Categories
Tableau Tips

Quick Tip: Create and use custom color palettes in Tableau

Looking to speed up your dashboard development and add a personal touch to your dashboards? I’ve got a quick and easy tip for you. Make your own custom color palettes! Tableau Desktop allows you to modify the preferences file (found under My Tableau Repository and named Preferences.tps). You can open this file and modify its code to set up your own color palettes. Check out Tableau’s great documentation on how to set up these palettes here: https://help.tableau.com/current/pro/desktop/en-us/formatting_create_custom_colors.htm

You can set up categorical, sequential, and diverging palettes to fit any type of dimension or measure you’re looking to add a specific color to.

This will take forever to set up a custom palette, how can I do this faster?

I’m glad you asked! If you have your color palette defined, skip this section. Otherwise, check out two awesome tools that help you generate Tableau tps files with custom palettes. These generators can take images, have predefined palettes, or allow you to build the palette one by one. Just keep in mind, there is a limit of 20 colors on a palette as of 2020.3.

All you’ve gotta do is download the generated tps file, replace your existing one in your “My Tableau Repository” (just make sure you don’t have any existing customizations in there).

Bonus tip: Set the default palette to dimensions or measures in the data pane.

For both dimensions and measures, you can set the default colors for each field so you don’t have to reconfigure it on each worksheet. By right-clicking on the field, you can go to the default properties and select “Color”. Check out the short GIF I created below to see that process.

How to set the default color property for a field

That’s it, hope you enjoyed the post!


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Categories
How-To Tableau

Fixing Empty Spaces in Tableau’s Layout Containers: Part Two

You might’ve come across my previous post about fixing empty layout containers in Tableau. That post was about fixing a specific bug when everything else is configured correctly. This post is about a few common configuration issues that are usually the issue (before encountering the bug I’ve previously discussed). Go through these bullet points to make sure they’re configured correctly before trying other solutions.

The Problem

You have a horizontal or vertical layout container. But the elements don’t automatically size correctly. Either a gap is left at the end of the container, worksheets don’t swap like they’re supposed to, or the worksheets don’t fill up the container.

The Solutions

1. Make sure the elements aren’t set to Fixed Width or Fixed Height

By activating the objects inside the container, you can see if the width or height is fixed. The little push-pin will be filled in white if width or height is fixed, or have no fill if it’s a dynamic width or height.

Click on the push-pin to fix or unfix the width or height. You can use the dropdown menu below the push-pin icon to toggle this feature as well.

Something to keep in mind: You might not see the Fix Width or Fix Height option depending on your dashboard layout, and settings for the container. If you have “Distribute Contents Evenly” checked, these won’t show up. If your container is nested in other Tiled containers or multiple other containers, they might not show up either.

2. Activate each sheet in the container and set the sizing to Entire View, Fit Width (if a horizontal container), or Fit Height (if a vertical container)

Make sure each worksheet object is set to fit to the appropriate dynamic option. There are two places you can do this on the dashboard.

In the dropdown menu of the worksheet object:

The object’s menu has tons of useful configurations

Or in the bar at the top of the window:

This dropdown will work too

The following points are relevant if you’re doing a sheet swap

3. Hide all the titles of the worksheets

Right click all of the sheet titles in the container and hide them. If you need them to be there, create a text box with dynamic text based on which sheet is visible.

4. Make sure there is a discrete field on either your rows or columns for the sheets involved in the swap

Go back to the individual worksheets that are in your container. Make sure they have a discrete pill on rows or columns. This should be a static field with a single value and should be set as discrete. I use a static field with the value MIN(0) set as discrete. Then right click the field and deselect “Show Headers”. This will make the field disappear from the view.

Right click the pill and deselect “Show Header”

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If none of these options work for you, feel free to check out the older post that goes through the bug fix. And if that doesn’t work, reach out to me and I’d be happy to help you troubleshoot!


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Categories
Tableau Tips

Quick Tip: Use the SIGN() function in Tableau for easy color indicators

If you’ve ever developed KPIs or BANs on a Tableau dashboard, there’s a chance you’ve also implemented color indicators for those numbers. Green being good, red being bad, and gray being neutral. This color indicator might also exist in your bar charts to show YoY changes or whether a goal was met for a specific metric. These indicator calculated fields can also be used to assign shapes like directional arrows, emojis, or any other shape. Whatever the case, there’s something I see beginners doing relatively frequently (and even some more experienced developers) that is additional work for no reason.

