Becoming a Tableau Desktop Specialist – Part 8: Format Your View

Nov 1, 2019

Christine Rietmann

Hi everyone! Last week I introduced a lot of new topics and of course, it is a process to learn these things. More than that, we have to practice a lot until we master all these techniques and instruments. This week you will learn how to format your view. It isn’t that difficult to format things in Tableau, but it is important to think about how we should format our visualizations and what gets triggered in your audience when using different format options.

New to this series? Then check out the further posts to learn more about it:


I will give only a short introduction to how important our format options are, but this is far from the whole story. To learn more, I can recommend reading the according parts (or even better the whole books) from:

  • Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic – Storytelling With Data 
  • Andy Kriebel, Eva Murry – #Makeover Monday
  • Steve Wexler, Jeffrey Shaffer, Andy Cotgreave – The Big Book of Dashboards

In Tableau and data visualization in general, we use visual language to communicate information. Very important elements are preattentive attributes. Some of them and additionally some formatting options are relevant for the Tableau Desktop Specialist Exam:

  • Color 
  • Bolding 
  • Shapes 
  • Size
  • Fonts 

Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic explains two strategic ways to use these attributes in her fantastic book Storytelling With Data.

1. Preattentive attributes can be leveraged to help direct your audience’s attention to where you want them to focus on.

2. They can be used to create a visual hierarchy of elements to lead your audience through the information you want to communicate in the way you want them to process it.

Source: storytelling with data – Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic


Color is very powerful to draw attention when used in the right way. So, let me point out some tips for using color.

  1. You shouldn’t use too many different colors, because when everything has a color nothing stands out. 
  2. You should use the same color code every time you use color in your dashboard or in your data story.
  3. Keep colorblindness in mind! (You can upload your viz here to check how it appears to people with color blindness.)
  4. Keep in mind that color touches emotions. 
  5. Some topics will be associated with a special color. For example, it could be weird to use different shades of green when the topic is about water. 
  6. An easy way to explain your color code and to implement a color legend is to use colors in the visualization title. 

On the marks shelf, we can see the following color-menu. Changes of the color settings in this menu will be applied to all marks in the view.

Color options

Most of the options should be self-explanatory. Let’s look at what happens if we click on ‘More colors’.

Create your own color

Here you can create your own color or you can use the pipette to pick a color, for instance, from a logo.

On the next tab of this menu, you can see and copy the number of color. This is helpful to use a given color code (check out, for example, this fantastic web page about team color codes in US sports: or to use exactly the same color on other sheets.

Number of Hex-Color

The menu provides three more tabs with color palettes. Here you can easily choose a predefined color or determine a new color shade from the given color spectrum.

Let us take a look at our color options when we put a continuous or discrete data field on color in our mark shelf.

Category on Color:

Category on color
Options for a dimension
options for a dimension

When we put Category on color, we can choose one color for every Category. In this case, it makes sense to chose colors that are easy to distinguish.

The color palette also provides different shades of one color. This could be used, for instance, when we put the year on color. It might be a good idea to color all years in different shades of blue so that the current year has a darker blue and the previous ones are colored in lighter tones.

Sales on color:

Colored map
Color palette

Putting Sales on color, we get a color palette that starts with the lowest sales and ends with the highest sales. All other values will be symbolized with a color between the start and end color. You could also choose color steps to define the number of tones. In case there is a midpoint, another option is to use diverging colors.

Stepped color
divergending color

To learn more about all the use cases I can recommend to read chapter one ‘use of color in data visualization’ from ‘The Big Book of Dashboards‘.


For text we use in our visualization we have also many different options to affect the way people read the text. One option is to make text bold. In comparison to other options, for instance, to use italics, bold words grab more attention. 

You can bold text in the format menu, the text card on the mark shelf, or a double click on the word/number will provide this option.

Fun fact: setting font type Tableau Bold to bold won’t change anything 🙂

Bold font


In Tableau, you can use ‘Shape’ for your marks in your chart.

Marky card: shape
Same shape for all marks

When you create a view like this you can put for example ‘category’ on ‘shapes’.

Category on shape
Different shapes for different categories

Be careful with using shapes with too many different members of a dimension. At a certain point, Tableau will start to reuse the shapes (at least if you use the default shapes).


The mark shelf also provides the option to define the size of your shapes, bar, lines, or whatever. Again, changing the size without having a dimension or measure on size, will change the size of all marks.

Size option

You can also put a dimension or measure on the size field to symbolize, for instance, sales. The bigger the circle size, the larger the sales.

Sales symbolized with the size option

The size option, as well as the shape option, can also be used to grab attention. Therefore you change the shape or size for one category or a single mark.

Sized used as preattentive attribute

Select Fonts

You can use the same menus I mentioned for setting text to bold to select a font.


Tableau offers a lot of different fonts but as you can see above they are all displayed with the same font at the menu. So, the name of the font type doesn’t show what the font type looks like.

James Fox took the trouble and created a dashboard using all fonts available. Furthermore, you can choose a color and a background color. His dashboard gives you the chance to try different fonts and colors and to see how it looks all together. To check this, you have to download the workbook, because Tableau Public can render only a few fonts correctly.

P. S.

By the way, I registered for the Specialist Desktop Exam. The only thing you have to do is to create a LES account. After you paid the exam’s fee you can schedule your examen’s day. The Exam’s set up you can find here.

Hope you enjoy reading this short blog! For Feedback reach me out on Twitter or use the comments below.