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How to Use Tableau to Build Dashboards in Minutes?

There are several great data visualisation tools out there. But none are as fast to start as Tableau.

Where Tableau beats the competition is 2-fold:

  1. If you’re able to use an Excel Pivot Table you’re able to build simple visualisations in Tableau
  2. Connecting data to Tableau is as simple as copy and paste; Ctrl-c and Ctrl-v

Getting started with Tableau

Many other visualisation software requires a reasonable technical knowledge to load and structure data. This technical knowledge is unnecessary for those first starting with Tableau.

Copy and Paste

To begin creating dashboards with Tableau is very simple.

If there’s some data you want to visualise then copy it. Open a Tableau workbook then paste (ctrl-v).

Give Tableau a few seconds and it’ll open a worksheet containing the pasted data.

You will see the data source in the top left of your Tableau worksheet. It will have the name “Clipboard_YYYYMMDDTHHmmss”.

Connecting to Data

It’s not always possible to copy data to the clipboard. Perhaps there’s too much data or it’s in a data structure not easy to copy.

In which case just Connect to Data (ctrl-d).

Tableau Public allows the following data connections

Tableau has native connectors to hundreds of different data sources. The image above shows the options with Tableau Public. But Tableau Desktop has significantly more options. Common connections include SQL Server, Excel, Oracle, csv, etc.

But there are also native connectors for less common data sources such as Amazon Redshift, Snowflake, Splunk, etc.

A small disclaimer – as you advance in Tableau the technical complexity does increase somewhat. However, there is no need to code, more understand the different structures of data, such as tall and narrow and short and wide.

Building your first worksheet

Now you have data in your worksheet, the next step is to make use of it.

Almost all standard chart types also come “out of the box”. Bar Charts, Line Charts, Pie Charts, Heatmaps, Tables, Maps, Scatter Plots, etc, are all pre-defined.

This is where Tableau stands out. Usually, the user should choose the chart type and then add the components.

Tableau differs. Add the fields to the worksheet and Tableau will start to build the visualisation as it thinks best suits the data.

It is as simple as double-clicking a field name. Double click the field name and Tableau will automatically add it, sometimes changing the chart type to better display the fields.

Show Me

There’s no need to put any fields to a worksheet. If you know you want to show Sales over time, for example, hold down ctrl and click the different fields you want in the visualisation.

Once selected look in the top right of the screen. You’ll notice an icon and the words “Show Me”.

Click Show Me and it will display a list of all chart types that Tableau suggests based on the data types selected.

For example, selecting Order Date and Sales, Show Me will present a Line Chart as the preferred option.

But it also contains other options that will also work, such as a table, heat map, bar chart, etc.

Chart types not suited to your data are not possible to select, these are lighter in colour, and Tableau informs you why. For example, with the choice of 1 dimension (Order Date) and 1 measure (Sales), it won’t allow a Scatter Plot. Tableau informs you that 2 measures are needed for a Scatter Plot.

Show Me works at any time. Even if you have manually built a chart, click Show Me and Tableau will give you the options that work using the data types in the visualisation.

Click any of the suggestions and Tableau will build it.

Tableau isn’t always right with the suggestions, some things don’t work very well. But no problem, just click the Back button and it returns to how it was. Simple!

Build a dashboard in minutes

Building dashboards is also simple. Click the new dashboard symbol alongside the worksheet name and Tableau creates a new blank dashboard.

Drag and drop the worksheets into the dashboard. Add other objects, such as text, images and web pages by drag and drop.

Set the dashboard size here. Either Fix the size, give it a Range for resizing based on screen size, or set to Automatic and it will automatically resize to any screen size. Note Automatic can give some strange results so I don’t recommend it.

The top option in the dashboard screen is where the Tableau dashboard can be set fully responsive

Using this option, again, with simple drag and drop, enables a completely different layout for mobile, tablet and desktop.

Using Tableau with minimal technical ability a user is able to build compelling dashboards literally in minutes!

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Andrew Watson

Andrew is the founder of TAR Solutions. He has 20 years experience solving data problems, specialising in databases, data visualisation, Tableau and Alteryx.

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