10 Design Tips & Tricks for Better Dataviz Storytelling (Guest Post)

I’m very excited to have Judit Bekker join us today as a guest blogger. Having read this blog already, I feel confident in saying that many of the tips Judit provides are the kinds of things that can take your data visualization design from good to great. Of course, if you’ve seen any of Judit’s work, this won’t surprise you. She is an incredibly talented data visualization designer with the ability to make data come alive. Her style and talent have been a huge inspiration to many people in the community, including myself. 

Judit is a Data Visualization Expert with Starschema Ltd and is based in Budapest, Hungary (just wait until you see her Budapest viz below!!). She’s also very active in the Tableau community. You can find her on Twitter @juditbekker, Tableau Public, and on her personal blog, https://datasorcery.wordpress.com.


First of all, I’m not a designer—I’m just someone who finds pleasure in beautiful things and tries to implement them when telling stories with data. These tips below are mainly for creating artistic dashboards, but I think you’ll also find some of them useful in a business context. To demonstrate these tips, I’ve used examples from my portfolio.

Tip 1: Let Your Design Breathe
When you’re designing a visualization, it is important to have a sufficient amount of white space so that your composition will look pleasing to the eye. This means wide margins, padding, and enough breathing space between the elements of your viz. The same goes for text spacing. For example, here’s my Dark visualization with single spaced text (the default for Tableau). 

This text needs some breathing room! While this can be done easily in any design tool, you cannot change the spacing in Tableau. However, there are some cases when I have to use Tableau built-in features and I don’t like how crammed the text looks. When this happens, I type one letter between each line, I make them the same color as the background and decrease the font size of that letter to 1pt to achieve the same effect.

Tip 2: Pay Attention to Alignment
It’s crucial to have your elements aligned on the dashboard both vertically and horizontally. In addition, the distribution of elements should be equal on the canvas in order to create a consistent feel. If you are using Figma or Illustrator, turning on the smart guides will snap the elements right into their place. When I’m adding the charts later in Tableau, I always draw a placeholder with subtle rectangles, and when everything is in place I delete them from my design and refresh the background image in Tableau. Let me show you an example of my Moneygun viz, where I drew some yellow guidelines on the pic to emphasize how important this rule is.

Tip 3: Play with Opacity
The option to control opacity on your charts and design elements can serve multiple purposes. It can make charts more readable for overlapping marks, and it can also tone down vivid colors. In My Fallen Kingdom, I choose to use 60% opacity for the bubbles (first image) so that they do not cover the background graphics entirely (second image).

Tip 4: Choose Colors from Images
If you want an image to be a dominant part of the visualization, you have two color choices: use neutral colors (white-grey-black) or choose colors from the picture. The eyedropper tool is built-in into Tableau, making it easy for you to choose the exact colors from an image. The eyedropper tool is also common to any design software. And, if neither of these options work, you can use the HTML color recognizer tool.

Tip 5: Tone Down Images
In most cases, you don’t want your image to take too much attention from the story you’re trying to tell. When this is my objective, I either darken or lighten the pictures by drawing a black or white rectangle over them with a low opacity value. For example, here’s my Budapest viz without any adjustments.

And here it is after darkening the image somewhat. The difference is subtle but has a huge impact on readability.

Tip 6: Using Black and White
When I’m using black and white colors, I generally do not use pure black and white. For black, I use a shade lighter (#231F20) and for white, a shade darker (#F1F2F2) as these feel better on the eyes. For example, here’s Dark using pure black and white. 

It’s not bad, but it’s just not something you’ll want to spend a lot of time looking at. If we make some slight adjustments, as noted above, the result is much easier on the eyes.

Tip 7: Match your Design with the Topic
When I was designing my Tiger King viz, I surrendered everything to the design. I found a poster with a purple-red color and a font that was so Joe Exotic that I decided to only do the viz if I could manage to find that typeface. The original Tiger King font is MPI No 507, but it’s not a free choice, so I substituted it with a similar one called Pink Slab. Tip: If you want to know what font is used on an image, you can upload it to MyFont’s WhattheFont tool and it will show you the closest matches.

Tip 8: Try Multiple Layouts
It comes in handy to have some variations of the same design because even the smallest change can have a big impact on the overall look and feel of the dashboard. For my Lady Gaga viz, I had four versions in Illustrator with only some minor differences. I tested each of them as background images in Tableau and, only after looking at all the versions, chose the one that worked best.

Tip 9: Create Your Own Shapes
By creating your own shapes, you can add a nice touch to your design and, in most cases, it’s relatively easy to do. For example, for my lunar calendar viz, all the marks are versions of the same image of the moon that is used in the center of the viz. I did nothing more than replicate the moon five times, draw some circles of the same size, add some opacity, and group the objects together. I then exported the images as png files and copied the shapes to my Tableau Repository.

Tip 10: Give it a Good Night Sleep
There are some cases when you look at your design and you think “wow, this can’t be any better”. For me this is quite rare—I tend to have this itch that something feels off, though I just can’t tell what. If this sounds familiar to you, then it’s best to give it a rest for the night. In 80% of these cases, on the next day, I realize which things can be enhanced. In the remaining 20% of cases, I realize that the original design works well as is.

Bonus Tip: A Trend in UI Design is a Trend in Dataviz
A lot of people in the dataviz community think that I’m an inventor of new design trends. I’m not. Everything I doframing, usage of pictures, inline text formatting, etc.has already existed in graphic and UI design. In fact, this is where we got commonly used techniques such as rounded corners, drop shadows, buttons, and switches. So, it’s worth experimenting with new techniques in our data visualizations. Sometimes they work well, while other times, they won’t. I personally leverage Behance and Pinterest in for inspiration. I have a board where I collect the good examples that could be used in dashboard design. For more on this, check out my blog, Taking Your Design Skills to the Next Level in Tableau.

I hope you find these tips helpful. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments section below or reach out to me on Twitter!

-- Judit


  1. Thanks for sharing design tips. This article is very helpful

  2. This is very helpful and your work is awesome. Thanks for sharing this.


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