to a situation and give them all of the information they need to act based on that alert.  For example, a Store Manager would be alerted that sales were low last week and be able to easily see that sales were down because Bananas did not sell well.  Therefore, he will go speak to his Produce Manager.

This is quite a lofty goal.  In fact, it's virtually impossible to display all of the information needed to make a decision.  Therefore, we should strive to display as much information as possible, while still maintain usability and performance.  Let's create a simple scenario to discuss a few points.  As usual, we will use the Superstore Sales sample data set in Tableau.


You are the US Manager for SuperStore.  Your are looking at this dashboard to make sure that your business is profitable.  The first sheet you look at it is a map of the US, colored by profit.
Profit Map
Uh oh.  Montana's not very profitable.  Let's pull up Profit by Sub-Category in Montana to see which Sub-Category isn't making money.
Profit by Sub-Category
Ah Hah.  Office Machines are losing huge amounts of money.  Let's look at Office Machine orders by Customer to see if this is widespread.
Profit and Discount by Customer
Turns out this was caused by one customer.  We can either click on this point to drill to the underlying data, or we can look her name up in our source system.  Either way, this was a lot of work in Tableau.  I wish we had a dashboard to do this.  HEY!!! Let's do that.

Step 1:
  • Drag the sheets onto the workbook

This is nice.  However, it needs actions to link it.  In the above scenario, we had two steps.  First, seeing a red State should lead us to the Sub-Categories.  Second, seeing a red Sub-Category should lead us to the Customers.  Also, we don't want to bombard the user with useless information.  So, let's make two filter actions that activate on click, with no information displayed beforehand.

Step 2:
  • Create the following two actions

Filter by State
Filter by Sub-Category

The keys to these filters are the "Exclude all values" button and the fields that are being carried over.  Notice that State is being carried over in the second filter as well.  This means that we had to add State to the level of detail on the "Profit by Sub-Categories" Sheet.  Now, we have a usable dashboard with actions.  However, we can still do a little more to make it look better.
Dashboard with Actions
Step 3:
  • Remove the Color Legend.  It only maps to one graph and the extremity of the colors is of little importance in this scenario.
  • Make sure that all three graphs are set to "Entire View".  If you don't know what this means, it's located in a drop-box at the top of the screen.  The other options here "Normal", "Fit Width", and "Fit Height."
  • Right-click on the word "Category" in the "Profit by Sub-Categories" chart, then Select "Hide Field Labels for Rows."  The manager knows that "Furniture" is a "Category", we don't need to waste space to tell him that.
Dashboard with Complete Formatting
Great job!!! You've created a dashboard that you're boss can use to solve his problems.  You're definitely in for a raise.  Thanks for reading.

Brad Llewellyn
Associate Consultant
Mariner, LLC

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