Tableau application and logo on android cellphone over a chart.
Image: dennizn/Adobe Stock

Tableau is one of the most widely-used data visualization platforms on the planet for good reason. With Tableau, the sky’s the limit to how you can analyze and visualize your data. The platform is powerful, flexible and ready to help you gain insights from massive amounts of data.

With Tableau, you also get an incredible filtering tool that even allows you to use shapes as a filter to make it even easier to drill into your data and mine information. For the most part, using shapes in Tableau is fairly straightforward but there is one small trick you need to understand before you can use the feature.

Let me show you how this is done.

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What you’ll need

I will be demonstrating with the Tableau Desktop Client on macOS Monterey, but you can do the same thing with the client software running on Windows. You’ll also need any number of images you want to add to Tableau. Just for simplicity, I’ll be demonstrating with the Superstore sample data.

How to add shapes to Tableau

As I mentioned, the first thing you need to do is either create or find new shapes you want to add. These can be images of anything you need for your data, branding images or simple geometric shapes. Out of the box, Tableau includes shape palettes for:

  • Filled shapes
  • Arrows
  • Bars
  • Bug tracking
  • Gender
  • KPI
  • Proportions
  • Ratings
  • Thin arrows
  • Weather

The shapes included are fairly rudimentary, so you’ll eventually want to add more to better fit the needs of your data.

If you already have the Tableau desktop open, close it. Once closed, save all of your new images and shapes to the correct directory on your desktop. Those directories are:

  • macOS: /Users/USERNAME/Documents/My Tableau Repositories/shapes
  • Windows: C:\Users\USERNAME\Documents\My Tableau Repository\Shapes

Where USERNAME is the username of your macOS desktop account.

I would highly recommend you create a new sub-folder in shapes to house your new images, as that new folder will create a category in the Shapes tool. For instance, you might create a folder named “branding” or “cats” in that sub-folder.

How to use your new shapes in Tableau

After you’ve added all the shapes you need, open the Tableau Desktop Client and then open a worksheet you want to work with. From the Marks card (Figure A), click the Automatic drop-down and select Shapes.

Figure A

The Marks card in Tableau gives you access to the Shapes feature.

Once you’ve selected Shapes, you’ll see the Shape box. Click that box and then click More Shapes (Figure B).

Figure B

The Shape drop-down is where you can find access to your newly-added shapes.

A new pop-up window will appear. From that window, click the Select Shape Palette drop-down and select the new palette you just added (which will be named for the folder you created housing the images – Figure C).

Figure C

My new cats palette I added to Tableau is ready to use.

With the palette added, let’s then assign a shape to a data value. For that, find the value in the data tree hierarchy in the left navigation and right-click it. From the right-click menu, select Default Properties | Shape.

In the resulting window (Figure D), select the Data Item to be used, select the new palette from the Shape Palette drop-down, click the shape to be added, click Apply and then click OK.

Figure D

Assigning a shape to a data value in Tableau.

And that’s it. You’ve now added custom shapes to Tableau. Given the small number of default shapes that are included, at some point, you’re going to find it necessary to add new images to be used to help make your data visualizations easier to navigate and understand.

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