Updated on 20 Oct 2021

How to navigate through the Tableau interface

Ned Krastev
Published on 12 Jul 2018 10 min read

The Tableau interface is very intuitive and user-friendly. True that. An inviting workspace area that encourages you to experiment with data and get smart results.

But in order to enjoy Tableau, you need to understand the mechanics first. For a novice, the many different panes and icons may seem pretty confusing. Don’t be discouraged though. Spend some time to get used to the basics and soon, you will be able to create beautiful and impactful visuals. A good grasp of Tableau will make you shine bright on a data science interview.

Fancy a tour of Tableau’s basics? In this article, we will dive in to show you the Tableau interface.

First of all, we need to create a new sheet.

So, we’ve already connected our file to Tableau. Now, in this article we will be creating our first sheet. It’s really easy to do and resembles how we create a sheet in Excel or pretty much every other spreadsheet software. All we have to do is click here and a new sheet will be created.

Tableau interface

This is what a Tableau sheet looks like. We can have as many of them as we want. I can simply click on the little icon at the bottom and a new worksheet will be added. The other two icons, which are next to it are for creating a new dashboard and a new story.

new worksheet

Let’s give some structure to what you are seeing here. If this software is new to you, things can be a bit confusing, so it will be best if we spend a bit of time taking you through the Tableau interface.

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The Tableau interface: Getting started with the Ribbon

First off, we have ten different tabs on Tableau’s default Ribbon. These are File, Data, Worksheet, Dashboard, Story, Analysis, Map, Format, Window, and Help.

getting started with the ribbon

Let’s quickly go through each of them.

The file tab is somewhat similar to most programs.

As with most programs, the File tab contains functionalities related to opening, closing, and saving files. If you would like to, you can also exit Tableau from here, but why would you want to do that?

file tab

Tableau interface: The Data tab

Data, on the other hand, is where you will find functionalities related to the data source you are using. Here you can add a new data connection. For example, you may connect to a new SQL file, if you wish. Further, you can replace an existing one, or simply edit the data source of the worksheet you are working with.

data tab

The Worksheet tab

Next, we have the worksheet tab. It can be helpful when we want to create a new Tableau sheet, hide or show a chart’s title, caption, summary, and so on.

worksheet tab

We have already created a new sheet with the little icon we have at the bottom left corner of the sheet. And we can do the same thing from the worksheet tab as well. Such repetition is common for most programs. Functionalities available in the ribbon can be accessed in other ways too. In fact, you will rarely use the ribbon functionalities, but it is good to have an overview and be aware that they are there.

Next, we have the dashboard and story tabs. We will learn more about dashboards and stories later on in our tutorials.

Tableau interface dashboard

Tableau interface: The Analysis tab

The Analysis tab is where you can tweak your visualization in terms of labels, show figures as a percentage of the total, add trend lines, legends, filters and more.

Tableau interface analysis tab

Here, we have some interesting functionalities related to the way we perform our analysis and some of the tools we’ll incorporate in it.

‘Map’ is a tab that is helpful when we use Tableau’s geographic visualization capabilities. This is one of the most powerful and impressive Tableau features, so chances are that you will be using it soon.

Tableau interface map

Adjust your visualizations through the Format tab

Of course, Format can help us adjust the way our visualization appears. From here we can modify its font, font size, axis, backgrounds, labels, size, and so much more.

Tableau interface format tab

‘Windows’ and ‘Help’ are two of the standard tabs we find in most programs, so we are not going to spend much time on them.

Tableau interface window

However, one thing we should mention is that Tableau Public has a nice and open community of users who will be able to help you and whose work you can look at if needed.

Tableau interface help

All users of Tableau Public who save their work make it publicly available. Therefore, this can be a useful place where you can search for a given issue you need help with and see what comes up. So, if I click on “Community” and search for “Geography”, I’ll be able to see the work other users have saved previously.

Right. This is Tableau’s ribbon.

Below the ribbon we have several buttons that can be quite helpful.

The “show start page” button takes us to the screen we saw previously when we connected Tableau and our GDP Data Excel file.

I’m sure you know how to work with Undo and Redo. Most of the typical Windows shortcuts can be used here as well. As you probably know, the shortcut for undo is Ctrl + Z.

On the right, we have other useful buttons such as save (allowing you to save the progress of your work). Quite intuitively, “new data source” opens the “Connect” functionality.

Tableau interface connect functionality

The other buttons we have here are new worksheet, clear sheet, swap rows and columns, and so on. For now, it would be best if you simply gain an idea how various objects are positioned within the Tableau interface.

Tableau interface new worksheet

Tableau interface clear sheet

Tableau interface swap roles and columns

Data & Analytics: Two vital panes

On the left side of Tableau’s screen, we have two panes – Data and Analytics.

The Data pane is quite important. It shows us what data we’ve loaded, and then Tableau classifies the data into two types – “dimensions” and “measures”.

Tableau interface data and analytics

To put it slightly differently, this is a distinction between categorical and numerical data. The data in the “dimensions field” cannot be aggregated, it is qualitative in nature. Quite the opposite “measures” can be aggregated and are quantitative in nature.

The work area is where we’ll create our visualizations, dashboards, and stories, and this is one way to create a chart.

Tableau interface sheet 1

You have certainly noticed that the ‘columns-and-rows’ part of the sheet started showing us the variables we’ve added to the work space area.

Tableau interface colums and rows

What else do we have?

The “show me” button on the right, which allows us to adjust the type of visualization we use.

Tableau interface show me button

It is a very cool feature because Tableau tells us what types of visualizations we can choose from, as not all charts will be available depending on the data we have chosen to work with. Once we decide we would like to switch to a different chart, all we need to do is select the respective type of chart and Tableau makes the adjustment for us. Neat, right?

Tableau interface: Pages, filters & marks

And finally, here in the middle we have three important sections – pages, filters, and marks.

Tableau interface pages, filters, and marks

The Pages shelf (see 1 on the picture above) lets you break a view into a series of pages so you can better analyze how a specific field affects the rest of the data in a view.

We use the “Filters” (see 2) shelf when working with filters and filtering our data.

The “Marks” shelf (see 3), on the other hand, contains functionalities related to coloring, size, labels, and so on.

This article was a quick overview of the Tableau interface. You saw how to navigate to quickly get the results you are looking for. In addition, we covered some of the basic terminology you will need later on.  Now, you certainly have a better idea of what you see in front of you when you open the program. Up next, we will show you how to create your first Tableau visualization.


If you want to sharpen your visualization skills, find some extra helpful resources in our Tableau tutorials!

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Ned Krastev

Co-founder of 365 Data Science

Ned is a Master of Finance at Bocconi University with years of advisory experience in some of the world’s top international enterprises. A visionary and co-founder of 365 Data Science, he has helped thousands of students gain competitive advantage through his courses Introduction to Excel, Advanced Microsoft Excel, Data Analysis with Excel Pivot Tables, Python for Finance, and Introduction to Tableau.

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