Using a Donut to Filter Another Chart in Tableau


In November, Jennifer Dawes issued a challenge on Twitter (Yeah, I know the name changed, but I’m gonna keep calling it Twitter…). She was attempting to use a donut chart to filter another donut chart. To build a donut chart in Tableau, the typical approach is to use a dual-axis chart where one axis is a pie and the other is a white circle that sits atop the pie, creating the donut hole. Jennifer needed to be able to click on one donut and filter the other. The problem is that, when you click one “slice” of the donut, Tableau selects that entire pie slice as shown below.



This creates an awkward and confusing user experience, so she wanted to find a way around this. The Tableau Community is amazing so some of us jumped in immediately to try to find a solution to the problem. In this blog, we will share a few potential solutions we tried and some of the drawbacks we encountered along the way. Feel free to follow along using the workbook on Tableau Public.


Float the Donut Hole

Kevin had a quick and dirty solution—instead of creating the donut hole with a second axis, create a separate sheet that is just a white circle with the total sales label. Then float that over the pie chart, creating the donut hole effect. Since this is a separate chart that floats over the pie chart, it’ll cover up the rest of the selected slice.



This works pretty well, but it has a flaw. The floating sheet is a square and that square covers up large portions of the pie chart behind it. If you click on a portion of that square, it won’t select the pie behind it. In the end, unless the donut hole is very small, you’ve made it quite difficult for your users to click on the donut slices.


Map Layers

Jeffrey Shaffer, a member of the Tableau Visionary Hall of Fame, thought that perhaps map layers could provide a solution to this problem. Essentially, we could create the first donut chart using map layers, thereby allowing us to have more than the two “layers” allowed by dual-axis charts and that might provide some flexibility. For this solution to work, we need a geographic field—we can do that by creating the following calculated field:



// Create a single geographic point for our donut chart.



We then drag that onto our view as many times as we like to create our different layers. As with any donut chart in Tableau, we start with one layer for the pie chart and one for the donut hole (a circle mark).


Note: There are some other tricky bits to this. Making the pie and hole marks big enough and just the right size is difficult (I used a parameter on each size card). And getting the pie chart centered is also a bit tricky (I used the “pan” tool to move it into the right spot). To see these solutions, please look at the workbook, available on Tableau Public.


At this point, the result is pretty much the same—when you click a pie mark, Tableau selects that entire slice. Jeff’s first solution was to make the filter action trigger on hover. By doing that, the slice never gets selected so we never have the problem (Note: This would also work without map layers).



It still gives a sort of highlight of the pie as you hover, but that’s not a huge deal. But what if you want your users to actually click the mark to trigger the filter? Jeff had a clever idea for this—what if we create a third map layer that is a sort of invisible clickable pie so that, when someone clicks the donut chart, they’ll actually be clicking the invisible pie? And, since it’s invisible, it won’t matter if it’s selected. So he created a third layer with a pie chart, then assigned the transparent hex color to each section. I was personally feeling pretty good about this solution, but it didn’t quite work as expected. Unfortunately, that transparent hex color doesn’t remain transparent when a mark is selected, so we end up with a white selected pie slice.



So close!


Fake Highlights & Filters

Several of us had the idea to try a few of the “fake highlight” or “fake filter” techniques that the community has invented. The fake highlight techniques use a highlight action to force a mark to appear that it’s not selected, while the fake filter techniques use a filter action to force the sheet to be filtered. Since mark selections are reset when a sheet is filtered, these techniques essentially deselect the mark. There are three primary techniques that I’ve used:


Brian Moore’s Fake Highlight

Yuri Fal’s Filter Technique (as Documented by Luke Stanke)

Ryan Sleeper’s Filter Technique (part of a larger blog on Boolean toggles—see the very end of the blog for this specific technique)


I love Brian’s technique and use it regularly, but I suspected it might not quite work in this case because it does sort of keep the mark selected—it just removes the grey highlighting in all the other marks. So, in this case, it would remove the grey highlight on the other pie slices, but it wouldn’t necessarily force the donut hole to be in front.



