Tableau Tip: Hide the Subtotals

Today’s Tableau Tip comes via WorkoutWednesday – my go-to resource for keeping my Tableau skills topnotch. Without fail, each WOW challenge uncovers a tip or trick, and often there is a practical use-case for those tricks in my daily work.   WOW 2023 Week 39 is the perfect example.  Read on to find out more!

Tables are requested frequently on business dashboards, so I’m always looking for fresh design & format ideas to present the rows of data in a clutter-free way.   In the WOW challenge from Week 39, the requirements called for a column showing $ of sales per subcategory & region with subtotals, and the % of sales by subcategory & region without sub-totals.  Brilliant!  The % subtotal will always be 100%,  so no need to show it every time.  With a little investigating, I found the option to “hide” the subtotals for a single measure in the drop-down menu on the green pill. This allows the subtotal to show for the first measure, and a blank cell to be shown for the second measure.  Here’s a screenshot to illustrate:

The end result is a clean, clutter-free table, with plenty of whitespace to help direct the eye to the numbers of significance.

The tip I’ve outlined in this post is just one of many gems in Week 39’s Challenge. To check out the full solution, see my Tableau Public viz. Shoutout to the WOW Team for continuing to deliver relevant challenges – the #datafam appreciates you!

Happy Vizzing, folks!

Tableau Tip: Add Comments to your Calculations

Recently I inherited a workbook that was a joy to work with – why, you ask? The developer added comments to each calculation, thereby providing explanations to the nuances for each metric.  What a gift!  For today’s Tableau Tip, I will show you three different ways to leverage this technique.

Option 1

In the calculation editor dialog box, add comments by starting the line with two forward slashes, as depicted in this screenshot:

Option 2

The second method is a slight modification of Option 1 and works beautifully when the comment is long & detailed.  Simply begin the comment with one forward slash and an asterisk and complete the comment with an asterisk and a forward slash.

Option 3

The third option involves one more step but allows you to view the comments without opening the calculation editor dialog box. To follow this method, click on the calculation in the data pane and utilizing the drop-down menu, select Default Properties, Comment. This opens a dialog box where you can add your comments. Best to keep it brief, as these comments will appear when you hover over the calculated field in the data pane.

Voilà! Three easy ways to add notes to help yourself and others when revisions to a workbook are needed (as they often-times are!)

Happy Vizzing, folks!

The Value of White Space

I love adding white space or “empty space” to a dashboard. It’s like having a desk that is clean & uncluttered instead of covered in stacks of papers and knick-knacks – it’s peaceful and makes a dashboard feel more “approachable”. It is an under-rated technique that deserves the spotlight.

The September #EduVizzers Challenge on Book Bans was the perfect opportunity to play with this technique, AND the fact that Iron Quest’s White Space Challenge was happening concurrently made the timing ideal. During my development process, I identified 5 distinct metrics that deserved equal attention.  Rather than combining all 5 bar charts in one view, I utilized parameter actions and dynamic zone visibility to allow the end-user to view each chart one at-a-time.  This gave each visual a dedicated space and breathing room to let each metric make a statement.  I know what you’re thinking — in the real world we don’t always have the luxury of showing one chart at a time. Often the visuals need to be side-by-side to assess the metrics in tandem.  In those instances, you can increase the padding around each object.  This is a more subtle way to add white space and one of my default formatting techniques. Outer Padding adds space between two dashboard objects while Inner Padding adds space inside the object’s wireframe. Here’s a screenshot with exaggerated padding to illustrate the difference:

And if you’re curious about school book bans in the US, here’s a viz for you:

Happy Vizzing, and happy white-spacing!

Tableau Tip: Documentation using “Show Caption”

I’m a note-taker — it’s my go-to method for learning and organizing my thoughts. I write to do lists too, but that’s another post. : ) This skill has come in handy recently when I needed to reference a complex Tableau dashboard build from a few months ago. Relying on my memory is sketchy (age, related perhaps?)  – but relying on my notetaking never fails me.  So where does one put notes in a Tableau workbook, so as not to clutter the sheets or dashboards?