Using the Superstore data, it’s usually something like this:

Old Way to Color Things
IF SUM([Sales]) - LOOKUP(SUM([Sales]),-1) > 0 THEN "Increase"
ELSEIF SUM([Sales]) - LOOKUP(SUM([Sales]),-1) < 0 THEN "Decrease"
ELSE "Neutral"
END

or

IF SUM([Sales]) - LOOKUP(SUM([Sales]),-1) > 0 THEN TRUE
ELSEIF SUM([Sales]) - LOOKUP(SUM([Sales]),-1) < 0 THEN FALSE
ELSE NULL
END

The first version should be avoided because it uses strings in the calculated field. Strings perform slower than integers and booleans and will start impacting dashboard performance the more complex your data and dashboards get.

The second version isn’t too bad (and the equivalent using integers as the resulting values), but still makes calculations more verbose than necessary.

So how you should you achieve this desired indicator functionality?

Using the SIGN function you can achieve the same results with a single line.

New Way to Color Things
IF ZN(SIGN(SUM([Sales]) - LOOKUP(SUM([Sales]),-1)))

It automatically assigns a -1 for negative values, 0 for zero values, 1 for positive values and null for records that don’t evaluate. You can wrap the SIGN function around your entire calculation. On top of this, I would suggest wrapping that SIGN function with a ZN function like in the example. The ZN function will return the expression if it is not null, otherwise it returns a 0 value. Essentially this will eliminate null values from your SIGN function. Sometimes the null is desirable (you want to color specific marks that don’t evaluate) and sometimes you just want to color all null marks the same as zero.

Dashboard Example

The dashboard below is best viewed on a PC or tablet, but there is a mobile view for it as well.

What are the drawbacks?

Since you’re using a whole number as a data type, you can’t easily edit the aliases to make a human-readable string. Obviously making a human-readable string brings us back to the string data type which could negatively impact performance on large data sets. You could use the SIGN function calculated field in another calculated field to represent -1, 0, and 1 as your desired string. This isn’t the best to do either because now you’re nesting calculations and making the workbook a little more complex for the poor soul who inherits it in the future (very likely your future self).

One way to get around this is to just make a dummy legend that shows the color of the SIGN calculated field and what it pertains to (increase, decrease, steady). This won’t give a text value in the tooltip unfortunately, but that shouldn’t be necessary.

TL;DR

Use the SIGN function instead of IF ELSEIF functions to significantly reduce your calculation length. Wrap it with ZN if you only want three indicators (-1, 0, 1) or don’t wrap it with a ZN function if you want four indicators (-1, 0, 1, and NULL).

Pros: Simpler and less verbose calculated field, whole number data type for better performance than strings

Cons: Results in whole number so can’t directly alias


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Categories
Tableau Tips

Top 5 Quick Tips for Better Tableau Dashboard Performance

There are hundreds of blog posts, articles, and checklists about improving Tableau dashboard performance. I personally don’t like reading through lengthy posts, watching long videos, or drilling through checklists just to have a list of 100 things to check. So I’ve compiled the five most impactful performance tips to make your dashboards run faster instantly.

1. Change data sources from Live to Extract

If you don’t absolutely have to use a live connection, don’t. Tableau’s Hyper is a best-in-class data engine, use it. You’ll see faster dashboards instantly in 90% of cases.

2. Minimize the number of marks on your dashboard

500,000 marks on your map of the United States is going to take a few seconds. 500,000 marks that use calculated fields is going to take even longer. Only show the most relevant data and know what to exclude. This means not dragging every dimension in your data onto the canvas.

3. Simplify your calculations, remove or reduce nested calculations

If you’re referencing a calculated field in a calculated field, your performance will degrade. Once your data gets to a certain size and your 5 nested calculations deep, you can kiss your UX ratings goodbye. If you can, try to reference terminal fields in a calculation, even if that means making one big calculation. Just pay attention to your aggregations and order of operations.

Use REGEXP for string calculations if you can. By doing this you avoid Tableau having to do something like a CONTAINS calculation multiple times.

