Sometimes the best visual is an arrow.

With Tableau, it’s easy to include arrows to make a point about business performance. While colorful bar charts, scatter plots, and line graphs can visually highlight key information, a set of tiles or small table of numbers can succinctly indicate the health of a business. By adding up and down arrows with color next to a number, you can show the value of that number relative to another time period or a forecast. In this way, you provide context and meaning – is $1 million of sales good or bad, for example? If your forecast was for $2 million, then a red downward arrow provides the visual indicator for the meaning of the number.

 
 This dashboard shows how tables and tiles with arrow indicators can be combined with other types of visualizations to provide context and meaning.

This dashboard shows how tables and tiles with arrow indicators can be combined with other types of visualizations to provide context and meaning.

 

There are two cool features that enable you to work with arrows in Tableau: Shapes and Unicode characters in calculated fields. The quickest way to add arrows? Shapes.

Using Shapes for Arrow Indicators

After you’ve set up a table of numbers, select Shape from the Marks card. After you select Shape, you will see the default shape of an open circle. The table below shows the quantity of an item sold for the current Year to Date and the percentage change from the prior year to date, and you can see blue circles in those columns.

using shapes for arrow indicators.png

Create a calculated field that uses the quantity change percentage to determine whether the shape is a green up arrow (increase) or a red down arrow (decrease). I’ll call this “Quantity KPI.”

Create a calculated field.png

Take this field, and place it on Shape and also place it on Color. Now you can modify which shape you want to use by clicking on the Shape legend and then selecting Edit Shape. Select a Shape Palette from the drop-down and apply it to the desired data item.

Edit Shape.png

Do the same kind of editing for color using the Color legend. If you then remove duplicate information – here, the percent change column – it’s easier to see which values are above or below last year’s, and the finished result is a more streamlined, visual version of the original.

 
Edit the color legend.png
 

You can further customize the kinds of arrows or other icons to use in the same way as the standard Tableau shapes by simply copying and pasting Unicode characters. And you can use them outside of tables, by creating your own “tile” on a dashboard.

Unicode Characters in Calculated Fields

This time, instead of typing the words “above” and “below” in the calculated field, I’m going to copy/paste this arrow character ↑ (I copied it after using Insert > Symbol in Microsoft Word, but you can go online and search “Unicode characters” and grab any of those).

Unicode characters.png

To arrange this tile, create separate tabs for each of the elements. Then on a dashboard sheet, use the “Float” option and place them as part of the same cell of one of the elements.

Float.png

When you make each sheet “float” on the dashboard, you can arrange them with precision using the x and y values on the Pos (position) card as well as the width and height adjusters, which become available to edit when the Floating option is checked.

float options.png

The possibilities for arrangement are endless. Want more ideas? We're here to help! Contact us for a demo…