If the notes are somewhat lengthy, I recommend utilizing the little-known feature “Show Caption”.  By selecting this from the Worksheet drop-down menu, a box appears at the bottom of your sheet. Tableau automatically populates it with a description of the fields brought into the view.  You can keep this description, or you can Edit the caption to modify it or add your own notes. 

For the workbook I mentioned earlier, I wanted to document the steps I followed to build a drilldown using set actions, so I decided to edit the caption, clear the default description, and add my own. To edit, simply right-click (Control-click on a Mac) in the Caption area and select “Edit Caption”.

This opens an editor dialog box. In this space you can add/remove text and set formatting.

Select Ok once you’ve completed your edits, and the revised caption will appear at the bottom of your sheet.

Viola! Detailed notes at the bottom of your sheet for your future reference, or a delightful surprise when a colleague opens a workbook previously built by you. 

One final note — Captions do not appear by default when sheets are added to dashboards, making them a perfect “behind-the-scenes” spot for notes. Of course, if you wish to display them on a dashboard, it’s a simple as accessing the drop-down menu on the wireframe and checking “Show Caption”.

Happy note-taking! Your future self will thank you.

Tip: Tableau’s “hide data” feature

In this post I’d like to shine a spotlight on Tableau’s “hide data” feature. It’s a hidden gem 🙂 and deserves a shout-out. This feature works beautifully when using Quick Table Calculations such as Percent Difference. Let’s take a closer look.

In this example, the goal is to show monthly sales for the last three months and the % change month-over-month.  To do this, bring the Sales and Date fields into the view and use a continuous date filter to show only the three months desired.

Next, bring a duplicate of Sales into the view and add the Quick Table Calculation for Percent Difference…but notice it is only showing the % change for the last two months, and not the first month in our view. Why? The view doesn’t have any data in the month prior to reference in the table calculation.   Here’s where the fun begins.

Instead of using a continuous date filter, write a calculation that shows only the last three months, and place it on the rows shelf. This returns False for all months prior to the last three months, and True for the last three months.

Next, we need to Hide the False rows. To do this, right-click (control-click on Mac) on the word False in any row and use the menu to select Hide. This tells Tableau to keep the data in the view but hide it from the visual.

Once we’ve completed this step, our view now shows the Percent Difference for ALL three months.  

Finally, we don’t need to show the date filter calculation on rows, so we can uncheck Show Header by accessing the dropdown menu on the blue pill.

Presto! We’ve accomplished our goal to show only the last three months of sales, and the % change month-over-month for all three months.

If you’d like to download the workbook, click on this link to access it on my Tableau Public profile page. Happy Vizzing!

Community Wednesday: A sneak peek into one of our best practices at DataBrains

A quick glance at my calendar reveals a recurring meeting every week named Community Wednesday.  Yes, it’s another zoom call, but it truly stands apart from the rest. 

Originally designed to help grow the skillset of our emerging talent, it has evolved into one of our best practices.  It is a dedicated hour each week for the Tableau Developers at DataBrains to come together to share projects, troubleshoot technical issues, collaborate, brainstorm, and upskill. Sounds like a lot in an hour, doesn’t it? As Brainiacs, the conversation & exchange of ideas moves quickly, making it a fun, fast-paced meeting.

Each week the topic of conversation will vary – some weeks a Brainiac will share a work-in-progress, other weeks we will solve challenges from the wider Tableau Community, namely WorkoutWednesday, Back2VizBasics, and Preppin’ Data.  

Both experienced & emerging talent participate, which allows for the transfer of knowledge in a supportive and collaborative environment. The weekly cadence keeps the discussion relevant, timely, and in sync with client deliverables.  Last but not least of all, it fosters a sense of community among teammates, which Tableau recognizes in the Tableau Blueprint as a core component of successful data-driven organizations.  

I hope this inspires your organization to establish your own best practice to engage & support your Tableau Developers in a collaborative way.  Let your imagination lead the way — how does “New Tip Tuesday” or “Lunch & Learn Fridays” sound?

