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3 Creative Ways to Use Transparent Sheets in Tableau

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Instructor

Ryan Sleeper

Unlock new design possibilities by layering sheets and graphics

You’ll see how to add: (1) a trend line in the background of a callout number, (2) a timeline of key marketing events to an area graph, and (3) an image with custom segmentations to a scatter plot.

Hi. This is Ryan with Playfair Data TV. And in this video, I’m going to show you how to make sheets transparent in Tableau, as well as three creative applications of this new feature in Tableau.

Transparent sheets are a relatively new feature available as of Tableau Desktop (2018.3). This unlocks a lot of new design flexibility that allows you to overlap sheets on top of each other. You couldn’t do that before because the backgrounds were always opaque, so you wouldn’t be able to see underlying sheets. We can now make those backgrounds transparent, allowing us to see underlying sheets and layer things on top of each other in new ways.

First, real easy, I want to show you how to make a sheet transparent in Tableau. So first, I’m just going to set up a quick chart over using the Sample – Superstore dataset that I often create that just looks at Sales by Category. So in a vacuum, everything looks exactly the same. But if I were to go add this to a dashboard and wanted, say, an image in the background underneath, you wouldn’t be able to see that image before this new feature because this background is white.

You can now change that– and this is how you make any sheet transparent in Tableau– by right-clicking anywhere within the view and choosing “Format”. And if you go to this paint bucket icon, which is for your shading options, you’ll see that the default worksheet color is white. But now, you have the choice to change that to None. And that is how you make a sheet transparent in Tableau. Now, if I were to go to add this to a dashboard and put an image in the background, you would actually be able to see that image in the background.

We’re going to do a few applications of this. By the end of this video, you’ll be able to make all of the individual components that you see on this dashboard. All three of these, so this callout number, this timeline on top of an area chart, and this scatter plot on top of those quadrant segments colored in the background, are all using transparent sheets to get this to work. That’s what I’m going to show you how to do during this video.

So first example, I’ve got two sheets setup for it. First, is the Sales callout number. And I just kind of dummied this for the purposes of the video. This isn’t real data. But I’ve just added some things to the Text Marks Card. If I highlight this, you’ll be able to see it better. So it’s just showing the last current value of sales in the Superstore dataset, as well as the month-over-month change.

So it’s a callout number. It’s one of my favorite components. There’s another video here at Playfair Data TV that shows you how to– a couple of ways on how to make these callout numbers. But now, I’m going to show you a design technique to make these callout numbers even better by layering a callout number on top of a trend line in the background. So there’s my callout number.

I’ve then got this bar chart. And I’ll go ahead and show you this. This probably could be its own video. But notice on these callout numbers, that trend line in the background, the current month appears to be highlighted, or it’s not quite as transparent as the preceding bars, making it appear to stand out. I’m going to show you a little trick on how to do that.

So notice, it’s a dual-axis combination chart. If I were to show these headers, you’d be able to see this a little bit better. Of course, there’s a video here at Playfair Data TV that shows you how to make dual-axis combination charts, if you’re not familiar with this.

But I’ve essentially got the raw sales number from the dataset as the first axis. And then, here’s how I created that special highlighting technique. I’ve got a calculated field, and it uses a table function called LAST(). It’s looking at our table of data that’s being used to draw that bar chart.

And this function, LAST()– it will give you the row number for the last row in your dataset. So when last equals 0, and you’re moving from table across, which is the default for left to right, it’s saying that it will show the value only when it is the last value in this table. If you’re not familiar with table calculations, I highly encourage you to check out the video, “An Introduction to Tableau Table Calculations” here at Playfair Data TV.

So that isolates the sales value just for the last month. That is, then, on the second axis. I synchronize the axes to make sure the bars lined up perfectly. But here’s the trick. Now that I’ve got two measures on the Rows Shelf, each of those get their own set of Marks Cards, and I can edit them independently of each other.

So all I’ve done– I’ve made them both the color white, but then I clicked on the Color Marks Card, made the first set of bars 15% opaque– notice that number, here. And then, I made the other axis, which is just one bar, I made that 50% opaque. So both the same color, but they have different levels of transparency, which is providing that illusion that the last mark is being highlighted.

I’m now ready to go add this to my dashboard. So I’m going to go over here to this kind of blank slate. And I’ll make these all floating, so that we can have precision on their location, as well as their size. And I’m going to add that Sales Bar Chart here. And let me actually hide those headers again, and my titles, and I’ll just kind of quickly throw this on here. I don’t know that I’m being super precise yet, but we’ll say that that’s good.

We do want to take note of this sizing, here, though, because we want to make our next chart the exact same size. When we overlap that callout number layer on top of this trend line, we want those to be the same size. So I’m actually just going to take a couple notes here. It’s 120 by 75 on its x- and y-coordinates. And then, 326 and 152 for its size.

I’m now ready to go add my callout number as the layer on top of that trend line. But let’s take a look at what happens. So here’s the issue. You can already kind of see it coming together. I’m going to hide the title. I took the note on exactly how big this was. So 120 by 73 and 326 by 152. And I’ll make this fit the entire view.

And here’s the issue. This is what it was like prior to Tableau (2018.3). We could never see the underlying sheets. But now, if I right-click anywhere in the view and click Format, navigate to the paint bucket icon for shading, change the default background color from white to None, click escape to get that selection off there, and we’ve got a nice, new design technique that is improving a callout number. I already love this element. It’s now made even better by layering on that trend line in the background.

