Heatmaps and Heat Maps and Highlights, Oh My!


Heatmaps and Heat Maps and Highlights, Oh My!

Let’s talk Tableau. As an accredited Tableau instructor (and a self-proclaimed Hermione Granger), I’ve got a question that just won’t leave my mind: it has to do with heat maps and highlight tables. But first, a little background on those chart types.

In Tableau Desktop I: Fundamentals, instructors teach two visual variations of comparing metrics across a grid or table: the highlight table and the heat map.

Highlight Table

  • Great for using color as a visual cue to highlight important areas of a single metric
  • Great for analyzing discrete fields with lots of members
  • Mistakenly called “heatmaps” by many Tableau vizzers due to the intensity, or “heat,” of the colors

Tableau highlight table

Heat Map

  • Good at comparing TWO (typically) continuous fields across many dimension members using size and color
  • Not as heavily used (in my experience) but potentially good for showing patterns

Tableau heat map

Enter Tableau 2018.3

Tableau’s 2018.3 beta promises a new mark type that will be a game changer for areas of high concentration: density. This density mark type can be used to create heatmaps. See where I’m going with this?

Tableau heatmap

While I am incredibly excited to compare this new mark type with the current solution, density maps, I’m curious if I’m the only person feeling like a major pedant. My brain wonders what we’ll call the map above and how we’ll clearly differentiate the charts.

My Two Cents

In a frantic attempt to provide a suitable alternative to the “heatmap” chart type, I did a bit of brainstorming:

  • The concentrated chart type
  • The oodles chart type (wouldn’t that be fun?)


As I anxiously anticipate the release of 2018.3, I hope all of you will take a moment to ponder my silliness. I look forward to hearing your suggestions as we enter this new age of Tableau Desktop.

More About the Author

Katie Wagner

Analytics Consultant | Training Lead
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