Winning the Ted Lasso way: it’s all about teamwork 

In March 2023, Anne-Sophie and I (Sarah) jointly published a visualization on Ted Lasso and his pop culture references in Season 1 and 2. As such, this blogpost is co-written by the both of us to share our collaboration process & highlight the reasons that contributed to the success of this Viz. (Sarah’s Viz link, Anne-Sophie’s Viz link)

“I think things come into our lives to help us get from one place to a better one.”  

(Ted Lasso S2 E1)


At the heart of the success of this viz is collaboration. Anne-Sophie and Sarah met in the Spring of 2022 through Nicole Klassen’s #VizCollab initiative, a program that connects individuals who wish to collaborate on data viz projects. 

So where did we begin? 

Our collaboration kicked off with a zoom call, during which we chose the topic of our visualization: the TV series Ted Lasso. We noticed the show’s dialog is rich with pop culture references, and wondered what these references tell us about his character, upbringing, and passions? 

The zoom calls quickly became a weekly occurrence. Not only did this cadence help to keep us on track, but it facilitated brainstorming & idea generation that truly gave the project some momentum.  

We established a need to build our own data set by re-watching Seasons 1 (Sarah) and 2 (Anne-Sophie). There are a few articles and videos listing the show’s pop culture references but none of these provided an exhaustive list, not even in the IMDB connections pages (which have been so helpful for Anne-Sophie’s Buffy project).

Re-watching the episodes was super-fun and easy, but the real work came when it was time to build out the metadata to include country & year for each reference, as well as categorize them by topic. A shared Google spreadsheet was an essential tool that allowed us to collect the data in a standardized format. To ensure accuracy, we sourced the actual dialog from an online transcript website. Wikipedia was our go-to resource for researching the significance of each reference, thereby uncovering the witty & cleverness of the show’s writing staff, plus a few were a tad bit obscure!  As you can imagine, this metadata collection process took a great deal of time, and we were relieved when Season 3’s release date was postponed.

As work progressed, we explored some possible chart types in Tableau Desktop, and shared those using Tableau Public’s Hidden Viz feature.  

To guide our design & colour choices, we decided to tap into the Ted Lasso brand by incorporating key visual elements from the show. For example, the opening sequence with the blue & red stadium seats gave us the idea to visualize each reference as one stadium seat, with the interactivity of the viz changing the seat colour. 

We also played around with the concept of Ted Lasso’s yellow “Believe” poster and committed to that design element when a teaser for Season 3 featuring the poster was released. 

The blue, red, & yellow colour choice was a no-brainer (on brand) and yet challenging at the same time (balancing three strong colors). As such, we toned down the red, and used the yellow background only on the intro & outro sections. 

All the design (background images, text) was done in Figma, with the help of Noun Project icons (if you can afford, a paid license is a great investment).

With our data set complete & ready, now came the question: what to do with 200 stadium seats? 

Inspiration & Feedback from the #datafam

Inspiration struck when Anne-Sophie shared Simon Rowe’s Titanic Viz. Brilliant! We would  recreate the opening sequence, hence the animation in both the placement of the seats and the colours. We also gleaned inspiration for changing background images from this same viz, and the technique to do so from Will Sutton’s tutorial. Additional techniques learned from WorkoutWednesday were utilized (hello, dynamic zone visibility and parameter actions). Together these components satisfied one of our main goals: a fun, story-telling exploration of the topic. 

But wait, there’s more! Great vizzes incorporate feedback from Tableau Ambassadors and seasoned developers alike, so we tapped into the #datafam resources such as #VizOfficeHours with Michelle Frayman and Nicole Klassen, and reached out to individuals we admire & respect (looking at you, Bridget Cogley and Kim Unger). This feedback took our viz from good to great, and we appreciate their time immensely.

A mutual desire to do great work

For both of us, taking time to add the finishing touches was an important step in the process. This involved incorporating various techniques including: hiding Tableau’s “blue highlighting” when you cannot float a blank on top, using a highlight action to make a chart “unclickable”, and creating a parameter with a hierarchy, all tips & tricks we’ve learned from the #datafam. 

Essential to this workflow process was our “to do list”. As you can imagine, a viz of this scope encompasses a million little details, so this tab in our shared Google spreadsheet became our place to capture notes, link online resources, and assign tasks….right down to the smallest of details such as fixing typos.  