If you can’t use REGEXP formulas, use CASE expressions rather than massive IF statements with a bunch of ORs.

Check out Tableau’s official documentation if you want to learn more: https://help.tableau.com/current/pro/desktop/en-us/calculations_calculatedfields_bestpractices.htm

4. Reduce the number of worksheets on your dashboard

Either split off your worksheets into different dashboards, or find a different way to communicate your message with less worksheets. The more marks and worksheets on your dashboard, the more processing Tableau has to do. Aim for 5 or less as a rule of thumb.

5. Use filters, not too much, and don’t set them all to “relevant values”

Ok, so this one is probably the most difficult for me to follow when building. But it’s easy to remove filters for a quick performance boost. If the filter doesn’t absolutely need to be there, get rid of it. If it doesn’t have to be relevant, don’t make it “relevant values”. It just adds to what Tableau has to calculate and render, which adds precious seconds to load time (especially with large data sets).

I hope this gave you a quick win in making your dashboards faster. Have any other really quick tips to make Tableau faster? Feel free to comment them below, I’d love to learn.


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Categories
Meta Tableau

Top 5 Most Impactful Tableau Server 2020.3 Features

Recently I made a post on the 5 most impactful Tableau Desktop features released in 2020.3. Now it’s time for Tableau Server! Tableau released 20 new features for Tableau Server. Most of these features are also applicable to Tableau Online as well (if you were wondering). This post will go over the 5 features that will have the most impact on both developers and users interacting with Tableau Server. I’ve ranked them in the order of the biggest impact for users or developers based on the size of the problem the feature solves.

Keep in mind, Tableau categorizes some of its new features in multiple categories (like Tableau Desktop and Tableau Server for the IN operator). I’ve not included features I covered already in my Tableau Desktop 2020.3 post, so go take a look if you’re curious what those are. This makes sense because features aren’t made in a bubble usually, and will have an impact on other parts of the Tableau stack. It just might be a little confusing at first if you aren’t aware of the interactions between the different Tableau pieces.

1. “Shared with me” tab

Navigation on Tableau Server and Tableau Online can be frustrating at times. The UX has significantly improved over the years and this new feature is another giant leap forward. Now there is a dedicated tab on the left navigation bar that lets you see all materials shared with you on the site (including views). This is kind of like Google Drive and streamlines navigation to critical content.

Why it’s important: Better navigation for both experienced and novice Tableau Server users.

Screenshot from Tableau.com

2. Grant license on sign-on

If you haven’t been a Server admin, it’ll be difficult to appreciate this one. If you have been one (especially of a large organization), get the champagne ready. Now you can set up your Server to have specific users, teams or departments to automatically be assigned a license on first login.

Why it’s important: Thousands of users? A revolving door of users? No problem, automatic license assignment for first sign-ons. Thousands of man hours saved.

3. Web authoring improvements

The new features include relative date filters, and creating/editing/removing data source and viz filters in the browser.

Tableau continues its alignment with modern tools by beefing up its web authoring capabilities. It’s still a far cry from Tableau Desktop, but the gap is shrinking (slowly). More and more customers are looking towards web authoring rather than full Desktop licenses, and this will make those customers happy.

Why it’s important: For anyone trying to do more than the very basic visualization, web authoring is a no-go with its limited feature set. These new capabilities raise the limitation ceiling ever so slightly.

4. Subscription timing with extracts

The subscriptions feature has been one of the most popular features I’ve introduced to clients utilizing Tableau Server and Tableau Online. People are used to seeing things in their inbox on a regular basis, and they always want the same capabilities with their dashboards. A constant challenge is making sure that data refreshes and subscription emails sync up correctly. Subscriptions that trigger too early means stale data for end users.

This new feature from Tableau enables subscriptions to only trigger once data is done refreshing. No more worrying whether timing is right.

Why it’s important: The more extracts and users you have, the more performance will vary for when extracts actually finish. By making subscriptions have a type of sequential firing option that only happens after extracts complete, the guesswork is removed.

5. New connectors in the extension gallery

While this might not be applicable to too many people at the moment, it’s an important feature trend. Tableau is expanding its extension gallery to include connectors made by third parties. This will slowly minimize the effort of connecting to data for analysis.

