Tableau how-to: Minimalist graphics that blend into your background

This will be the first "how-to" post on this site - my strengths are less in the tech realm. However, I was recently asked a "how-to" question, and it's a bit of a hack I've developed to accomplish a trick really quick. So, I'm going to step a bit out of my comfort zone and share this.

The question was based off this viz on Tableau Public:


The question was about the two images (top right and bottom right corners) - how did I get them to blend into the background? 

Of course, powerful photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop or GIMP can allow us to tweak the different layers of an image, but unless I'm doing something really complicated I typically use a quick hack I've found in Microsoft PowerPoint, and it usually takes about five minutes. 

Step 1: Find your image. 

This may seem obvious, but not many photos actually work well for this style. You want something with a high amount of contrast and a background that isn't too busy. I tested out five different photos before I got to the images above.

For an easy demonstration, I'll use the following photo of me playing viking at the Saga Museum in Reykjavík, Iceland. There's a nice contrast between the foreground (me) and the background (although the polar bear will give us some headache).


Step 2: Insert your image in PowerPoint. 

This part is easy. Insert --> Pictures in the PowerPoint ribbon below, and then find your image. 



Step 3: Apply a minimalist filter.

If you click on your image, you'll see a new Format tab appear in your ribbon. Then you'll find Color as an option, and if you click it, you'll get a bunch of filters. Pick one that suits your fancy, but this PowerPoint hack will work best with one of the more minimalist photos that works primarily in one color scale. 


This is the filter I chose:



Step 3a: Crop out polar bears.

There's a crop function in PowerPoint, in the Format tab of the ribbon, on the right hand side. 


Step 4: Save the image...as an image. 

You can right-click on your edited image, click "Save as Picture". Choosing ".png" as the file type is my preference, but others would certainly argue differently. 


Step 5: Repeat step 2.

It might seem like we're chasing our tails here. We kind of are - but, like I said, it's a quick hack. 

Step 6: Set transparent color

You're almost going to repeat all of Step 3, but after you click Format --> Color, scroll down past all the filters and click "Set Transparent Color". Your mouse will turn into this weird little shape - put that over the background of your image (or whichever part you want to be transparent), and click. 

This is why we chose a monochromatic filter - if we had tried setting the transparent color before, we would just get a few transparent pixels, because there are too many colors. 

After that, this is now what my image looks like - the background is transparent, and the foreground is white. Of course, I could add another filter to make the foreground different colors now, if I wanted. 

Once you've finished, repeat Step 4 to save it as an image.


Step 7: Insert the image into Tableau.

I won't write out all these instructions - there's a couple different methods, and you can find a good post on it here.

And...here's what my final product looks like, in Tableau. As I said before - there are better ways of doing this that can protect the resolution, get better accuracy in your coloring, and give you a lot more flexibility. But, 9 times out of 10, this works as well as I need it to, and it's super fast. 


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