All right, second example for you. Similar, but one of the things that– well, first of all, everybody knows I love line graphs or area charts when I’m looking at just one dimension member. It’s my second favorite chart to just the bar chart. So let me throw that onto the view. So dashboard and my trend line.

So this trend is pretending that we’re looking at a marketing campaign leading up to the Tableau Conference, which is in November 2019 this year and then Black Friday. Now, everybody in retail is interested in Black Friday, Cyber Monday. So this area– or this chart looks at that time period. It’s a decent chart. It’s been annotated to show you when a couple of big events had happened, but one way that I like to make my trend lines better is by adding context via a timeline. There’s now two videos here at Playfair Data TV. The first shows you how to make a timeline. The other shows you how to make a timeline when events overlap with each other.

Here is an example of how it looks when events overlap with each other. So this is just showing us when we had a big marketing campaign. So this– I just happened to hover over this fourth day of our campaign. Looks like we sent an email blast, “Welcome to the Tableau Conference.” I like to show this type of visualization along with a trend line so that my audience, or rather the analysts on my team, have an idea of what might have caused these peaks and valleys on a trend line or on a traditional line graph or area chart. It’s providing context.

Before I was able to use transparent sheets, I might add this timeline below the area chart, but it wasn’t quite as in sync as you can do now. Let me show you what I mean.

If I add this Timeline view, we do want to make sure this is the exact same width, so that the days line up. So this is 619 wide. I’m going to throw my Timeline view on here and just hide some of the titles and legends. And I already forgot– this is 619. So we’ll make this also 619. And we’ll kind of get this in place so that it lines up nicely with what I’ve got already with my line graph– or area chart, rather.

So again, here’s the issue. By default, and prior to Tableau (2018.3), all of the backgrounds are white and they’re opaque backgrounds, so we cannot layer things on top of each other. Now, if I right-click and choose Format, navigate to the shading tab, and change that to None– now, we can make this much prettier and make our timeline exactly in line with our area chart. So the analysts on my team can see not only the peaks and valleys, but they can see when certain marketing events occurred that might have driven that performance. They can hover over these and get a feel for what might have caused the performance on the chart.

All right, my last example for you is a way to make a scatter plot better. There’s a video here at Playfair Data TV called “3 Ways to Make Stunning Scatter Plots in Tableau.” One of the ways that I like to improve a traditional scatter plot, which is my third favorite chart by the way, is to color these quadrants based on the performance.

So one of the things I like about scatter plots is it creates this kind of natural four-quadrant segmentation. That segmentation is very actionable because it puts dimension members into one of four buckets, and I might want to treat each of those four segments slightly differently.

For example, on a Sales by Profit Ratio scatter plot, the dimension members in this top-right quadrant are my best performers because they’re selling the most and were making the most money per dollar on those sales. I might want to focus in on those so I can create more dimension members like that. If, on the other hand, I’ve got high sales and low profit ratio, I might want to focus on those for a different reason. There’s a lot of opportunity there because we’re selling a lot, but we’re not making as much money as these dimension members in the top-right quadrant.

That’s why it’s very actionable. On the other video, I show you a calculated field that shows you how to color the dimension members, but I also sometimes like to color the background. If you’ve got specific thresholds for your x-axis and your y-axis– so you’ve got these four quadrants and they’re always stuck that way.

So maybe you have a goal for Sales and then a goal for Profit Ratio and you want to always color those four quadrants the same, there’s a technique for that that– there’s two ways to do it. Prior to transparent sheets, you could do this by mapping a custom background image. If you do a search for that here at Playfair Data TV, there is a video that shows you that, as well.

But it’s now much easier with transparent sheets because you can just put an image in the background and then float the scatter plot on top of that background image. This is also helpful when making certain types of gauges. Anytime you’re wanting to make a gauge that has an image in the background, you can now use transparent sheets like I’m about to show you.

Prior to the video, I went ahead and made the image. And I did that by just copying this exact picture into either Photoshop or PowerPoint, creating my colored-in squares, and then saving that as its own image. That’s what I did prior to the video. I’m going to add that as my base layer. So the image type– or the object type, rather, is called Image. I’m going to drag that onto the view. It’s going to tell me to go pick my image. I called it Scatter Quadrants. Click OK.

So there is my colored-in quadrants creating my four different segments. And I took a note– just like on the location of the charts on the y-axis and x-axis, as well as the size– prior to the video, I took a note of exactly how large this should be and where it should be located. So bear with me while I quickly put this in the right spot. So this should be at 702 and 293. And the size is 647 and 471.

And you will have to do this, by the way, obviously– if you’re aligning layers, you need to navigate to the Layout pane, take note of the object’s position on the x-axis and the y-axis, as well as its size, in terms of width and height.

I’m now ready to go add my scatter plot onto the view. And this one is 712 pixels in on the x-axis, 292 down on the y-axis, and it’s 620 by 470.

Once again, same issue. Right now, the scatter plot’s great. I’ve added reference lines, which is a helpful indicator of which segment each of the dimension members falls into, but we’re going to make this even better by making this sheet transparent by right-clicking, choose Format, navigate to the shading tab, and change the default background from white to None. And now, at a glance, my end user can determine, or they have another visual cue, on which segment each of these dimension members falls into.

So I’m really excited about this new feature, as of (2018.3). It’s called transparent sheets. It unlocks a lot of new design flexibility. I’ve shown you just three possibilities, but I do fully expect to see this really unlock a lot of really cool design-focused Tableau dashboards in the future.

This has been Ryan with Playfair Data TV – thanks for watching!