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How to Start a Dashboard Project in Tableau Desktop

Feb 6, 2019 • 8 Minute Read


In my previous guide, I covered the fundamentals of sourcing, structuring, and analyzing datasets, which became data visualizations for a competitive analysis report. I'm now going to expand upon the concept of data visualizations and explore how to create interactive dashboards using Tableau Desktop, a business intelligence and analytics software solution.

I'll be using Tableau Desktop Professional Edition, Version 2018.3.2. If you're using an older version, the basic concepts should still apply. However, it's best to check Tableau's release notes to ensure you're able to follow along with the guide. Also, I recommend checking out the active Tableau Public Gallery of Vizes for inspiration at the start of your projects. It's a worthwhile exercise that is likely to spark new ideas. However, keep in mind that unless you're selling Viz art, the designs should be backed by strategy. They should translate complex data and information that bridges the knowledge gap between the data team and decision makers and answer the following questions:

      - Defining the question or question(s) to be answered
- Designing for specific audience(s)
- Aligning with project objectives
- Publishing for a specific channel(s)

Since you'll likely already have a data strategy in place at this stage of your project, I'll use the fictional scenario below to help you visualize dashboard design.

The Sunny Day Institute hosts the Funday Film Festival (F3) every year near Mountain Lake, Wyoming. It's an opportunity for independent filmmakers to showcase their films to movie industry executives and the general public. Movie-goers are then asked to vote on their favorite films across more than a dozen categories.

_Last year, organizers had record attendance at the festival. As a result, they've decided to expand the event next year with more venues, staff, equipment, and marketing, which means more expenses. Since the institute's Board of Trustees plays a significant role in the success of each festival, members have requested a self-service dashboard that tracks monthly sponsorship sales, corporate donations, and marketing expenditures. _

The institute has estimated the film festival will cost an additional $250,000 on top of the $2 million already budgeted for the next event. The members also want the Dashboard to answer the following questions:

  1. Is the sales team on track to meet their quotas by the end of Q3?
  2. Are corporate partners, supporters, and members donating more than last year?
  3. Which marketing channels are providing the greatest ROI?

In the next section, I'll review Tableau's tools of the trade as we prepare to build a Dashboard for the institute's Board of Trustees.

Selecting the Right Tool for the Job

If you're new to Tableau Desktop, it can be overwhelming to navigate the interface, but even more so when you're trying to understand new terminology. Fortunately, Tableau has made it easy for users who have worked with spreadsheets to feel right at home.

Projects are built in workbooks, which contain sheets organized by tabs. The tricky part is that there are multiple types of sheets, including worksheets, dashboards, and stories. You can identify the type of sheet by looking at the labels on the tabs and the Status Bar below the tabs. Worksheet tabs only have a name label. Dashboard tabs have a name label and a four-square symbol. Story tabs have a name label and an open book symbol.

This is an example of a Worksheet

Worksheets contain a single View or table that displays dimensions and measures as visualizations. Dimensions are the columns of text, along with word-based dates found in spreadsheets or tables. Measures, on the other hand, include columns of numerical data. A single View can contain multiple datasets joined together in the Data Source tab.

Understanding Layout Options

Dashboards are built using Views from worksheets. You can arrange Views using either the Tiled or Floating methods accessible in the Sidebar on the Dashboard tab. Tiled Views are locked in place, while Floats can be placed behind or in front of another View, making it easy to move the Views around the canvas.

Once your dashboard has been moved into place, it's easy to adapt the design to tablets and mobile devices. Simply click the Device Preview button on the Dashboard tab of the Side Bar and choose one of the device types and models from the Device Preview menu above the Dashboard. Keep in mind, you may have to scale the layout of the Dashboard, especially for phones, as the tiles don't snap into place like on the canvas. To resize the Views, navigate to the Size section in the Dashboard tab in the Side Bar and change the tile dimensions.

Adding Dashboard Views

Like Worksheet and Story Views, Dashboard Views are created by dragging and dropping onto the canvas area of the Workspace. In the example below, I've created a Dashboard from three Worksheet Views using the Tiled option.

This is an example of a Dashboard:

Once you have a working Dashboard, consider downloading Tableau Bridge which adds a live connection to your data so that stakeholders across your organization can stay in sync and make the best decisions possible. If time permits, you may also want to add some flair to your design by dragging and dropping Objects, such as graphics, onto your Dashboard. As mentioned, the Tableau Public Gallery is a great resource for generating new ideas for your project. I also recommend checking out fellow Pluralsight author Ben Sullins' course, Data Analysis Fundamentals with Tableau to see the power of Tableau in action.

Review Key Points from This Guide

In summary, Dashboards are built with Worksheet Views and can include Objects such as graphics and webpages. They're typically designed to help stakeholders make strategic decisions that move an organization towards its goals and objectives.