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When to Use Stepped Colors

Updated: Jan 22

Stepped colors are a way you can reduce the number of colors in a visualization. In my opinion, your eye can only process so many colors at a time in a dashboard. If you use too many, it can be overwhelming. (Can your eye focus on any particular thing?) It is a best practice to limit the number of colors on a dashboard. But did you know you can also help your user make quicker decisions with reduced colors?


In my Tableau Public dashboard here, I go through three scenarios for using a Stepped color palette. You can guide your clients to help them make quicker business decisions with this design.


I want to give a shout out to my former co-worker Heather Gough for demonstrating Scenario 1 in the beginning of my Tableau learning journey.


How do you apply stepped colors?


On your worksheet, click on the Color Marks card.

Then click on the Edit Colors button.



Then check the box for Stepped Color. You can use the arrows to set how many "steps" or how many colors you want to see in your worksheet. If you pick 3, only three colors will be applied to your chart. If you pick 2, only two colors will display.



I will review the three use cases for using this option.


Scenario 1


You are a District manager that manages stores all over the United States. What's the most important thing you should focus on? Profits or Loss? Using Stepped Color choices can help you quickly identify which states are not profitable.



The lighter blue colors do not stand out in this map. Does it make sense to display them?


Scenario 2


Based on the Sales for your Sub-Categories. Which are your Top selling sub-categories, which are Mid-range and what are the Lowest? In the chart on the left, can you quickly identify your three top selling Sub-Categories?



By adding a three stepped color palette you can quickly identify that Storage is the third highest selling Sub-Category.


Scenario 3


You are the manager of a Pizza Store. For the month of December you want to know what days did you sell the most pizzas and what hours were heavy order times. With using stepped colors in your dashboard, you can quickly identify and schedule staff for those peak hours. This may also help you with ordering supplies.



Feel free to click on the Tableau Public link to interact with the dashboard. The data set for the Pizza sales is extracted from this Kaggle link.

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