Like Zapier or similiar tools, opening the platform to support third party extensions will only grow adoption and options for developers.

Why it’s important: If you’ve ever run into a data source that doesn’t have an out of the box connector in Tableau, it can be a decent amount of extra work to get everything working right.

What are your thoughts on the new releases in Tableau 2020.3 Server and Online? Do you think Tableau is on the right path in their development efforts? The company continues to actively seek user feedback and has been implementing the most requested features. What would you like to see improved next?

Categories
Meta Tableau

Top 5 Most Impactful Tableau Desktop 2020.3 Features

Tableau released 2020.3 on August 12th, 2020 with 12 new features for Tableau Desktop. All are useful, but these are the 5 that will have the most impact on developers’ workflow and capabilities in my opinion when creating dashboards. I’ve ranked them in the order of the biggest impact for developers and the challenges or questions they face frequently.

1. The IN operator for calculations

Ever do giant IF or CASE statements with nested CONTAINS? Well your life just got a little easier. You can now use the IN operator to compare a field to a list of values.

Why it’s important: Easier readability, shorter and more efficient calculations.

2. Search improvements in the data pane

With the new Relationships features and data modeling capabilities, the data pane had to be redesigned to allow for multiple tables. This removed the separation in the pane between dimensions and measures. That was quite a shock to many Tableau users as it was an efficient way to separate those field types. In 2020.3, there is now the ability to filter your fields in the data pane by field name, type, or comments. It still feels like a compromise but after a few weeks of use, it probably won’t even be a noticeable difference from the original data pane.

Why it’s important: The new data pane to handle Relationships felt like a step back. This is a step forward in making the data pane easy to use again.

3. Relationship improvements

If you’ve jumped into the new Relationships feature earlier in 2020, you’ll quickly realize its powers, and quickly realize its (few) shortcomings. One of these shortcoming has been fixed in 2020.3. You’ll now be able to relate tables using calculated fields and/or using inequality operators (like <>).

Why it’s important: Running into the serious limitations of operators or calculated fields in earlier versions minimized the usefulness of Relationships. These improvements significantly expanded Relationships use cases again.

4. Predictive modeling functions

I really wanted to put this one higher, but ultimately most developers still won’t get into predictive modeling. I’d highly recommend adding general predictive modeling skills to your toolbox with something like Python, but ultimately predictive modeling inside Tableau will be great as well.

Why it’s important: Making the leap from descriptive to predictive and prescriptive analytics provides huge value to your users and customers. This new feature makes the gap between descriptive and predictive much smaller to bridge.

5. Additional viz export capabilities

Users are always requesting various ways to export dashboards and their underlying data. Back in the day, strange hacks and/or extensions would have to be used to provide the desired output. With 2020.3, you’ll be able to export crosstabs from dashboards into Excel formats to preserve formatting, provide easy export buttons for this feature, and customize PDF subscription layouts for your dashboards.

Why it’s important: This new feature expands the export capabilities, showing that Tableau is still focused on improving some of the most frequent end user requests.

What are your thoughts on the new releases in Tableau 2020.3? Do you think Tableau is on the right path in their development efforts? The company continues to actively seek user feedback and has been implementing the most requested features. What would you like to see improved next?

Categories
Meta Tableau

My Biggest Tableau Desktop Headaches (and Probably Yours Too)

I love Tableau. It’s my hammer that makes everything look like a nail. No it’s not right for everything, but it can do a lot of things really well once you know how to use it. And because of this loving relationship, I also know exactly what I hate about it. Like an intimate relationship with a lover, the overall experience with Tableau is something you want to shout to the world. But also like an intimate relationship, Tableau has those small things about it that really grinds your gears. Kind of like when someone you love makes a little annoying noise after they drink a beverage. Technically it’s not wrong in any way, but you just want to take away every single beverage from them for all eternity so they can never make that noise again. Ok… maybe that was a little far. Anyways…

Tableau Desktop has been the data visualization tool of choice for me for the last 7 years. It has grown from a pretty good tool into an excellent platform. Tableau Desktop in 2020 takes care of so many of the gripes that existed a few years ago in previous versions. Things that were once nearly impossible are just a click of the button. Things like Set Controls and Relationships. Tableau has provided more tools for every step of the process, from simple data blending to completely managed server environments. That’s without even getting into extensions, APIs, etc.

