Adding ‘context’ to your business dashboards (#LondonTUG)

I’ve just wrapped up my talk @ the London Tableau User Group where I spoke about how adding context to business dashboards supports your users in gaining better insights from their data. The idea is that by adding a few additional ‘elements’ to your design you’re making it easier for your audience to process the information and derive meaning from it. In simple words and as I see it, context is anything that helps users to better understand their data. So it’s not only about how you present the information and the design choices you make, but also the guidance you provide and that’s the focus of my talk. You can see the recording here.


I’ve gotten into the habit of adding ‘info’ buttons to all my work dashboard and my users have really come to appreciate them as they help with building trust and transparency. The ‘info’ will describe how the data is selected, what’s being visualized, what insights users can gain from interacting with the dashboard, how to filter the data and what the different values represent. I will typically also add a few ‘explanatory’ buttons which I’ll place strategically across the dashboard and which contain additional pointers on how users can interact with a particular section/feature to gain additional insights. There’s only so much text you can add without the views becoming cluttered, so I find these buttons are a good workaround and give you a bit more room to provide better ‘guidance’.

Click here to see an example of one of my recent work projects. For obvious reasons I can’t show the full view and had to edit the text a bit but you can see enough to understand how I tend to structure my copy and hopefully you’ll get some new ideas.

Creating the info buttons is actually pretty simple. There’s of course different ways to do this by using custom images or working with shapes; but the technique I’ve started applying doesn’t require any of that and is actually super simple (no kidding). Click here to view my workbook on Tableau Public that will take you through the different steps. If any questions, feel free to reach out or leave a comment in the section below.

Instructive filters

One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to business dashboards is when filters are added to the view and the designer doesn’t take the time to change the filter title into something that users can actually understand. When changing the title consider using words like ‘select’ or ‘search’; or even turn the title into a short question. Click here to see a few examples

To most these may seem like insignificant details, and while you as the dashboard designer will understand what it all means; consider your users most likely wont.

Guided text & tooltips

I hope that by now you all know you never ever leave your tooltips to their default formatting. It’s sloppy and lazy; and depending on the use case the default text will most likely contain references to calculations and dimensions that without explanation won’t mean anything to your users. So why not take the time and transform your tooltip into a declarative sentence so people can better understand what’s being visualized?

And finally, when you dashboard consists of multiple views; consider making your worksheet titles dynamic by adding in the values of what’s being filtered. It’s a simple technique often overlooked but in my experience by the time users have filtered the dashboard they will have already forgotten what values they selected, so by adding these into the title of the individual sheets you’re reminding your users of what subset of the data they are viewing.

Thanks for reading and I invite you to leave your comments and questions on the section below. What tips do you have for adding context to business dashboards?

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