How to: Custom icons with actions and tooltips

by Gheorghie Lang

When I was applying for the data school I accidentally stumbled upon an intermediate technique to hide info, links and actions within custom icons. I used a little question mark in a bubble to hide guidance and information in my original viz, it helped to reduce the cognitive load whilst still indulging my want to fill the viz with unnecessary insight.

First of all you’ll want to get yourself an icon, preferably one that has a transparent background, and then save it into you “my shapes” folder in your Tableau repository.

Getting an icon

Oh! Don’t forget to credit the creator of those icons! The Noun Project is a fantastic database (thank you Caroline Beavon) and will remind you and show you how to properly credit the work you are utilising.

Ah! What a lovely question mark in a circle.

Notice that transparent pattern that denotes transparency

Find that shape folder!

Optional: Create a custom folder

Save into your chosen folder


Right, so now open up Tableau. We need a new sheet and we are going to create a calculated field to attach the icon to. Don’t worry, I’ll talk you through it.

Create a calculated field and write a message in ” marks. It will probably just be a placeholder.

Now drag that calc field on over to the row and select “shape” in the dropdown view of the marks card.

Excellent, almost there. Just go onto the shapes tile and select “More Shapes…”

Select the folder that you put your icon in and then the icon itself. You may need to hit “Reload Shapes” though!

Now your itty bitty icon should be where that blank circle was

Now untick “show header”

Now drag your icon bigger so we can see what we’re doing!

Almost there

Hide the title

Now go into formatting, select borders and then put the Row Divider Pane to none.

So now you’ve got an icon with a tooltip, you can customise that (even with some snazzy filters and conditions too) in the worksheet dropdown at the top.

Now, dragging your new sheet onto an existing dashbaord, just fit to view and hide the title.

Voila! You have a custom icon with tooltip. You can even add actions to that if you want.

If you want some inspiration, I’ve also used these as organisation icons with a hyperlink action that leads to the organisation website. Great way of getting the website in there without taking up unnecessary space.

Here are some vizzes where I’ve utilised this technique

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