Symbol map tableau

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11 December, 2014 | Chris Mace

Show Me How: Symbol Maps

Using maps in Tableau is a very powerful tool that can quickly show the user geographical data at a glance. In this post I will show you how you can build a Symbol Map quickly using the “Show Me” feature in Tableau Desktop.


What is a Symbol Map?

Symbol Maps are simply maps that have a mark displayed over a given Longitude and Latitude. Using the “Marks” card in Tableau you can quickly build up a powerful visual that informs users about their data in relation to its location. You can also use data to drive the shape of the mark that is on the map either by using the Pie chart example or shapes to better show another level of detail.

These maps can be as simple or as complex as you need them to be and I will show you some examples to get you started.

Where to start

The first thing you are going to need is geographical data, this means that you either have to have the Longitude and Latitude for the data points you want to show or you have fields of data that you can match up to the geographical roles in Tableau for example Country, City, Postcode etc.

Geo roles



Example one

For the first example I will use the Super Store data set available with Tableau desktop.

As you can see we already have the Country, State, City and Postal Codes matched to the roles so any one or all of these can be used.

Double click on the Country field and Tableau will move this onto the level of detail and also move the generated Longitude and Latitude onto the rows and column shelfs. This is the most basic of a symbol maps as it is showing your data in relation to its location.



From here we can do any number of things to improve the visualisation to help inform our audience.

For example we may want to have a look at how our Profit is doing per country?

All we need to do is drop the Profit field from our measures section onto the Size shelf on the Marks card.


profit country

Now that we know which countries make us the most profit we may want to know what it is that makes us all this profit?

We can change the Marks type from Automatic into a Pie and then drop Department onto the Color shelf on the Marks card. This will now split up each mark with the Departments profit contributions per country.

percent of profit

Example two

The next example is using GPS data gathered from a mobile phone app

The following is an example from some GPS data I had and this only provided Lat/Longs so there is no field with city or postcode to match against the inbuilt geographical roles.

Each mark is a placed on its Lat/Long point as a visit and the size of the mark is the amount of time spent at each location.

lat long map

Example Three

Last Example is just to show that you do not need to be on land to use the the Lat / Long method

As you do not need to have a country or city level of detail you can actually chart data points in the middle of the sea or even against a image of your own that is not a map at all.

The following is a screenshot from Chris Loves’ entry into The Volvo Ocean Race Alteryx and Tableau Challenge we posted earlier. You can see all of our attempts here The Volvo Ocean Race Tableau Challenge and have a go with the data provided if you wish.

volvo map

Using symbol maps to create the unexpected

The last point I would like to say on symbol mapping is that you can use this method of adding marks on top of an image that is not a map. Using the Adding Images page from the help file ( Adding Background Images)you can specify an X and Y axis over the image and use this to build your visualization on.

One great example of using this function is in this blog post about creating a pass map by Brian Prestidge

Tableau For Sport – Creating Pass Maps


Show Me How Series

You can find links to the other posts in the series on our Show Me How Index Page.


Create Maps that Show Quantitative Values in Tableau

You can create maps in Tableau Desktop that show quantitative values, similar to the example below. These types of maps are called proportional symbol maps.

Proportional symbol maps are great for showing quantitative values for individual locations. They can show one or two quantitative values per location (one value encoded with size, and, if necessary, another encoded with color). For example, you can plot earthquakes recorded between 1981 to 2014 around the world, and size them by magnitude. You can also color the data points by magnitude for additional visual detail.

This topic illustrates how to create a proportional symbol map using an example. Follow the example below to learn how to set up your data source, and build the view for a proportional symbol map.

Your data source

To create a proportional symbol map, your data source should include the following types of information:

  • Quantitative values
  • Latitude and Longitude coordinates or location names (if recognized by Tableau)

It's also recommended that your data contain a large variation of values, otherwise your symbols will appear approximately the same size in the view.

The following table is a snippet of the Earthquake data source, which is included in the Create Proportional Symbol Maps in Tableau Example Workbook(Link opens in a new window) on Tableau Public. It contains columns for earthquake magnitude and magnitude to the power of ten, and columns for latitude and longitude vales. It also contains a column for the date and earthquake ID for added clarity and organization.

