Tableau Tip: How to Build a Unit Chart without Shapes

by Emily Chen

I recently saw this viz and was immediately overtaken with a Tableau “Magic Moment”. Here’s the image but its a must see because given the ROI of “Magic Moment” to “how the heck do I build this”, the return is fantastic!

MLB Player Dashboard

I’m going to walk you through how we can build this unit chart in a couple of steps. It’s a bit long but I quite like it :D. There are quite a few parts to the original viz, so I’m just focusing on how you can create the 1st column (entering your salary with dynamic units)

Step 1: Determine What Your 1 Unit Represents and Create a Parameter with This Value

I’m currently working on a dashboard exploring the top 100 earners in eSports, so I’ll use this as my dataset.

I’ve also found that the average salary in the UK is £26,000, so I’ll use that value as my 1 unit. Here’s how I’ve set mine up.

average salary parameter

Step 2: Set up a Parameter and Calculated Field for Your Input

Parameter setup:

your salary parameter


Calculated field setup:

Your Salary calc field

Step 3: Drag Your New “Your Salary” Pill into Rows to Build a Single Bar Chart 

You’ll notice that the tooltip is not what you’d expect– the salary is way over inflated as it multiplying the salary value by the number of rows in the dataset!

Your salary bar


To get rid of this, double click on the pill and change the sum() into attr().

attr salary


Step 4: Add a Reference Line and Configure Distribution Bands

Here’s my window for how I’ve configured this.

Don’t forget to clear labels values! We just want the line to exist, but with no text.

Reference line Config

You’ll notice that the numbers get a bit crazy within percentages. This is because we’re telling Tableau “for every value of [average salary], build me a reference line at 100% that value, 200% this value, 300% this value etc”. I’ve got it up to 40X the value, just in case 🙂

Average Salary Gridlines


If you’re not particularly interested in typing out these numbers, just copy and paste the below:



Step 5: Format the line to be the same colour as the background.

Here’s the real piece de resistance of the trick. The white line blends into the background, giving us its the illusion of multiple bars stacked on top of each other. Brilliant right?

Reference line - white marks


And now you have a magical unit chart without shapes!