Creating instructive dashboard overlays

This is tip 18 of my Tableau Speed Tipping session. Refer to the Table of Contents to find the other tips.

  1. Creating instructive dashboard overlays

Your end users aren’t always able to guess the multitude of ways they can interact with your dashboards, and often they don’t overlook the hints that you’ve placed in titles or text boxes, as the following picture demonstrates. I’m afraid I don’t know the source of this as I’ve had it as my desktop background forever.

I’ve found that adding an oversized info button that basically screams “Click me!” helps. Behind this info button, you could add a whole lot of text. But let’s face it, end users are impatient and few will take the time to read through detailed instructions. Hence, this is where instructive overlays come into play.

For this, I take a screenshot of my dashboard via Dashboard > Copy image. I paste this screenshot into any layouting program. The only one I have any idea how to use is PowerPoint, so that’s what I do. This should work with any program of your choice that allows you to insert layered objects, though.

In PowerPoint, I place a number of shapes, icons, text boxes, arrows and other items on top of my screenshot that will later help the user navigate the interactivity of my dashboard. I usually add a light shading here that I keep slightly transparent – enough that users can comfortably read any text I use in my overlay (don’t overuse text, though!), but transparent enough for the underlying screenshot to still be visible. I like to add a box underneath it all that has the same size as my screenshot. This will ensure that all items are in perfect relation to the dashboard arrangement.

Then I remove my screenshot, group all objects, and save them as an image.

Returning to Tableau, I add a floating container to my dashboard and drop an image object into it. I choose the overlay image I just saved, size and position the floating container accordingly, and add a show/hide button. I make this button very, very obvious, so that users have zero chance of overlooking it. Always assume the users have drunk themselves half-blind and you’ll be on the safe side.