Earthquake Date TimeIDMagnitudeMagnitude^10LatitudeLongitude

Basic map building blocks:

Columns shelf:Longitude (continuous measure, longitude geographic role assigned)
Rows shelf:Latitude (continuous measure, latitude geographic role assigned)
Detail:One or more dimensions
Size:Measure (aggregated)
Mark type:Automatic

Build the map view

To follow along with this example, download the Create Proportional Symbol Maps in Tableau Example Workbook(Link opens in a new window) from Tableau Public, and open it in Tableau Desktop.

  1. Open a new worksheet.

  2. In the Data pane, under Measures, double-click Latitude and Longitude.

    Latitude is added to the Rows shelf, and Longitude is added to the Columns shelf. A map view with one data point is created.

  3. From Dimensions, drag ID to Detail on the Marks card. If a warning dialog appears, click Add all members.

    A lower level of detail is added to the view.

  4. From Measures, drag Magnitude^10 to Size on the Marks card.

    Note that the Magnitude^10 field is used to encode size, instead of the Magnitude field. This is because Magnitude^10 contains a wider range of values, so the differences between values can be seen visually.

    You now have a proportional symbol map. The larger data points represent earthquakes with larger magnitudes, and the smaller data points represent earthquakes with smaller magnitudes.

    In most cases, this is as far as you need to go to show quantitative values for single locations. However, in this case, since there are so many data points in the view, more visual detail is needed to help you differentiate between the earthquake magnitudes, and to help you spot any trends.

  5. From Measures, drag Magnitude to Color on the Marks card.

  6. On the Marks card, click Color > Edit Colors.

  7. In the Edit Colors dialog box, do the following:

    • Click the color drop-down and select the Orange-Blue Diverging palette from the list.

    • Select Stepped Color, and then enter 8.

      This creates eight colors: four shades of orange, and four shades of blue.

    • Select Reversed.

      This reverses the palette so that orange represents a higher magnitude than blue.

    • Click Advanced, select Center, and then enter 7.

      This shifts the color palette and ensures that any earthquake over 7.0 magnitude will appear orange in color, and any earthquake under 7.0 magnitude will appear blue in color.

    • Click OK.

  8. On the Marks card, click Color again, and then do the following:

    • For Opacity, enter 70%.
    • Under Effects, click the Border drop-down menu and select a dark blue border color.

    The map view updates with new colors. The dark orange data points represent earthquakes with higher magnitudes, while the dark blue data points represent earthquakes with lower magnitudes. The opacity of the marks is at 70% so you can see where the data points overlap.

  9. On the Marks card, right-click the ID field and select Sort.

  10. In the Sort dialog box, do the following:

    • For Sort Order, select Descending.

    • For Sort By, select Field, and then click the drop-down and select Magnitude.

    • Click OK.

    This sorts the data points in the view so that the larger magnitudes appear on top.

    Your proportional symbol map is now complete.

Point location and attribute meaning

It's important to note that symbols on a map can sometimes be misinterpreted as representing actual ground area. For example, if you have a map view that plots earth impact craters across North America, and sizes each symbol by the diameter (in kilometers) of the impact area, you might get a map view that looks like this:

In this particular case, it could be very easy to interpret the size of these data points as representing the actual ground area of the craters. Your audience might assume that most of Montana, U.S. was destroyed by a crater, which is not accurate. In reality, the crater in Montana was simply one of the larger craters in the data source and has been sized accordingly.

In cases such as these, it might be helpful to include annotations, or explanations of what the size actually represents to avoid misinterpretations. Even if it seems obvious.

See Also:

Mapping Concepts in Tableau(Link opens in a new window)

Assign Geographic Roles (Link opens in a new window)

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Tableau Essentials: Chart Types – Symbol Map

Not everyone is a Tableau guru, at least not yet. To help Tableau rookies, we’re starting from square one with the Tableau Essentials blog series. The series is intended to be an easy-to-read reference on the basics of using Tableau Software, particularly Tableau Desktop. Since there are so many cool features to cover in Tableau, the series will include several different posts.

