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How to control carousels in Tableau?


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Navigation is the act of moving between screens of an app to complete a specific task. Based on the information architecture, a user can move in one of three navigational directions:

  • Lateral navigation refers to moving between screens at the same level of hierarchy.
  • Forward navigation refers to moving between screens at consecutive levels of hierarchy, steps in a flow, or across an app.
  • Reverse navigation refers to moving backward through screens either chronologically (within one app or across different apps) or hierarchically (within an app).

If you are interested in learning more about the navigation process and design you can find useful base information here:

What is the carousel?

You can call it slider, image rotator, or content module. The carousel displays images and other objects by scrolling/swapping or animating the content. Users can step to any specific panel on demand using the pagination icons/numbers or browse the Carousel sequentially by using next/previous – right/left buttons.

They are everywhere on the web and on your apps. Web designers use them a lot, but making them usable and insightful is a different story.


  • Carousels are able to maximize the use of available space without scrolling down the whole page.
  • It contains more than one piece of content but only one piece of content actually visible at one time.
  • It also offers some indication to hint users that is more than one piece of content available within the carousel.

One of the best examples is Apple’s homepage provides visible and easily recognizable next/previous controls. Note that not too long ago the navigation buttons were changed from dots to lines.

Let’s see another example from Instagram.

Desktop version displays dot indicators and arrows

Mobile version shows dot indicators and the number of slides.

I miss this 🙁

Guidelines for Effective Carousel

  • Limit the total number of slides in a gallery

Strive for 5 or fewer slides within the carousel.

  • Indicate the number of slides

It’s important to know where the users are within the progression carousel, it helps them feel in control.

  • Use icons/buttons that are understandable and recognizable and make them large enough to decipher and click

If the arrows on your carousel are smaller than the size of the mouse cursor, you have a problem.

Let’s see how we can make it in Tableau.

1. Select your images – make sure you use the same size of them. I am going to use these images.

2. Define what kind of pagination indicator and method you want to build. Only dots/numbers or small pictures, dots/numbers + arrows, etc. I am using simple dots and adding the previous/next buttons in order to browse the Carousel sequentially.

3. Let’s create a tiny spreadsheet.

4. Add this new dataset into Tableau.

5. Let’s add your first image as a background map to a coordinate system on a new sheet but first create a new calculation for your x and y-axis: MIN(1)

6. Add the Story 1 to the Rows and Columns.

7. Now the coordinate system is empty so let’s add the images. Go to map > background images – select the datasource which contains the image data. Add image.

8. Browse for the first image. Set the Story 1 as X- and Y Field.

9. Fixed the range of X and Y axis to 0 – 1 on the coordinate system.

10. Add the Story Name field to the Filter Panel and select the Story 1 record.

11. Follow the exact same steps with the other 2 pictures on new sheets. Note: you need to make new MIN(1) calculations with other names like Story 2 and Story 3. Use the Story 2 on the Image 2 and Story 3 calculation on the Image 3 sheet.

Ok, we have images let’s make the navigation part. I am going to use Parameter action based on the selected Story/Image.


1. Create an integer Parameter. Use the Story Points field (1, 2, 3 ).

2. Create a Set based on the Story Points field where add the following condition:

3. Add the Story Points field to Columns – as Dimension and Discrete field – and put it to the Detail Mark too.

4. Let’s change the Mark type from Automatic to Circle.

5. Put the Active Story Set field to Color.

Navigation arrows

Right- Next button

1. Create a Story Next calculation that navigates the images from left to right

2. Create a Navigation Story Filter

3. Add the Story Back and Story Points to the Detail shelf.

4. Select Shape Mark type and add the arrow to the sheet.

5. Add the Navigation Story Filter to the Filter Panel – Select TRUE

6. Add the Story Points to the Filter and exclude the last point.

Left – Back button

1. Create a Story Back calculation that navigates the images from right to left.

2. Add the Story Back and Story Points to the Detail shelf.

3. Select Shape Mark type and add the arrow to the sheet.

4. Add the Navigation Story Filter to the Filter Panel – Select TRUE

5. Add the Story Points to the Filter and exclude the first point.

Before we are going to the dashboard site, make sure you added the Navigation Story Filter to the worksheets of images (Story 1, Story 2 and Story 3)


Here is the ITEM hierarchy what I used:

I added the 3 Images to one single Horizontal container in order to we will be able to switch between using parameter control. I put the navigation (Left arrow – Dots – Right arrow) to another Horizontal container.

Last step is deifining the Parameter action on this dashboard. We need 3 actions.

1. Navigation Story – Dots

2. Navigation Story – Right

2. Navigation Story – Left

We are DONE. Let’s try it! You can navigate by clicking on the dot indicators or by using the arrows! If you are on the last – 3rd – dots the right arrow will disappear indicates that there are no more images. You can notice the same if you are on the first dot, the left arrow will disappear.

I think this a good solution but its worth to note that there are duplications (images on different sheets, 3 x-y axes) and there may be 1-1 pixel slips due to being placed the 3 different images in one single container on the dashboard.

I would like to share 2 other methods on how you can switch between carousels/images and then you will be able to mix them. 😎

Of course Lindsey Poulter – I just call her the QUEEN of SET and PARAMETER ACTION, she is crazy good – wrote a step by step tutorial about her solution. She used set action and she already referred to which image is active on the background image window, so she was able to avoid sheet duplications and it allows to click on the image itself to go to the next or previous one. Here you can walk through the steps and download her workbook as well:

The next example comes from Sam Parsons. He built a beautiful Map visualization with many tiny and well-designed features like swapping between images. I love his solution because it allows a built-in navigation button part. You don’t need to make a separated navigation sheet because the images and the buttons come from one single sheet. Everything based on the prepared data model. More details can be found in his workbook

I can’t wait to see your work. If you need any help just drop me a mail or find me on Twitter.

Written in Budapest 🖤, Hungary




Ivett Kovács

I love taking datasets into beautiful and informative visualizations. Besides data, I am also very passionate about traveling, surfing, cooking and exploring the outdoors with my dog.

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