A summary of the changes introduced in the September 2019 update to Power BI
Part three of a six-part series of blogs

This month sees the welcome (if belated) introduction of Excel-style custom number formats, as well as more (and easier-to-create) themes and a host of other minor improvements.

  1. New features in the September 2019 update of Power BI
  2. Custom number formats
  3. Themes are easier to create (and there are more of them) (this blog)
  4. More things can be conditionally formatted
  5. Other new features in this update
  6. Features waiting in preview as of September 2019

For a cumulative list of all of the updates to Power BI Desktop in the last few years see this blog, or have a look at the Power BI courses that we run.

Posted by Andy Brown on 20 September 2019

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Themes are easier to create (and there are more of them)

Continuing the theme of being slightly ungrateful for overdue new features, Microsoft have made it easier to create themes, as well as providing lots of new ones.  But this feature could have been so much better ...

Microsoft have also changed the default theme used in Power BI (so, to take one example, you now get matrix row +/- icons by default, rather than having to enable them).

An expanded set of existing themes

A theme controls the look and feel of a report.  As an example, here's a report using a theme that Wise Owl have created:

Standard theme

A report with a custom theme created by Wise Owl.

 

Microsoft have now provided more of these custom themes as standard (they're also funkier).  Here are the themes now available as standard in Power BI:

List of themes

There are more themes available, and the ones which are listed have a greater effect (see below for an example of this).

 

So here's what you'd see if you applied the Tidal theme to the above report, for example:

The Tidal theme

Some themes (like this one) not only change the colour scheme used, but also show a background colour too.

 

For those (like me) wondering how Microsoft achieve this effect, it's by setting an image as the wallpaper for the page:

Wallpaper property

I don't think I knew that this property even existed (or perhaps I did, but had forgotten). Here the wallpaper shows the image file called Wave.

 

Creating custom themes (a refresher)

To create a custom theme of your own you need to first create a JSON file - no small undertaking.  Here's an example of one which would work:

{

"name": "NewThemeOptions",

"foreground": "#252423",

"foregroundNeutralSecondary": "#605E5C",

"foregroundNeutralTertiary": "#B3B0AD",

"background": "#FFFFFF",

"backgroundLight": "#F3F2F1",

"backgroundNeutral": "#C8C6C4",

"tableAccent": "#118DFF",

"textClasses": {

"callout": {

"fontSize": 45,

"fontFace": "DIN",

"color": "#252423"

},

"title": {

"fontSize": 12,

"fontFace": "DIN",

"color": "#252423"

},

"header": {

"fontSize": 12,

"fontFace": "Segoe UI Semibold",

"color": "#252423"

},

"label": {

"fontSize": 10,

"fontFace": "Segoe UI",

"color": "#252423"

}

}

}

I've put this in a new text file, and saved this as Sample theme.json:

New theme file

My new theme file.

I can now import this theme into my report:

Importing a theme

Choose this menu option, then find the new JSON theme that you've created and double-click on it to apply it.

 

Here's what this shows for the above report:

Sample theme applied to a report

The theme hasn't made that much difference, although many of the colours have changed subtly or not so subtly.

 

So what's new?

Rather than having to set every last visual property, Microsoft have provided a small set of common properties which you can customise.  So for example, you can set these generic properties:

Property What it controls
foregroundNeutralSecondary The colour of labels, legends and much else besides.
backgroundLight Axis gridline colours, shape fill colours and a few other settings.
callout The appearance of card data labels and KPI indicators.

You can see a full list on the September update page here.  Microsoft's expectation is that the vast majority of people will only need to create a simple JSON file (like the one shown above); they won't need fine control over every last property of every last visual.

So this is an improvement, to be sure, but it still means that it's difficult and messy to create a theme.  I suppose I had in mind a WYSIWYG on-screen theme designer ... but maybe I'm too picky!

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