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Background Concepts for Power BI

A solid layout is the foundation of every high quality report design. In this post I will show how to implement backgrounds into Power BI and provide resources to get started.

Why Backgrounds?

When thinking about Data Visualization, the primary focus is almost always on which types of visuals work best with the data in hand to tell a story. Even if a report has perfect Data and Visuals, it is the responsibility of the report author to land a cohesive story that is easy for the end user to navigate.

Margins, Distribution, Consistency, and Alignment are extremely important and often overlooked. If done poorly, these elements can take attention away from the story and leave users dissatisfied and confused. Fortunately, all four of these items can be tackled quickly and easily with a well made background.

A well made Background will:

  • Give structure and flow to a story
  • Guide and Guardrail the creative process of finding the story
  • Mask imperfection at the report level

There are many ways to build a Background for Power BI. I personally use PowerPoint for its simplicity, but more advanced graphic designers will use pro tools like Adobe Illustrator. At the end of the day, all we need to get to is a properly sized high quality image.

Avoid using shapes in Power BI to build your background

Every shape you bring into the Power BI Report directly will impact your performance, regardless if there is a query associated with it. If you bring in a single image for the background instead, you will be rendering a single element, rather than 10+ for a rich background. See the Performance Analyzer for Detail on this.

Getting Started

In the case where I do not have a story yet, I will start out in Power BI and identify an “Anchor Visual” to build my experience around. This would be the primary draw of your report page.

In this example I am looking at King County Health Inspection data and landed on a map to be my Anchor Visual. At this point, I will go into PowerPoint and start building my Background with this Anchor in Mind. I will then work with the shapes to determine a good layout for the remainder of the report.

If your Report page is 16:9 (Default) You can create in the Default Power Point slide size

Start with a shape that fits your Anchor visual and its position

The Initial shape sets the margin and spacing for the report page
Adding like-shapes and proportions across the page to fill the canvas

I will then add color that goes with my branding/theme

I will now bring this background into my PBIX:

  • In Power Point, Select All of your Elements
  • Right Click > Save as Picture
  • In Power BI Desktop, with no elements selected, open the formatting options in the Visualization pane
  • Click + Add image button under “Page Background” and find your new image
  • Remove any transparency on the slider
  • Use drop down to Choose Image Fit: Fit

I can now position the visual in the box i created for it, and start building my story based on the other boxes I laid out for it.

Perfect Fit for my Anchor Visual

If you find a key element that you want to include does not into your predetermined sections, simply modify the PPT to suit and re-load!

I really want this line chart to take this much space up but my background is not set up for it. I will then shift shapes to suit line graph while keeping my margins and spacing intact

I can also bring in our Branding and Titles to limit how many elements are rendered within Power BI

Viewing the same visuals within the report without the background you will notice that not everything is positioned well, and the report is much harder to follow.

Even here not all items are perfectly spaced, but due to the framing being aligned it is not noticeable

We now have a finished report page and can take our background and adjust our shapes to fit the needs of our remaining report pages. By keeping the same background colors/themes and redistributing our shapes we can end up with a consistent look and feel across tabs

Let me know what you think Follow on Twitter for quick tips and tricks @ChrisHamill17

Check out the Background Gallery to download the PowerPoint for this example, and check back for new Backgrounds frequently!

17 thoughts on “Background Concepts for Power BI

  1. Nice post!

    Even better – Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape (free option). When I started designing my own backgrounds for Power BI, I started with PowerPoint too. Now, I get sharper and much better quality backgrounds with Illustrator.

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  2. It is a nice idea, and a shame from Microsoft’s point of view about the negative performance issues from using shapes within PowerBI itself.
    Personally though, i find it very rare that a report holds a single tab, nor do I know how my report will look and feel before I start working on it, so designing a background would need to come at the end, and it would need a new one for each tab.
    Having not yet implemented a background like this, I would need to weigh up the cost on my time to develop such features and find a way to keep it consistent (styling, not shapes obviously) across multiple reports.
    When branding changes it can be problematic to have to refind all your saved backgrounds and alter them. In Power BI I just simply update the theme.

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  3. Very nice technique. It really does a lot to improve the page. Thanks for demonstrating this.

    In many cases, I don’t know that you really need to create the boxes for each chart in PowerPoint. You can turn on the background color on the chart. It will save a lot of work in PowerPoint each time you need to tweak the size of a chart or add a new page. You can even get a Round Rectangle look for a chart by turning on the border and setting the radius. If you don’t want to see the line, you just set the line color to the background color.

    I am thankful that Microsoft pointed me to your page in the March 2020 release!

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    1. Thank you for your comment Mike! Glad you liked the post 🙂 I have done both, but prefer PowerPoint because it gives more flexibility while retaining margins/spacing/alignment and also allows shadowing and more shape flexibility. I did use the backgrounds and rounding for the Microsoft 365 usage analytics report with good success though! https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/admin/usage-analytics/usage-analytics?view=o365-worldwide#overview-of-microsoft-365-usage-analytics

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