This content is excerpted from my book Practical Tableau: 100 Tips, Tutorials, and Strategies from a Tableau Zen Master published by O’Reilly Media Inc., 2018, ISBN: 978-1491977316. Get the book at Amazon.
designing-device-specific-dashboards-in-tableau-10One of the most common questions I receive while conducting Tableau training is: What dashboard dimensions should I use?

As is the case with many aspects of analytics, the answer is largely dependent on the audience. Or more specifically, the answer in this case comes down to how the audience will be consuming the dashboard.

For example, will the dashboard be consumed by people at work on large desktop monitors? Or even larger conference room monitors?

Do you expect the end users to consume the dashboard on their laptops outside of working hours? What about their mobile devices outside of working hours?

This is a preview of the Making Your First Tableau Dashboard (Part 2) video at Playfair Data TV.

As you know, there are many different devices that your dashboard can be consumed on, all with their own unique dimensions. So which one should you design for? Sure, you can use Automatic sizing, but the results are unpredictable and not always ideal.

If I wasn’t positive on this answer in the past, my default dashboard-size of choice was 850 pixels wide by 1100 pixels tall. These dimensions are the same as an 8 ½ by 11 inch piece of paper, so at the very least, I knew the dashboard would look great if it was printed out or saved as a PDF and attached to an email.

Fortunately, I no longer have to pick just one dashboard size, thanks to a new feature in Tableau 10: Device-Specific Dashboards, or DSD. The DSD feature allows the Tableau dashboard author to lay the same dashboard out with different dimensions, then Tableau will automatically detect the screen size the dashboard is being consumed on and display the appropriate version.

Before Tableau 10, it was possible to display a dashboard with different dimensions based on the end user’s screen size, but it required a separate file to be built for each dashboard as well as technical understanding of CSS code. While not truly “responsive”, DSD makes it possible to deliver a much better user experience that is tailored to the end user’s environment.

To illustrate how to design device-specific dashboards in Tableau 10, we will look at my dashboard, NFL Concussions by Collision Source. This dashboard was featured in the online version U.S. News & World Report. Since U.S. News & World Report receives a large amount of traffic across several different devices, they asked me to create two different versions of the dashboard. Their web development team would then add some code within the article to display the most-appropriate version of the dashboard based on the viewer’s screen size. For this reason, you can see two separate workbooks in my Tableau Public profile for the same analysis:

NFL Concussions by Collision Source Tableau Public

With the new DSD feature in Tableau 10, I’m able to combine the different versions into one file and have the best one displayed automatically. I also don’t need any technical web design knowledge to make it happen.

I will start this tutorial by downloading the original version of the NFL Concussions by Collision Source visualization from my Tableau Public profile page and opening it in Tableau 10.

NFL Concussions by Collision Source Tableau Default

As you can see in the left dashboard design panel under “Size”, the dashboard is 750 pixels wide by 750 pixels high. What’s new is that I now have the ability to click “Device Preview” to see how this 750 by 750 dashboard will look on different devices. If I were to click the Device Preview button, Tableau draws a border around the dashboard to show you the dimensions of common devices. By default, the first preview is for a tablet in landscape (or horizontal) layout.

NFL Concussions by Collision Source Tableau Tablet Preview

The “Generic Tablet” dimensions are 1024 wide by 768 high. I designed the visualization to be 750 by 750 so there is some blank space on the right and 18 pixels of blank space along the bottom.

I can also flip through the device previews by choosing different device types and even models at the top. For this real-life example, I wanted to create one 750 by 750 dashboard that would be the original full-size version, but also one additional version suitable for a phone. To create a separate layout for phone, navigate to the Phone device type from within the device preview, choose a model, and click “Add Phone Layout”. I have chosen the Generic Phone dimensions.

NFL Concussions by Collision Source Tableau Default Phone

As with the tablet preview before, you can now see how my full-size dashboard would fit when being consumed on a phone. Since I clicked “Add Phone Layout”, you also see this version show up in the top left corner. To get a head start on resizing the dashboard within these generic phone dimensions, choose “Fit all” from the options on the left. After making this selection, my dashboard looks like this:

NFL Concussions by Collision Source Tableau Default Phone Fit All

You can see many different problems with this view. What’s scary is this is close to how my dashboard would look on a phone if I chose automatic sizing! For this version, I will resize each dashboard component to make it look better when viewed on a phone. To show the full functionality of DSD, I will even delete an entire dashboard component so you can see how much you can customize device-specific dashboards. Here’s how my phone-specific layout looks:

NFL Concussions by Collision Source Tableau Default Phone Resized

Notice that on the phone-sized version, I opted to delete the stacked bar chart in the upper left corner of the dashboard. Even though I deleted it from the phone-sized version, this chart still exists on the original version. I can compare the two versions by toggling back and forth between “Default” and “Phone” in the top left corner of the dashboard authoring interface.

Now when I publish this, Tableau will identify the screen size for me and automatically display the most appropriate version!

Thanks for reading,
– Ryan