There’s a lot of material out there on building visualizations and dashboards in Tableau, but what do you do the first time someone sends you a link and expects you to use it? This handout guides you through some of the basic ways you can interact with data using Tableau so that you can conduct on-the-fly analysis to answer your questions.
What is a Dashboard?
A data dashboard brings together different measures and ways of looking at data to give you a fuller picture of the information. Instead of toggling between different pages or worksheets, a dashboard puts key information side by side so you can begin to understand the different aspects of the information at a glance.
Well-designed dashboards try to anticipate the questions you may have, and allow you to drill down into more specific analysis or filter the results by specific categories.
While you can export and print out a static version of a dashboard by using the menu at the lower right of any Tableau dashboard, interactivity is a key benefit to using the dashboard live.
Depending on the space available, there may or may not be explanatory text telling you how to use the dashboard and where you can click. If there isn’t an explanation, though, there are a few standard things you can expect to see.
Tooltips, or: Extra Information on Hover
When you hover over any mark in Tableau (a point on a line, a bar in a graph, or a number in a table) there is usually some additional context provided. It may tell you the exact numbers that go into a calculation, give more information about the data used, or simply clarify the exact point you’ve selected if there is a lot of information in one view.
Highlighting allows you to quickly identify where the same piece of information lives in each separate view. Some dashboards will provide highlighting on hover, some when you click, and some will have a color legend off to the side. Again, this behavior is determined by the dashboard designer.
In the examples above, a selection on the map has highlighted the same information in each other view. Tableau will dim the other information to make the highlighting really stand out, but you can see from context where each piece of information falls in the ranking. In the other example, selecting a particular year from the color legend makes the lines for each measure pop out for quick identification and comparison.
In Tableau, filters can appear as drop down menus, radio buttons, check boxes, or search windows. The appearance is determined by the dashboard designer and should support the kind of analysis that might be desired.
If the designer has enabled it, clicking when you see a tooltip will bring up a menu options screen. This works similarly to the filters above – “Keep only” will show you only the information that matches your selection. However, unlike filters, the “Exclude” option allows you to remove results from the dashboard. In the example below, you could exclude information about TLC, an external service provider, to focus only on the services offered in-house.
Where else can I click?
Everywhere! Clicking on something won’t always change the views, but Tableau has something called “Dashboard Actions” that allow the designer to set cause and effects – highlights, filters, exclusions – based on user actions. Usually these work like filters that don’t take up extra space – if you click on a bar graph labeled “Transfer Students,” the rest of the information in the dashboard will often change to reflect only your selection. You can apply multiple filters and conditions this way – everything all works together. Occasionally, additional charts and graphs may appear and disappear based on your selections – it’s all programmed by the dashboard designer to support the use they think you will need.
Help! How do I undo something I just did – or reset back to the beginning?
You can undo or redo any actions – or reset the dashboard back to its default state – by using the menu on the lower left of any Tableau dashboard.