Hi All,

I’ve been a bit of a no-show recently. The Iron Viz Feeder took up a lot of time, coupled with moving job role next week – meant less time plugging away on writing blogs.

This blog will look to explore layering shape files! This will be a follow along tutorial. All resources can be found on github, from the top of the page. Please feel free to download a copy and recreate the visualisation yourself. It is aimed at beginners. If you get stuck, watch out for a future VizConnect, I plan on doing a quick demo on there in a few weeks time.

What will we be looking to recreate in Tableau? A simplified version of the end part of my IronViz feeder 2021.

What does the visualisation show?

The title ‘Example one’ was the title of the tennis tournament. The top half of the tennis ball was coloured on the winner of the chosen final. The bottom half of the tennis ball was coloured on the runner-up of the final.


I’ve previously mentioned credit goes to Lisa Rapp for this, where she used the method in her ‘Viz Game of the Year’. Please read it prior, it covers in such great details her design and preparation that we will be following in a similar method. Today we will be adding in a few little extra’s on top.


We will be using the shape files that I’ve created already.

There are 6 separate shape files. Download the shapes files and take a look.

‘Example 1’, ‘Example 2’ and ‘Example 3’ will be the header banner.

The tennis ball is made up of three separate sections, because we want to colour them based on different components. These include ‘Top Segment’, ‘Middle Segment’ and ‘Bottom Segment’.

Here are the images all saved down separately.

But what if you want to make your own?

You can use whatever tool you’d like to make these. Recommendations would probably be PowerPoint or an Adobe product. I chose an old version of Photoshop, but logic wise it is still the same. We want to save each section of the viz down in parts.

Tips for creating your own:

1) Depending on your layout I would recommend making your width and height of the sheet the same. For my build I created it all in a 10×10 grid. Try to save the images down at a high resolution in order for them not to be blurry.

2) I made all the shapes the same flat colour to begin with. I was super excited to know that I could re-colour the flat icons in Tableau, meaning I actually needed to save less shape files down!

3) Keep everything in proportion when saving the images down, do not rescale them!

4) When you create the overall image, make it at least almost reach every corner/side of the square. We can re-adjust everything to become smaller in Tableau on the sizing tool later if needs be. We are better off having them too big than too small and blurry.


Load the shape files into a folder.

To find where your tableau repository sits, go to file > Tableau Repository.


You will see I’ve created a folder in my Tableau Repository shape folder called TennisTutorial.

Note: When you go to create shapes you may need to click reload the shapes. Sometimes Tableau will want you to reopen desktop to load the new shapes in.

Now we are all prepared!


The data has been simplified to make it easier to understand.

EXAMPLE: This column isn’t particularly needed, I just find it easier to create the level of detail easier with having a distinct column in the data.

BASE X / BASE Y: These are simple X,Y co-ordinates of where we want to build the visualisation

YEAR: Used to differentiate the shapes for the examples.

WINNER: Used to create the top part of the tennis ball shape and colour on.

RUNNER-UP: Used to create the bottom part of the tennis ball and colour on.

Things to note

If creating your own: When you plot your axis, think how much space you will want to give each element. For example my chart at (0,2) will expand roughly 0.4 each side of that mark leaving a 0.1 gap between it and the element to either the left or right. Spacing is fairly important. Having a set fixed axis grid really helps.

LOD: Each mark has a specific point, if you don’t drag the correct dimensions onto detail then your points won’t show in the correct place.

So far so good.



  • Open Tableau and connect to the dataset TennisTutorial.


  1. We need to make one calculation!

MP. Circle

MAKEPOINT([Base X],[Base Y])

Explanation: It is the exact same as plotting an x and y co-ordinate. It just happens to be that we need multiple layers so use Tableau’s map functionality to be able to add more layers to the marks card. You will see it generates longitude and latitude.

side note: I put MP at the start of all my makepoint layers as a naming convention…. obviously you don’t have to do this bit! I just find it easier to filter in the search bar when I have created a lot of them!


Double click the new calculation MP Circle bringing it to the sheet.

Turn the Mark to Circle.

Drag Example onto Detail.

Add a Border to the circle and make Opacity zero.

Note: When we add new layers to the marks card we will want to turn on the background map. When we build out our viz though, we turn them back off. Go to MAP > BACKGROUND MAP > NONE

This is the most important step. I repeat, when we add to the layers we turn the map on. My preference is to turn it off when I do the rest of the build! Therefore in the following few steps make sure you deviate between them. Also play around with your axis being fixed when map is turned to none!


Add MP. Circle to the Marks card again. It will appear as MP. Circle (2) – You can rename these at your leisure if you double click on the box, for simplicity of order I have kept them all the same.

Turn it to a shape.

Drag Example to detail and make it a dimension.

Drag Year to shape.

Make each of the years a different example header.

Turn up the size to fit the circles.



Again, we want to add the same MP. Circle to the mark card.

Turn it to a shape.

Select the shape that is the top half of the tennis ball.

Drag Example to detail and make it a dimension.

Drag Winner onto colour.

Turn up the size to fit the circles.

Side Note: I was surprised to see that you can re-colour the flat Icons using the tableau colours!


Drag MP. Circle to the mark card.

Turn it to a shape.

Select the shape that is the middle of the tennis ball.

Drag Example to detail and make it a dimension.



Drag MP. Circle to the mark card.

Turn it to a shape.

Select the shape that is the bottom of the tennis ball.

Drag runner-up onto colour.

Turn up the size to fit the circles.

Last things to note is:

  1. You can play around with axis sizing to rescale it to look nice in the sheet or dashboard.

2) You can amend the colours. I think its fantastic that you can re-colour each part of the tennis ball as well as the text and circle.

3) If you wanted to add tooltips I would recommend placing the circle at the top of the marks card and adding the tooltips just once in this layer.

4) Amend the grid lines and hide the axis to clean up the visual.

There we have it – All finished.

A fairly simple tutorial with only one calculation needed!

The biggest positives of this method:

  1. Being able to keep your dataset small helps performance. It keeps it simple and clean!
  2. I believe custom shapes give more freedom for better designs.

The biggest negatives of this visualisation method:

  1. If you create your custom shapes using points rather than shapes you have the ability to tooltip each section with a different tooltip. With this method you’re most likely going to have to overlay a clear shape/circle with the details in!
  2. If you want larger designs rather than small multiple type looks, you may face problems with image quality. In which case I would recommend trying to go down the polygon route. Check out my UEFA Viz blog for more.

How to take it further?

  1. You could look to create your ‘shapes’ as polygons drawn in tableau.
  2. You could look to create your points along a custom shape (Much like Lisa did with her Viz Game of the Year) I’ve seen a few bendy timeline tutorials that could come of use! Check out this one by the Flerlage twins. I think this adds greater variation to the typical grid method.
  3. You could look to use a variety of abstract shapes. For example check out the following graphic by the communication specialist Francesca Mercurio. I just loved this type of concept. I came across Francesca on her Instagram, but do check out her behance page. Also check out one of my favourite designers to follow Federica Fragapane. I’d be a huge fan if we can integrate this type of design more into Tableau work.

I hope this mini step-by-step guide is useful; hopefully you can apply the logic to your own vizzes and designs. If anyone has any questions, give me a shout. You can reach out to me on Twitter, or Linkedin.