I love Tableau and believe they will continue their track record of implementing user-desired features. Tableau has been one of the best companies I’ve interacted with, who truly takes user feedback to heart and continues to make their product more enjoyable to use. So while these are my current 7 biggest headaches, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for their platform.

My 7 Biggest Headaches

1. Being unable to modify the layout hierarchy from the dashboard layout tab

Tableau has a beautiful layout pane to select objects in the dashboard. You can adjust padding, margin, background color, etc. from here. But you cannot rearrange the objects using the hierarchy displayed in the layout pane.

It feels natural to be able to click and drag an object in the hierarchy and put it somewhere else. This is not the case though, you can only do it on the dashboard itself. If and when this feature comes out, it’ll cut down on dashboard building and reorganizing times and headaches significantly.

2. Not having a PROPER() function

We’ve got UPPER()… We’ve got LOWER()… We do not have PROPER() or TITLE(). Sometimes you can’t control your data source because you don’t have the right permissions. But you need to change a field that’s in all uppercase or all lowercase to something that has the first letter of each word capitalized.

This doesn’t exist in Tableau. It exists in some form in Excel, C#, Python, Java, and more languages. This fact paired with headache #3 makes title/proper cases in each workbook painful.

3. Related to number 2; not being able to define our own functions

Ever use the same calculated fields and functions over and over. Each and every workbook. You open it up and you create another calculated field that does the exact same thing in each workbook.Long calculated fields, like your own custom version of making the proper case from point number 2.

If custom user functions were possible, users wouldn’t have to ask for specific functions to be added. The flow for a user could be much more efficient too.

As a counterpoint from Tableau’s standpoint, allowing users to manage and implement their own customizations like this can do a few negative things. Things like new support requests claiming a bug because a user can’t figure out why their function doesn’t work as expected. Or that this type of functionality would drift the product from user configuration and light development to something more of a user development tool. This could potentially shift the target user for Tableau Desktop, and I doubt Tableau would want to drift from their current pinpointed target user. One last point is that allowing user defined functions could potentially open up security issues. It’s just a whole new bag of worms.

Still, the pros for usability outweigh the cons for me.

4. The limitations of organizing worksheet tabs in workbooks

Simply, we need a way to group and organize tabs differently. The colors are nice, the toggle to change the tab layout is nice, but scrolling left to right constantly for large workbooks is not nice. If you could group tabs into folders or hierarchies just like calculated fields, that’d be great.

5. Restrictions on bulk editing dashboard objects

As of 2020.2, users are able to only format the standard configurations of categories of objects in bulk. For example, you can format all parameters in the workbook by changing its font, color, borders, etc. What you can’t do is select 3 dashboard objects (like 3 worksheets) and adjust all of their padding or margins. Instead, you have to select each worksheet on the dashboard and edit its settings one-by-one.

My back of the napkin calculations estimate that bulk editing of dashboard objects would save me about 15 minutes for each dashboard I have ever created.

6. Lack of hierarchical filters

Hierarchies are a feature for building dashboards already. When you establish these hierarchies in the data pane, it allows users to expand axes to drill up and down hierarchies. A common request and question I get from end users is, “why can’t I drill down in filters?” Or something similar to that.

You can place all of the separate levels of hierarchies as their own individual filters, but cannot have a singular filter where you can select parents and children, or expand the hierarchy to drill down to other levels. From a user’s standpoint it makes sense. You would expect a relationship like a hierarchy to function as a hierarchy on the graph portion, and in the filters. Something like the below, taken from the Tibco Spotfire documentation:

7. Formatting in tooltips

There’s a workaround for this one, but it’s not incredibly customizable and has it’s own limitations. That workaround is creating embedded sheets in the tooltip so that you can do things like control the background color. But to create a custom sheet for every tooltip you wan’t to customize is exhausting and adds baggage to the workbook.

Being able to do some basic things like change tooltip background color and transparency would go a long way. Making the tooltip almost like a page builder or able to accept HTML would be spectacular. I won’t get my hopes up for that last one though, as it would be a huge undertaking for Tableau to develop and support.

