Setting Defaults in Tableau

Here’s a quick tip/trick to using Tableau that I don’t see mentioned very often: Setting default properties for dimensions and measures.

Recently I was sitting in through some Tableau training at work, and the trainer was talking about setting up custom sort orders by rearranging the levels of a dimension in a table. This is what I typically see people do, and I admit that I usually do it that way myself. But then he pointed out the ability to set a custom order as part of the default properties for the measure so you don’t have to reorder things every time you use it. I vaguely remember seeing this mentioned somewhere before, but I can’t remember where and don’t think it’s mentioned often enough.

So, how do you do this? Well, in a worksheet, right click on the pill for the dimension or measure. Towards the bottom of the menu there should be an option for “Default Properties”. Now, the exact options you can set are going to depend on whether you are working with a dimension or a measure.

For Dimensions, you can set defaults for “Comment”, “Color”, “Shape” and “Sort”. In the realm of higher ed data, the sort can be useful for setting the default order in which Faculty Ranks or Student Classification or Level should appear. These are two examples where the default of alphabetical order is usually not the order you want, so a custom sort is needed. You can also set custom colors here to make sure they remain consistent across multiple sheets and dashboard you might create using that data source.

For Measures, you can set defaults for “Comment”, “Color”, “Number Format”, “Aggregation”, and “Total Using”. For measures, the default Aggregation is something to definitely keep in mind. Tableau likes to default things to SUM(), but there are situations where you might prefer to always show an average or count instead. Likewise, being able to set things to default as a percentage (under number format) can be useful, for example with retention and graduation rates in accountability data.

Again, I admit to not using this option very often, but it’s something that can definitely save you some time and possible frustration later down the road.

Tip within a tip: One thing that I did bite my tongue on during the training was a comment about the color of the “pills” in Tableau. In general, dimensions are blue and measures are green. However, the color is actually for distinguishing between discrete (blue) and continuous (green) values within either a dimension or a measure. This distinction determines how Tableau treats the variable when you move it onto a sheet. I’ll probably post more about this (with a link to the helpful Tableau help page) since sometimes getting Tableau to do what you want requires converting from continuous to discrete (or perhaps the other way around).