One of the great features about Tableau Software is the ease in utilizing maps for your visualizations. There are two chart types to choose from when creating a view with geographic data: symbol maps and filled maps. In this article, we’ll cover symbol maps. These are simply maps that use a type of mark to represent a data point, such as a filled circle.

Note: Tableau 8.1 was used to create the map images in this blog post. For more on changes to maps in Tableau 8.2, see our post here.

Before we get started, in the upper left-hand corner of the map is a navigation tool:

Nav tool

This tool has four controls. They are (starting from top to bottom): zoom in, zoom out, zoom into a selected area using a click-and-drag and reset map. For a more controlled zoom in and zoom out, hold CTRL and scroll with your mouse wheel. These controls will help you and your report viewers navigate around your view, particularly if you’ve got a lot of detail spread across the globe. To pan across your map, hold SHIFT and left-click drag your mouse across your screen.

Example: Where Do World Cup Players Play Club Soccer?

For our symbol map example, we’ve created a database of all of the players from the 2014 FIFA World Cup – the world’s greatest sporting spectacle. The final tournament features 32 national teams from around the world. So, where do these national team players, presumably among the very best in the world, play their club soccer?

Symbol map.

Figure 1: Symbol map.

The larger the circle, the larger the player count. To avoid the clutter of labels in such a densely-marked area such as Europe, we’ve added the symbol map to a dashboard. This dashboard has a text table summing up the top 10 countries at the top along with a positional filter (defense, midfielder, attacker and goalkeeper). If you follow international soccer, it’s no surprise that England (119), Italy (81), Germany (78) and Spain (64) are tops. Out of the top 20 most valuable soccer clubs in the world, 19 of them belong to these four leagues. Show me the money!

The closer we zoom in, the more geographic detail Tableau will provide on our map. Let’s focus on Western Europe, where the majority of players make their money.

Continental zoom

Figure 2: Continental zoom.

With this closer view, you can now see the sub-region divisions within each country. In fact, you can get a lot closer. Let’s break out each country’s clubs into cities and see what happens when we do that for the 122 club players in the UK.

Country zoom

Figure 3: Country zoom.

The density of World Cup players’ club locations in the UK is led by London (36), with Manchester (24) and Liverpool (16) following closely behind. Those are the homes of the top clubs in the UK – Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, etc. You can see that Tableau can give a great degree of geographic specificity to your data.

You can go even deeper:

City zoom

Figure 4: City zoom.

Above is the city of London with the River Thames running right through the middle of the map. The dark grey patches are gardens, parks and reserves within the city. You could add more detail to this map by selecting the Map menu and exploring the Map Options panel.

Map visualizations are one of the truly innovative features of Tableau Software. With the standard level of automation and intuitive controls, you can add genuine business insight with stunning views. 

Other Chart Types

Here is the complete list of chart types from the Show Me menu. Be sure to check back often as we continue to release new articles in each chart type in this sub-series.


  1. Text Table (Crosstab)
  2. Heat Map
  3. Highlight Table
  4. Symbol Map
  5. Filled Map
  6. Pie Chart
  7. Horizontal Bar Chart
  8. Stacked Bar Chart
  9. Side-by-Side Bars
  10. Treemap
  11. Circle Views
  12. Side-by-Side Circle Views
  13. Lines (continuous & discrete)
  14. Dual Lines
  15. Area Charts (continuous & discrete)
  16. Line Chart Extra
  17. Dual Combination
  18. Scatter Plot
  19. Histogram
  20. Box-and-Whisker Plot
  21. Gantt
  22. Bullet Graphs
  23. Packed Bubbles

More Tableau Essentials

Want to learn more about Tableau? We have several posts outlining all of Tableau’s fantastic features. Check out the full list on our Tableau Essentials blog channel.

As always, let us know if you have any questions or comments about this post or Tableau in general. If you’re looking for personalized training or help with something bigger, contact us directly!