Wrapping It Up

Tableau Desktop is a spectacular tool. Whipping up interactive and insightful visualizations for users is 1000x easier than what was around before Tableau, and it’s truly led to a democratization of data visualization and analysis. With that comes growing pains and millions of change/feature requests. These are 7 of mine and maybe some of yours. Selfishly I hope these are the next 7 features on Tableau’s product map.

I’ll soon be posting my favorite features of Tableau since version 2019, as well as my headaches/favorites of Tableau Server and Tableau Prep. So keep a look out for those.


P.S. I had to update the title to reflect that this is specifically about Tableau Desktop. Since Tableau has been expanding its platform which includes more advanced Tableau Server capabilities and an online visualization builder. These offer separate functionalities compared to what I’m talking about in this post with Tableau Desktop.

Categories
How-To Tableau

Fixing Empty Spaces in Tableau’s Layout Containers

UPDATE: I’ve made an additional post highlighting some common ways to fix empty spaces in Tableau’s layout containers: Fixing Empty Spaces in Tableau’s Layout Containers: Part Two

If you’ve been using Tableau Desktop or Tableau Public to design workbooks, there’s an issue you most likely have run into while configuring layouts. In fact, there are several posts in the Tableau Community Forums trying to get an answer to this exact problem. All remain unanswered. Post one, post two, post three. As a note, the last version I’ve used as of this post is 2020.1 and the issue was still present on certain dashboards.

Fortunately, I have a solution for you!

To preface this solution, it seems as if this is actually a bug in Tableau, and this is only a workaround to that bug. Hopefully in the near future this is fixed and this post becomes irrelevant!

The Problem

You have a horizontal or vertical layout container. Your worksheets for the container are configured to one of the proper dynamic sizing options (fit height, fit width, or entire view). Yet when you put these worksheets inside of the container, there is always a little empty space at the end of the container.

It looks like a little grayed out area with diagonal slashes through it. Like this area highlighted in red (this photo was borrowed from the first linked Community post above):

We see this blank space appear occasionally when configuring layout containers.

The Solution

To preface, before trying the below solution, you should explore the easier and more common fixes first. Most of the time the common fixes cover some small configuration issue that can cause this blank space to appear. These common fixes are:

  • Make sure you’ve configured the worksheets to fit automatically with either Fit Width, Fit Height, or Entire View
  • Clear any manual sizing for the worksheet
  • Remove the sheet and add it again

If none of those work, there is a another solution. This involves a little bit of switching back and forth. Although you probably have the worksheets configured to one of the dynamic options, Tableau is actually using the manual sizing of your axis to determine the maximum size the worksheet will take on when dropped in your container.

So what does this mean? This means you’ll have to do the following in order for your worksheet to fill the entire container.

  1. Go back to the worksheet(s) you want to fill the container with
  2. Toggle the worksheet fit to “Standard”
  3. Manually size the x-axis (if it’s in a horizontal container) or y-axis (if it’s in a vertical container) to be larger than the container you’re dropping it in
  4. Toggle the worksheet fit back to one of the dynamic options (Fit Width, Fit Height, or Entire View)
  5. Ta-da, go back to the dashboard and view your container. The blank space should be gone

As a note, this sizing issue usually only happens when discrete dimensions are on the axis that determines the container fit (x-axis for horizontal and y-axis for vertical). I have not seen it happen in circumstances outside of that, but the fix should be the same. But what if the sizing issue is happening in containers that only have filters, parameters, legends, etc.? Let’s cover it in the next section.

A Related Problem and Solution: Containers with Filters, Parameters, and Other Static Things

So what if this same sizing issue is happening with a container that just hold filters, parameters, legends, or other more statically-sized elements?

The recommended action here is to manually set the height or width of the element to equal the height or width of the container. You can do this by clicking on the drop down arrow for the element, then clicking on “Edit Width” or “Edit Height”. Make sure to use the Layout tab to first find the size of the container you’re trying to fill.

1. Using the layout tab, select the target horizontal or vertical container you’d like to fill.

2. Click on the dropdown for the element you are trying to make fit the entire container.

3. Set the pixel value equivalent to the height or width of the container you are trying to fill completely.

That’s all there is to it! Let me know if you found this useful or if this didn’t solve the issue for you.

Check out Part Two here (common fixes for empty spaces): Fixing Empty Spaces in Tableau’s Layout Containers: Part Two


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