Next, I tried Yuri and Ryan’s techniques. I’ve used Yuri’s with some success in the past (though I’ll admit I don’t really understand why it works), but I’ve run into some problems where it works differently on the web than on Desktop. Ryan’s technique is one that I recommend all the time and it works in many scenarios, particularly the Boolean toggle scenario shared in the blog. But neither of them quite worked in this scenario either—the pie charts still remain visible above the donut hole.


Forced Filter

With none of the “fake” options above working, I decided to turn to a trusty method that has never failed me—forcing a filter. I first learned this technique from Jacob Olsufka when he and Rody Zakovich employed it for a color-changing toggle in their Triple Play Art viz. I’ve shared this technique previously so I won’t go into a lot of detail here (see the How-To section of Customize Your Tableau Filters for a bit more detail), but the technique essentially entails relating your data to another data set that contains two rows. We then use filter actions to force the sheet to toggle a filter between those two rows. I’ve used this in countless scenarios and it has always worked for me since it is always filtering the view. So, I gave it a try in our pie chart scenario and voila, it worked!!



It does have a couple of strange problems. As you hover, you can see the entire slice highlighted and, when you click, the entire slice is temporarily visible before it disappears.


Note: This problem is even further exacerbated if you have animations turned on, so I recommend turning those off.


The reason we see this behavior is because the viz is being rendered client-side. When rendered server-side, the amount of interactivity is reduced, so what if we force it to render server-side? I created a new sheet using a polygon mark, floated it on the dashboard then used the coordinates in the Layout pane to push it beyond the bottom edge of the dashboard (essentially making it invisible to users). Polygon marks cannot be rendered client side, so this will have the effect of forcing server-side rendering for the entire dashboard.



And, with that in place, I think we’ve got it working exactly as we intended!! That was way harder than it should have been!


But, I think there are a few other solutions we should consider...


What About Polygons?

One option would be to dispense with the pie chart-based donut chart altogether and build our donut chart using polygons. We’d simply draw the outside portion of the donut chart. And, since there are no pie slices, we wouldn’t have the same problem as we’ve detailed above.


I’ve previously used a sunburst template to create a donut chart (in the blog, I even talked about the problem with selecting a pie slice) and I’ve also created a template for a half donut chart. So, creating a donut chart with polygons is clearly doable. The problem is that it’s hard—it requires data densification, trigonometry, and more than a few complex calculated fields. In my opinion, that’s far too much work just to solve this problem—the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.


Choose a Different Chart

A final option is perhaps the most obvious. Kevin suggested just using an entirely different chart. If you wanted the same basic idea as the donut chart, you could just use a pie chart.


This works well and doesn’t require any of the hacks we discussed previously.


Another option would be to leverage bar charts. That would also be easy to build and would have the secondary effect of making it easier to see exact precision in the different categories and sub-categories.



Okay, well that should cover it. We thought this was such an interesting challenge that we couldn’t resist trying a few things and writing about it. While I think this is a somewhat niche use case, the underlying problem of deselecting a mark is one that I run into frequently, so I’m hopeful that some of the different techniques shared here could come in handy for you in the future.


Thanks for reading!! As a reminder, you can see all these examples on Tableau Public.


Ken Flerlage, January 16, 2024

Twitter | LinkedIn | GitHub | Tableau Public

1 comment:

  1. I had the same issue once and I think I solved it by using a parameter and filter action on the control donut. For example, put category on color and then make a "selected-category" field that adds an extra character (like '*') to the detail if Category=Category_param. Use the parameter to filter sub-cat donut. I had to set up a parameter action to assign the Category and create a fake-filter action (Ryan's method). It took some playing around and I'm not really sure why it worked. I think the original slice you selected gets filtered out and is replaced with a slice that has the extra character in detail. The only issue I have is selecting the same slice twice colors the entire pie.


Powered by Blogger.