Customizing your Tableau Dashboards

One of my favorite parts about making a Tableau Dashboard, especially for Tableau Public, is the freedom to have fun customizing the look and feel of my dashboard. Tableau has a great selection of color palettes, shapes, and more built in to make a beautiful dashboard, but sometimes you want something a little more tailored to your use case. Let’s talk through some of the easiest ways to do that.

In this post, I’ll be using a dashboard I made for Tableau Public as an example, but these techniques can be easily applied in a business setting to abide by a company’s branding conventions and color palettes.

Custom Shapes

Shapes are my favorite tool to add something unique to my vizzes. For example, in my Instagram dashboard, I wanted to create a grid that would look similar to an Instagram feed. I couldn’t just use an image, because I wanted to be able to filter when each image was selected. To do this, I sourced a series of Instagram photos as custom shapes.

Once you have the shape you’d like, navigate to your “My Tableau Repository” folder and find the “Shapes” directory. You can save or paste your image files in this directory, or create a new directory to organize your shapes. In this case, I’ve started an Instagram directory.

The next time you open your shapes window, click “reload shapes” and you will find you custom shapes ready for use!

Custom Color Palettes

You always have the option to change your color, whether it is sequential, diverging, or categorical, in Tableau Desktop. However, you have a lot more control and flexibility if you create your own custom palette using your Tableau preferences document.

Your Tableau preferences document can be found in your “My Tableau Repository” folder. Right click this document and open with a text editor, such as Notepad or Notepad++.

If you’ve never edited your preferences document, you’ll find a pretty empty XML file. You’ll want to add a the following lines:

This is where your custom color palettes will go.
Your custom palettes should use the following syntax: <color-palette name="Your Palette Name" type="type of scheme" >

Palette types include:

  • regular (categorical)
  • ordered-sequential (sequential)
  • ordered-diverging (diverging)

Here’s an example of the finished categorical color palette I used for my Instagram dashboard straight from my preferences document.

After you have the palette you want in your document, save it and restart Tableau Desktop. Then you’ll find all of your new custom palettes in the color mark!

TIP: If you’re having trouble finding a set of colors that you like, think of a website or photo – anything you can screenshot! – that you think looks good. Take a screenshot of that, paste it into any photo editor, and use the color picker tool to pull out colors that you like and get their HEX code. For the above palette, I used the color picker to create a palette off of my Instagram shapes.

Custom Fonts

Of all of these, custom fonts can be the most difficult because depending on how and where a visualization is rendered, fonts will look differently on different computers. That is why when using custom fonts, it is usually best to do all of your writing in a photo-editing program, rather than in Tableau. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy; I use Paint.NET because it’s easy to use and free.

I like to source my fonts from Google Fonts, because it is free and quick to find something you like. Of course, for Instagram I chose Pacifico because that is the font used for their logo. Once I have the font I want, I use my editing software to start typing out what I want. 

TIP: I always like to use a transparent background so I have flexibility with my sheet color and where I place the text. To achieve the transparent background, create a blank layer on your photo project where you will type whatever you would like on your dashboard. Then, delete (X) the “Background” layer so there is nothing behind your text.

Once you have the text saved, place it on your dashboard as an image object and you’re good to go – no need to worry about pesky rendering!

Hopefully you now have some ideas for how you can use these three simple techniques to customize your Tableau dashboards. What are your favorite ways to add a pop to your vizzes? Let me know or reach out to me at @VisualAidan or – or tweet the whole team via @AskTessellation!

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