Using Shapes in Tableau

If you’re like me, nothing excites me like bringing a dashboard to life using proper shapes and colors. In this blog post I will show you three different techniques on how to implement shapes into your Tableau dashboard. The three different ways I will dive into are:

  1. Default Shapes
  2. Custom Shapes
  3. Text Shapes

First, let’s cover what shapes are available to us in Tableau. 

Default Shapes in Tableau

In the Marks card in Tableau, there are many different options given to developers on how they want data displayed. One of these is the Shapes option. 

When you click down on the drop down in the marks card you will see different options. When you drag a field to the different areas of the Marks card, different results will show up in your worksheet because your default setting is Automatic. Tableau will determine what type of Mark is best for your field. 

If you do not like the default selection or if you’re going for a more specific representation of your data, you can select the drop down on your Marks card to choose what you want your data displayed as. 

In the case above, I dragged an aggregate measure for Profits to the marks card and placed it on the Text mark. This gives me a sum total of profits in my worksheet. If I were to click the drop down and select Circle, my sum total of profits would appear next to a blue circle. Changing the type in the Marks card will change the display of the data in your worksheet. If you choose the Shape option you will then be able to click on the Shape button and select what shape represents your data. 

Once you’ve dragged your field onto the marks card, select Shape in the drop down. Now select whatever shape that you want to represent your data. If you drag a dimension to the shape Mark, then the different values within your Dimension will be represented with different shapes. You can see some of the default shapes that Tableau provides you below. 

Custom Shapes in Tableau

Take a look through the default options in the More Shapes area, and you might find something you like. If you either want a different shape or have a specific shape in mind for your use case, then you are able to use custom shapes to represent your data in Tableau. 

If you are not able to find a shape that you like, you can use google images to find your desired image. Most of the time you will want to search via Advanced Search for a transparent image as that will render most appropriately in Tableau. Go ahead and save your desired image in the My Tableau Repository folder in Shapes. If you add a new folder under My Tableau Repository it will show up under the Shapes section of the Marks card. 

When you upload a shape to your Shapes folder under My Tableau Repository, it may not show up immediately when you click on the Shapes mark. If you face this issue, click the Reload Shapes button. The new folder and shapes should appear in your options. 

By clicking Assign Palette, your shapes will be assigned in whatever order they appear in the folder. If you want specific values of your dimension to have a certain shape, name the shapes in your folder after the dimension values and you should have a seamless transition when clicking Assign Palette. 

Text Shapes

Both of the examples I have shown thus far involve the Marks card in Tableau. This next use of shapes will apply only to Text boxes, not the Marks card. 

Say you want an arrow, in this example for a positive or negative change, but you want that shape to appear in either a tooltip, title, or text box. This is where we can use a text object to show shapes.

In the example below, you see that I have created a calculation that returns a txt object when it meets a certain criteria, in this case the YoY change for expenses being greater than 0. Because this shape is surrounded by quotes, it will appear as text. To get different shapes for your dashboard, you can visit sites like www.alt-codes.net to get different shapes. 

As you see in the formula below, if a measure does not meet this criteria, then a NULL will be returned. This means that this field will not even show up as a space in the text field you’ve placed it in. 

In the fields I’ve highlighted below, I’ve colored them different colors so that if either of them show up, they are colored appropriately. In this example, if revenues have decline then a down arrow text shape will appear and that field has been colored red. If the revenues have increased, then a green  up arrow text shape will appear. The field that does not meet the criteria will be a NULL and now show up at all. This is how you can use text shapes to indicate KPIs in Tableau. 

Hopefully you have found this tutorial on ways to use shapes in Tableau to be helpful. If you have any questions, comments, or feedback please email me at spencer.baucke@tessellationconsulting.com. 

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