Creating Multi-Step Help Overlay Screens

I previously wrote a blog post on how to create a simple help overlay screen in Tableau.  Since then, I’ve used this technique in various dashboards and it works well for visualisations that are static in nature and don’t involve a complex or multi-stage flow of interactions.

For these more interactive types of dashboards you may find it helpful to provide a sequence of help screens that walk your users through your dashboard one step at a time. This avoids having an overly complex, single help screen with too many details and also helps your users by only needing to take in the information needed at each step of analytic flow of your dashboard.

Example

The below example is from a recent dashboard looking at geospatial analysis using Map Layers. The help screens guide the dashboard user through an analytical flow, how to export the dashboard to a PDF file and finally how to reset the view to start over. The user can scroll forwards and backwards through the help screens using a parameter:

Instead of using a single image object, this approach uses a worksheet and a series of background images along with a parameter and calculation to transition between the images.

Below are the steps to create multi-step help pages like these.

Complete the Dashboard First

To ensure you won’t have to recreate screenshots for the help screens later on, be sure to finish the dashboard first, including all formatting, titles, footers etc. It’s not required but I usually include the full dashboard canvas, or most of it, in the screenshot so that I can place annotations and instructions anywhere on the screen.

Determine the Stages to Annotate

For this example there were six stages I wanted to annotate separately to help the dashboard user:

  1. What to do first: select a target location
  2. The map will then zoom to that location. Next: set the buffer size and Airbnb filter criteria
  3. With filters in place, the user should then: Select and Airbnb
  4. They can then: filter the EV Charging Points and set the buffer size for charging points
  5. The user then has the option to: hide points out of range and download a PDF of the dashboard
  6. Finally, the user can: Click Start Over to clear the current selections and Reset the map

Of course, some users may wish to do these operations in a different order or repeat some actions. That’s fine, the help pages just provide an example flow to follow and visuals of what that will look like so they can become familiarised with the dashboard functionality. 

Create Images for Each Step

For best results I recommend creating all the screenshots with the same dimensions and using the same area of the screen. This will ensure the help screens don’t ‘jump around’ as you navigate through them.

I use Snagit which allows you to set a fixed area of the screen so you don’t need to manually select the same area each time. I’m sure other screen capture tools have similar functionality, this is just the one I use.

Below are the six screenshots I captured as I went through the flow of analysis:

The difference between steps 5 and 6 is that screen six has the map controls showing as I want to highlight in the annotation to click the Reset map button.

Add Annotations to Images

Next, head over to your graphic design tool of choice: Figma, Illustrator etc., or PowerPoint will work fine, and add the required annotations on top of each screen, clearly showing what the user needs to know at each stage and what actions they can take to get to the next stage.

Configure the Help Worksheet

To show the background image, we need an X and Y axis. To create these, first create two measures – X and Y – as shown below, and place these on the Columns and Rows shelves respectively

Now fix the X axis to be the same as your image width and fix the Y axis to the same as your image height. For examples, my images are all 1183 x 779, so I’m fixing the Y axis to go from 0 to 779:

There needs to be a calculation in the view (based on a parameter) that can be used to change the background image using a condition – we’ll look at how to configure that shortly. First, create an integer parameter with a range of allowable values from 1 up to the number of images you have (six in this case):

Then create a calculation which simply returns the value of the parameter:

Add the Background Images

Go to the menu:  Map > Background Images > YourDataSource:

Click on Add Image and the browse to the first of your help images.  Then enter the relevant X (Right) and Y (Top) values (the width and height of your images).

We want the help image that’s shown to be dependent on the parameter value, which feeds into the Help Page calculation. To add this condition, go to the Options pane and click Add:

Search for the Help Page calculation and click OK

The calculation will only have one possible value, which is the current value of the parameter. Select the value (which will be “1” for this first image) and click OK

The condition will then be shown on the Add Background dialog. Click OK

In the view you should now see your first help image.

Now increment the parameter value to 2. The background image will disappear (as the condition is no longer met). Go to the Map > Background Images > YourDataSource menu option again. Click Add to add a second image and repeat the above steps, this time selecting “2” as the value for the condition.

Repeat the above to add all six images with the relevant conditions. Now hide both the X and Y axes.

Add the Help Screens to the Dashboard

The worksheet containing the background images will be placed inside a container so drag a horizontal container into your dashboard and then drag the Help Page worksheet in the container. Now add a Show/Hide button for the container, so the help pages can be toggled on or off:

Next, we want to resize and position the container such that the help image aligns with the underlying dashboard. The best way to check this is to repeatedly show and hide the container and nudge the position around the dashboard as required until you don’t notice any difference when showing the help image other than the annotations being shown.

Note, the other option is to only have annotations in your help image with a transparent background. However, in this example, the underlying dashboard changes as we move through the help steps so it’s necessary to capture the dashboard state at each stage in the help images as well to be sure the annotations make sense.

Add the Parameter to the Container

With the help of a few blanks at the top of the container, you can add the parameter so that it’s only visible when the help screen is visible. With the parameter shown, the consumer can then scroll through the help screen:

Workbook

The example used here is from a recent workbook I shared on Tableau Public, which you can download here.

I hope this was useful and thanks for reading!

Marc Reid
Twitter | LinkedIn | Tableau Public

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