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Embedding Templates into Tableau Desktop

This blog was originally posted on my personal blog in 2017, however this post will contain small changes given updates to the Tableau Desktop product since the post was first published.

Dashboard templates and examples can be a hugely impactful method to successfully embedding Tableau into a business. They allow users to forget about one of the more tedious Tableau tasks (formatting), and allow them to get their analysis in-front of stakeholders, in a presentable manner, quickly.

From an audience/consumer perspective, a consistent look and feel will make navigation and interaction much easier as we get an understanding of where to look for those key aspects.

I’m aware that some people disagree with the idea of having templates, with people feeling it can curb creativity, and that the rules around templates add a barrier to entry that some just may not be willing to overcome. I think the latter point is completely fair, but this is why I tend to think templates are fine, providing they are flexible and don’t contain a whole host of design rules that no user is ever going to bother read, yet alone implement.

In this post I’m going to outline how we can make dashboard templates part of the Tableau product, making it even easier for users to get started on their Tableau journey. An example of the end result is shown below.

Creating your Templates

In order to embed templates into the product, you first need to create your templates workbook, which should be saved as a packaged workbook (.twbx) once complete.

When creating templates for client’s in the past one thing we look at is whether we need to create templates for different device types (if people are consuming, or wanting to consume content via tablets or mobile devices), or different dashboard sizes (do people in your business have a common desktop/laptop monitor size or is there great variance).

As one of the key reasons for building templates is about allowing for a consistent look and feel, then perhaps you can look for inspiration from your companies other software’s that may implement templates, such as Microsoft PowerPoint.

We also think it’s important to demonstrate the art of the possible, so we would also look to created a separate workbook which contains examples of our templates can be implemented (it could even be embedded into the same workbook, it’s up to you!).

You may even think about sourcing a series of Tableau Public visualisations which you feel could offer inspiration to users and package them in single ‘Vizperation’ Tableau Workbook too, or download Andy Kriebels Tableau Visual Vocabulary.

Getting them into the Product

The first thing we need to do is collate all our dashboards into a single folder, for now I have just created a folder called ‘workbooks’ on my desktop, which we will move to the right location once we have everything set-up!

The next thing we need to do is generate an overall thumbnail for each of our workbooks, this acts as the visual which is presented in the sample workbooks section.

All images should preferably be saved as .png files, though I haven’t tested with other image types. They should also be close to square in terms of shape!

These thumbnail images should be saved to the same location as your workbooks, and saved with the prefix of the workbook they are relevant too, with the suffix ‘@2X.png’.

An option extra is to also generate multiple thumbnails, perhaps one for each view in your Tableau workbook; this is designed to give the user a quick glance as to what is contained within the sample workbook when a user moves their courser across the image.

These images should be saved with the naming format…


With the ‘ViewNumber’ representing the order to which the view should appear as you move the curser across the image; so it will of course start at 1 and then increment by 1 (e.g. WorkbookName-1@2x.png and WorkbookName-2@2x.png).

The last thing we need is a file titled ‘samples.manifest’, this is an XML document that instructs Tableau with the different images and workbooks to include in the sample workbook section.

For each workbook you must detail the four elements, the ‘file’, the ‘thumbnail’, the ‘caption’ and the ‘tooltip’.

<sample file='Branded Templates.twbx' thumbnail='Branded Templates@2X.png' caption='Branded Templates' tooltip='Branded Templates' />

The file specifies the .twbx which you wish to insert, and the thumbnail should point to the overvall image that you want to associate with that workbook in the samples workbook section.

The caption represents the text that you wish to appear underneath the image of the sample workbook, and the tooltip represents the detail given to the user when hovering over the workbook.

This process should be repeated for all the workbooks you wish to include in the samples section.

I also mentioned that it was possible to generate a series of thumbnails to allow the user a cheeky sneak peak of the different views within your sample workbook. Once you have generated these images you must add the ‘sheet-thumbnail-format’ and ‘sheet-thumbnail-count’ elements to your smaples.manifest file.

<sample file='Visual Vocabulary.twbx' thumbnail='Visual Vocabulary@2X.png' caption='Visual Vocabulary' tooltip='Visual Vocabulary' sheet-thumbnail-format='Visual Vocabulary-%1@2x.png' sheet-thumbnail-count='8'/>

The ‘sheet-thumbnail-count’ element represents the total number of these view type thumbnails you wish to include.

The ‘sheet-thumbnail-format’ should be in the format which begins with the standard prefix used for the images, whilst the %1 tells Tableau where the changing numeric value exists, before finally closing with our 2x.png suffix. So rather than tell Tableau the name of each individual image we wish to include, we simply tell Tableau what the common parts of the image name, with the %1 acting as a wildcard.

I decided that adding these additional thumbnails were a good idea for the visual vocabulary workbook, and therefor my final samples.manifest file looks something like the below (please feel free to use this as a base for your file and amend the components as necessary; it will certainly be easier that starting from scratch!)

<?xml version='1.0' encoding='utf-8' ?>

<samples version='9.0' xmlns:user='http://www.tableausoftware.com/xml/user'>

<sample file='Branded Templates.twbx' thumbnail='Branded Templates@2X.png' caption='Branded Templates' tooltip='Branded Templates' />

<sample file='Branded Examples.twbx' thumbnail='Branded Examples@2X.png' caption='Branded Examples' tooltip='Branded Examples' />

<sample file='Visual Vocabulary.twbx' thumbnail='Visual Vocabulary@2X.png' caption='Visual Vocabulary' tooltip='Visual Vocabulary' sheet-thumbnail-format='Visual Vocabulary-%1@2x.png' sheet-thumbnail-count='8'/>


The final step is to move these files into a location where Tableau can see them and load them from.

If you navigate to the directory ‘C:\Program Files\Tableau\Tableau VERSION NUMBER\help\Workbooks’ you will see that Tableau creates sample workbooks which vary be language, the set of workbooks that is shown in the product is dependent on the language chosen in the product.

So in my case, I will want to first clear out the en_US folder, and then paste all of our documents into this folder.

And next time I open Tableau, my sample workbooks look beautiful and relevant!

In the last step you may have identified that the Tableau Version number forms part of the file path where these files need to be copied to, this does mean that when you upgrade you will need to copy the files over to the next version. This is where working with your IT can pay off, as they can work to include the sample workbooks as part of the install package of Tableau desktop which they distribute to users.


Ben Moss

Leicester, UK

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