3 Easy Tableau Tips for Confident, Clean-Shaven Maps

Wow! Tableau Tips Month is almost over and I almost missed it! (Or maybe I was just early with this tip: 1 Easy Tip to get Clustered Bar Charts )

So to make up for my tardiness, I’ll give 3 easy Tableau tips for the price of 1!

Imagine the following maps as components of a dashboard:

Map #1

Map #1: Withdrawn, shy, hasn't shaved in a couple of days

Map #1: Withdrawn, shy, hasn’t shaved in a couple of days

Map #2

Map #2: Bold, Confident, Clean-Shaven

Map #2: Bold, Confident, Clean-Shaven


Which do you like better? Both are using the exact same data. Map #1 is a little shy, withdrawn, and looks like he hasn’t shaved in a couple of days. Map #2 is clean, confident, and ready for business. And here’s what you really wanted to know: it’s easy to get from Map #1 to Map #2. Just remember these 3 easy tips:


Tip #1: Give your map a shave

If you are using a filled map, then, unless it really is important that your audience knows the context (e.g. does your audience not know the 48 contiguous states are south of Canada and north of Mexico?), you can get rid of the background map and just keep the filled shapes.

How? It’s easy. From the menu select “Map” -> “Map Options”. Then turn the washout to 100%. Now you have a nice clean-shaven map.

Map Options

Tip #2: Give your map confidence

This tip comes from my co-worker, Nathan Mackenroth. This tip alone is worth the price of admission. When I saw it for the first time I was amazed.
Notice that in the first map Texas and California have some variation of color but everything else just looks like the color of silly putty? The reason is that Texas and California have the most visitors by far and so any variations in other states are overshadowed. Prepare to be blown away at how simple it is to get from shy to bold:


Nathan took the measure Visits that was on color and created a calculated field which he then put on color instead:


Brilliant! Just like a logarithmic scale for an axis – but for color! Now I can still see that Texas and California have the most visits but I can also see which states have the least and I can see variations one state from another. And it isn’t just for geographic maps – try it with tree maps and heat maps too!

Tip #3: Give your map a chaperon

Don’t send your map into the world alone. For all the confidence you just gave him, he’s going to be just like that teenager who thinks he knows everything, but is about to make a fool of himself. Here’s the problem:

Problem Child

Problem Child


Really? I had 2.7 visits at the least to 9.7 visits at the most? No, that’s the natural log. So the truth is, we really do need shy Map #1!

And here’s the key: we don’t need to see Map #1, but we do need to see his color legend. So, on a dashboard containing Map #2, add Map #1 as a floating object. Use the pixel perfect controls in the lower left to make him 1 pixel by 1 pixel and put him out of sight. (He’s okay with that: he’s an introvert)



Pixel Perfect Controls


And now, we have a map that is ready to take on the world:

Map in his very own dashboard

Map in his very own dashboard

8 Responses so far.

  1. Damien L. says:

    I like the idea and the tips but I think changind the legend is not a good idea. It is actually misleading. You may think only about 4 states are close to 15 visits when we know from the first map this isn’t true.

    Ideally, it would be better to create your own legend based on the color (with the logarithm indicator) but labelled with the true visits.

    • Damien,

      That is a great point! It would probably be helpful to give reference points along the legend. Here’s an example where I floated another view to get the logarithmic axis to align with the legend.

      Fixed Legend

      What do you think?

      • Nathan Mackenroth says:

        I was just looking at this post again with David Baldwin, and he had an idea to fully cement the logarithmic color scale. Floating the additional view as a legend was a big improvement, but adding a little interactivity would raise it to the next level. If you could hover over different parts of the legend and have corresponding states become highlighted, it would really connect the two elements. What do you think?

  2. mrlutton says:

    Great tips! Learned something new today (or rather, three new tips)–thanks Joshua!

    • Joshua Milligan says:

      Great post! I’d love to see the feature. Another enhancement would be to have a scale on the color legend to help everyone understand that it is logarithmic.

  3. Yes. I had some ideas about labeling the color legends. See it here.

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