Final notes & lessons

You may have heard that collective sigh of relief on March 6th when we both pressed “publish workbook” and officially shared our viz on Tableau Public. But our collaboration did not end there! We coordinated the timing & content of our social media posts and discovered a delightful bonus – our collaboration extended our reach to a wider audience. Self promoting your work can seem cringe worthy, so collaborate: you will be cheering for somebody else and with somebody else!  It truly doubled the joy & satisfaction. 

Our Ted Lasso Viz is a testament to the fact that success comes from hard work and a lot of luck. We had the same level of expectations & willingness to do the work to craft a viz we would be proud of. And our skill sets were complimentary in such a way that it enhanced the viz immensely, making the process a true collaboration. As far as luck goes, our pairing through the #VizCollab program was indeed lucky, or as Ted Lasso said himself,

“I feel like we fell out of a lucky tree, hit every branch on the way down, ended up in a pool full of cash and Sour Patch Kids.”

(Ted Lasso S1 E6)

Chasing The Great One: Ovechkin vs Gretzky

This post originally appeared on DataBrain’s blog in July 2022. Enjoy!

Growing up in Canada meant hockey was a central part of our lives. My Dad was a star player in his younger days and was the captain of his college team, the University of Guelph Gryphons. Given his love of hockey, he often referenced sports metaphors when teaching life lessons to me and my brother. Case in point: his favorite way to end a pep talk? “Keep your stick on the ice”. 

My hometown was a short drive from Wayne Gretzky’s hometown, so you can imagine the excitement when the young player wearing #99 hit the big leagues. He became a national hero for a whole generation of Canadians from coast to coast, and deservedly earned the designation “The Great One” just as fast as he could skate circles around the opposing team. 

Naturally, my interest was piqued when an article caught my eye by sportswriter Tarik El-Bashir titled “Alex Ovechkin’s contract with Capitals gives him a chance to catch the great one for NHL goal-scoring record”. Could it be that another hockey player was within reach of breaking #99’s all-time goal record, one that has been held by The Great One for my entire life? Am I witnessing sports history in the making!?!

A little digging into some hockey stats revealed some intriguing data points that became the inspiration for this viz. I combined multiple data sources to put the magnitude of this potential achievement into context. Goal scoring became the focus of this viz and allowed me to answer the following questions:

How do Gretzky’s and Ovechkin’s goals per season compare?

Are there any other active players close to breaking The Great One’s record? 

Who among the top goal scorers has earned the most $ per goal?

Who has scored the most goals, in the shortest period of time?

Last but not least, as a nod to my home country and my dad as a young player – where do these top goal-scoring players first learn to lace up their skates?

Keeping best design principles in mind, I chose a red-black-grey color scheme to limit the clutter, while letting the emphasis on Ovechkin’s red team color tell the story.  A bar chart was chosen to quickly display the rank of the top 50 goal-scorers, with the length of the bar allowing easy comparison of total career goals. Clicking on the bars identifies the marks on the adjacent graphs, adding an element of interactivity to the viz. Scatterplots were employed to compare the metrics “salary vs goals scored” and “years played vs goals scored”. Tableau’s tooltip features are enabled on all graphs, allowing the audience to reveal additional, relevant details. Bar charts with timelines on the X-axis were generated to showcase a side-by-side comparison of the goals-per-season for Gretzky & Ovechkin, with an average goals-per-season reference line and color denoting the challenge Ovechkin faces in the years ahead. Last but not least, data calculations were done at the source level when possible to optimize dashboard performance, including calculating salaries in current dollars. Click here to explore the viz.

As I watched the NHL draft unfold this week, I was compelled to revisit the viz and answer one more question: Does draft order matter? It doesn’t appear so – only 9 of the top 50 goal scorers were drafted first (including Ovechkin) and interestingly, Gretzky was not drafted at all! You can read that story here. I guess what really matters at the end of the day is another metaphor my Dad was fond of saying “You always want to score the first goal, otherwise you need two to win.”

Good luck to all the rising stars who realized their dreams at the NHL draft this week, and best of luck to Ovechkin on his quest to surpass The Great One. 

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