Contact Us

Tableau - Introduction To Maps

Mapping Concepts in Tableau

If you want to analyze your data geographically, you can plot your data on a map in Tableau. This topic explains why and when you should put your data on a map visualization. It also describes some of the types of maps you can create in Tableau, with links to topics that demonstrate how to create each one.

If you're new to maps in Tableau, this is a great place to start learning.

Watch a Video: To see related concepts demonstrated in Tableau, watch these free training videos: Getting Started with Mapping(Link opens in a new window) (3 minutes) and Maps in Tableau(Link opens in a new window) (4 minutes). Use your opens in a new window) account to sign in.

Why put your data on a map?

There are many reasons to put your data on a map. Perhaps you have some location data in your data source? Or maybe you think a map could really make your data pop? Both of those are good enough reasons to create a map visualization, but it’s important to keep in mind that maps, like any other type of visualization, serve a particular purpose: they answer spatial questions.

You make a map in Tableau because you have a spatial question, and you need to use a map to understand the trends or patterns in your data.

But what is a spatial question? Some examples might be:

  • Which state has the most farmers markets?

  • Where are the regions in the U.S. with the high obesity rates?

  • Which metro station is the busiest for each metro line in my city?

  • Where did the storms move over time?

  • Where are people checking out and returning bikes from their local bike share program?

All of these are spatial questions. However, is a map the best way to answer them?

When should you use a map to represent your data?

If you have a spatial question, a map view might be a great way to answer it. However, that might not always be the case.

Take for example, the first question from the list above: Which state has the most farmers markets?

If you had a data source with a list of farmers markets per state, you might create a map view like the one below. Can you easily tell the difference between New York and California? Which one has more farmers markets?

What if you create a bar chart instead? Now is it easy to spot the state with the most farmers markets?

The above example is one of many where a different type of visualization would be better to answer a spatial question than a map.

So when do you know if you should use a map view?

One rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether or not you could answer your question faster, or easier with another visualization. If the answer is yes, then perhaps a map view is not the best visualization for the data you’re using. If the answer is no, then take the following into account:

Maps that answer questions well have both appropriate data representation, and attractive data representation. In other words: the data is not misleading, and the map is appealing.

If your map is beautiful, but the data is misleading, or not very insightful, you run the risk of people misinterpreting your data. That’s why it’s important to create maps that represent your data accurately, as well as attractively.

What types of maps can you build in Tableau?

With Tableau, you can create the following common map types:

Proportional symbol maps

Proportional symbol maps are great for showing quantitative data for individual locations. For example, you can plot earthquakes around the world and size them by magnitude.

For more information about proportional symbol maps, and to learn how to create them in Tableau, see Create Maps that Show Quantitative Values in Tableau(Link opens in a new window).

Choropleth maps (filled maps)

Also known as filled maps in Tableau, Choropleth maps are great for showing ratio data. For example, if you want to see obesity rates for every county across the United States, you might consider creating a choropleth map to see if you can spot any spatial trends.

For more information about Choropleth maps, and to learn how to create them in Tableau, see Create Maps that Show Ratio or Aggregated Data in Tableau(Link opens in a new window).

Point distribution maps

Point distribution maps can be used when you want to show approximate locations and are looking for visual clusters of data. For example, if you want to see where all the hailstorms were in the U.S. last year, you can create a point distribution map to see if you can spot any clusters.

For more information about point distribution maps, and to learn how to create them in Tableau, see Create Maps that Highlight Visual Clusters of Data in Tableau(Link opens in a new window).

Heatmaps (density maps)

Heatmaps, or density maps, can be used when you want to show a trend for visual clusters of data. For example, if you want to find out which areas of Manhattan have the most taxi pickups, you can create a density map to see which areas are most popular.

For more information about density maps, and to learn how to create them in Tableau, see Create Heatmaps that Show Trends or Density in Tableau.

Back to top

Flow maps (path maps)

You can use flow maps to connect paths across a map and to see where something went over time. For example, you can track the paths of major storms across the world over a period of time.

For more information about flow maps, and to learn how to create them in Tableau, see Create Maps that Show a Path Over Time in Tableau(Link opens in a new window).

