Marry Your Graph

Here’s the thing: Your graph isn’t ever just going to chill out in your Excel file or Tableau worksheet. It’s going to live a life elsewhere, like in a dashboard, a slide, or a webpage. So when we make our graphs, we have to think about their future home environment.

This is why you want to marry your graph.

Marry it with its surroundings.

Marriage means no borders (and if you are reading this as a metaphor for your life, that’s 100% on you, ok).

By default, Excel produces a border around each chart. By default, Tableau applies unnecessary borders on column and row panes that divide up your space and add noise. And they compound when you put multiple graphs together into a dashboard.

Check out this lovely dashboard built by Alicia Bembenek. She’s a total Tableau whiz and part of our Academy team. This is the dashboard she leads students through in our Beginner Dashboard tutorial. If you aren’t in the Academy, you can follow Alicia’s work in Tableau Public and on Twitter.

Part of what’s making the dashboard work so well is that it is organized and clean – it doesn’t feel like too much is getting crammed in there. Alicia had to strip out some Tableau defaults in order to get here.

I added back in the Tableau default pane borders so you can compare what it would have looked like without Alicia’s extra work.

All those extra lines just add congestion.

When we remove the default borders from panes and charts, the empty chart space just blends right in with the empty dashboard, slide, or page background. Everything breathes together. Inhale, exhale.

If you’ve ever heard a graphic designer praise “white space,” one of the things they mean is that all this empty space is just chilling out together, instead of being divided up by borders and lines.

That said, the space doesn’t technically have to be white. It just needs to match. So if your dashboard is a light gray, your chart backgrounds need to also be a light gray so they blend.

Sometimes folks like to add borders or drop shadows or some such demarcation so that a graph and its title will be distinguished from its neighboring graph and title. It’s much more effective to just use s-p-a-c-e between groups of stuff (still thinking about this applies to your home life?).