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  • Bernard K

3 Ways to Visualize Key Performance Indicators in Tableau

three ways to visualize KPIs in tableau


Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are business metrics used to track and analyze information deemed crucial for the success of any business. These KPIs can be presented using shapes and color to help business users easily interpret data (as the brain processes images faster than it does text).

And therefore, to demonstrate this - In this article, I’ll be sharing three ways to add KPI shapes to your Tableau dashboards.

But before that, let’s build a case first

Using the Sample-Superstore dataset, let’s say you would like to visualize the trend of Sales for different product Sub-Categories in different years.

One of the simplest ways to do that - is by.

  • Adding Sub_Category to the rows shelf

  • Adding Order_Date to the columns shelf (change the level of detail to year)

  • Add Sales to the label/text shelf

Next add a table calculation ‘Percent difference’ to compute the percentage change in sales across the table.

computing percent difference across the table

Executing this and hiding the first column (which is blank) results to the view below.

(Note – the table calculation is computed across the table, if that is not the case - you can change the direction of computation under Compute Using)

(From the above view you can see the percent change in sales from one year to the other across the product Sub_Categories – with (+) Positive values signifying an increase in sales from the previous year, while (-) Negative values signifying a decrease in sales from the previous year).

Notice this view is a little hard to interpret – however, we can add shapes and color to help users interpret the data with ease.

To do that in this case, I am going to share three ways you can add upward arrows or triangles (▲/↑) to show a positive change in sales from the previous year, as well as downward arrows or triangles (▼/↓) to show a negative change in sales from the previous year.

Option 1 - Using Tableau’s in-build shapes

Let’s first convert the tableau calculation percent difference into a simple formula. (You can achieve that by holding CTRL key on the keyboard and dragging the table calculation to the data pane).

Rename it ‘Percent Difference’

Next, create a KPI calculation as follows.

KPI calculation in tableau

(Note this calculation will return the following: ‘+ve’ whenever the change is positive, ‘-ve’ whenever the change is negative and ‘Zero’ whenever the percent change is equal to zero)

Next change the marks card to Shape and drag the calculation ‘KPI’ to the Shape and Color shelf.

Next, edit the shapes by assigning ‘+ve’ an upward triangle and ‘-ve’ a downward triangle.

Note you can edit the colors to suit your needs – for my case have chosen Green to represent a positive change (a rising trend in sales) and Red to represent a negative change (a decreasing trend in sales).

visualized kpis in tableau

Note you can also use upward and downward arrows instead of triangles by simply editing the shapes.

visualized kpis in tableau

From the resulting two views above – users can instantly spot the trend of the data, through the aid of the shapes and colors unlike when the data is presented as a mere text table.

Option 2 – Using Tableau’s wingdings 3 font

Wingdings is a series of dingbat fonts that render letters as a variety of symbols.

In this case, we’re going to use wingdings 3 font to insert an upward triangle to show a positive change in sales from the previous year, and a downward triangle to show a negative change in sales from the previous year.

Below see the wingdings fonts.

wingdings font

From the above snapshot, you can see the upward triangle maps to letter ‘p ‘ (in lower case) and the downward triangle maps to letter ‘q’ (in lower case).

Which means – to insert these shapes, I’ll need to create a calculated field that returns ‘p’ whenever the change is positive and ‘q’ whenever the change is negative – (you can add another shape to show the zero change, for this case I’ll focus on the positive and negative change).

See the calculation ‘KPI – 2’

Drag the above calculation to the label/text shelf.

Edit the labels as follows.

  • Align both the KPI – 2 and the Value on the same line (you can have the shape before or after the value)

  • Highlight the KPI – 2 and change the font to Wingdings 3

using wingdings 3 font to insert shapes in tableau

Executing this we’ve.

Add KPI – 2 to color shelf and format appropriately.

visualized kpis in tableau

Option 3 – Copy the shapes directly into Tableau calculations

The other way you can copy the shapes directly into your KPI calculations.

To do that I’ll be using the Character Map app (for windows users). For Mac users you can try Character Palette or Character Viewer.

So…. search for Character Map app on windows.

using character map app to copy shapes for use in tableau dashboards

Select the respective shapes and copy them into the KPI calculation as shown below.

Copying shapes into tableau calculations

Drag the above calculation to the text/label shelf

  • Edit the labels by aligning the KPI – 3 and Value on the same line (you can have the shape before or after the value)

Add KPI – 3 to color shelf and format appropriately

visualized kpis in tableau


Next time you’re presenting important metrics in your dashboard, see how you can leverage some of the techniques shared here in this article – to create dashboards that are easy to read and interpret.

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Thank you for reading!


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About Me

More About the Author

Bernard K

Analytics Consultant | 3X Tableau Certified

Bernard is a data analytics consultant helping businesses reveal the true power of their data and bring clarity to their reporting dashboards. He loves building things and sharing knowledge on how to build dashboards that drive better outcomes.

Let’s discuss your data challenges! Let’s work together!

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