Spider maps (origin-destination maps)

You can use a spider map to show how an origin location and one or more destination locations interact. For example, you can connect paths between metro stations to plot them on a map, or you can track bike share rides from an origin to one or more destinations.

For more information about spider maps, and to learn how to create them in Tableau, see Create Maps that Show Paths Between Origins and Destinations in Tableau (Link opens in a new window).

Resources to help you get started

Before you get started with building map views in Tableau, review some of the following resources.

Get your geographic data into Tableau

Format your geographic fields

Watch a Video: To see related concepts demonstrated in Tableau, watch these free training videos: Getting Started with Mapping(Link opens in a new window) (3 minutes) and Maps in Tableau(Link opens in a new window) (4 minutes). Use your opens in a new window) account to sign in.

See also

Build-It-Yourself: Build a map view(Link opens in a new window)

Customize How Your Map Looks(Link opens in a new window)

Use Mapbox Maps(Link opens in a new window)

Use Web Map Service (WMS) Servers(Link opens in a new window)


Tableau symbol map


Maps, which were introduced with Tableau 4.0 in August 2008, are one of the most powerful visualization types available.

The power of maps comes from their inherent ability to leverage schemas that you have been building up for many years.

In the Data-Driven Storytelling tip, Eliminate Chart Junk (but Not Graphics), we showed how an image of a map helps you decode dozens of Latitude / Longitude pairs almost instantly.

This post shares how to harness this power by creating symbol maps and how to take your maps a step further by integrating Tableau with beautiful Mapbox maps.

First, let’s take a look at how our final map example will look:

Tableau Symbol Map with Mapbox Integration Feature

This tutorial uses the Sample – Superstore data set.

How to Make a Symbol Map in Tableau

The easiest way to start a symbol map in Tableau is to double-click on a geographic dimension from the dimensions shelf on the left-side of the interface. You know that Tableau recognizes your geographic fields as map-compatible if there is a globe icon next to the dimension.

In our example, we are going to double-click on Postal Code to start the view.

Tableau Symbol Map by Postal Code

Notice that Tableau put Longitude on the columns shelf and Latitude on the rows shelf, and each circle represents the intersection of each pair.

At this point, we technically already have a symbol map, but there are several ways we can add value to the visualization

You may want to change the ‘symbol’ from the default circle to a square or other shape.

Perhaps you want to size and/or color the symbols by a measure such as sales by placing measures on the appropriate marks cards.

We like the default circles because you can add a border and they look nice with transparency, so we are going to stick with that.

We will change the color to something that pops more by clicking on the color marks card and size the bubbles by sales by placing that measure on the size marks card.

At this point, our view looks like this:

Tableau Symbol Map Sized by Sales

This is a solid symbol map at this point, but you can also add additional data layers or choose from three map styles by navigating to Map > Map Layers.

How to Add Mapbox Maps

Tableau provides three map styles out of the box, but starting in Tableau version 9.2, it is very easy to integrate your Tableau workbooks with Mapbox, a custom map designing service, to access 14 additional map styles.

In order to access these new styles, follow these simple steps:

  • Go to
  • Signup via the button in the top right corner
  • Once you’re signed up, navigate to the Home tab, and copy your access token on the right side
  • From within your map view in Tableau, navigate to Map > Background Maps > and click Map Services
  • From the new dialog box, click ‘Add…’ and choose ‘Mapbox Maps’
  • This is where you give your custom map a name, paste your access token, and choose one of the styles
Adding a Mapbox Map in Tableau

For our example, we chose the high contrast Mapbox style, but there are 13 additional styles to choose from!

After clicking ‘Okay’ and closing the dialog box, we are left with a nice-looking Tableau symbol map with an integrated Mapbox style.

Final Tableau Symbol Map with Mapbox Style

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Written By

This post is curated content from the Evolytics staff, bringing you the most interesting news in data and analysis from around the web. The Evolytics staff has proven experience and expertise in analytics strategy, tagging implementation, data engineering, and data visualization.

Symbol map, Filled map, Choropleth Tableau


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