A few days ago I was talking to a colleague about how to make a dashboard more effective.
Speaking of data visualization, in this post we will go into several topics:
- Key factors for building the best graphical representation
- Design rules for building a dashboard;
all in order to make the result as effective and understandable as possible for the end user.
- Consider your audience
Your audience is one of the most important factors you have to take into account. You need to know who’s going to use the dashboard and for what purpose they will use it in order to create the best analytical tool for them.
To do so successfully, you need to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. The context and device on which users will regularly access their dashboards will have direct consequences on the style in which the information is displayed
2. Determine your goals
The next dashboard UI design principle has a direct relationship between the user’s needs and the purpose of the dashboard, which is to establish your ultimate goals. Rather you are creating a client dashboard or an internal report, each dashboard that you create will serve a purpose and answer key questions through the data. Here, it is important to consider that not all the data available will be useful for the analysis process and that getting this part of the process wrong can render your further efforts meaningless.
3. Choose relevant KPIs
For a truly effective KPI dashboard design, selecting the right key performance indicators (KPIs) for your business needs is a must. Once you’ve determined your ultimate goals and considered your target audience, you will be able to select the best KPIs to feature in your dashboard.
Your KPIs will help to shape the direction of your dashboards as these metrics will display visual representations of relevant insights based on specific areas of the business.
4. Tell a story with your data
Following the workflow for effective dashboard design UX comes the moment to start building your data storytelling.
To put it simply, dashboard storytelling is the process of presenting data in a visual manner that will depict the whole narrative of the data analysis process in order to efficiently understand business strategies and goals. In other words, efficient storytelling will help you communicate your message in the clearest way possible.
This is a fundamental step as an effective data story will close the gap between more technical users and the ones that have no closeness to analytics. As Forbes states in one of their articles: “storytellers use data-driven narratives to enlighten those team members for whom data analysis is unavailable, inaccessible or simply not the best use of their time”.
A good practice for efficient data storytelling is to design your dashboard beforehand. Planning what charts you will include based on your audience and goals will help you be more focused when you actually start building your dashboard. This way you avoid putting a mix of visualizations and seeing if they make sense together but instead generate useful reports considering the level of understanding of users and the final objectives.
5. Select the right type of dashboard
Another best practice to consider is to be aware of the type of dashboard that you want to build based on its analytical purpose. As mentioned in previous points, each dashboard should be designed for a particular user group with the specific aim of assisting recipients in the business decision-making process. Information is valuable only when it is directly actionable. The receiving user must be able to employ the information in his own business strategies and goals. As a dashboard designer who uses only the best dashboard design principles, make sure you can identify the key information, and separate it from the inessential one to enhance users’ productivity.
For reference, here are the 5 primary types of dashboards for each main branch business-based activity:
Strategic: A dashboard focused on monitoring long-term company strategies by analyzing and benchmarking a wide range of critical trend-based information.
Operational: A business intelligence tool that exists to monitor, measure, and manage processes or operations with a shorter or more immediate time scale.
Analytical: These particular dashboards contain large streams of comprehensive data that allow analysts to drill down and extract insights to help the company to progress at an executive level.
Platform-specific: As its name suggests, this type of dashboard is used for platform-specific analytics. For example, if you want to track your social media performance you can use specific metrics and generate a LinkedIn dashboard focusing only on that channel.
Tactical: These information-rich dashboards are best suited to mid-management and help in formulating growth strategies based on trends, strengths, and weaknesses across departments, such as in the example below:
A very common mistake in designing the dashboard is presenting all information as if it is equally important. Use the size and position of content widgets to show the hierarchy of data.
- Make it clear to the viewer what’s most important by defining information levels
- Display more important information on the top left. Move towards the bottom right direction with the information from more to less important level
- It is also possible to divide the information into categories and display them in different views
The real purpose of the dashboard is to present complex information in an understandable and simpler form.
- Don’t provide a lot of information that would be difficult to absorb for the user
- Use fewer columns to display information
- Reduce clutter by removing redundant content
A dashboard looks better when it is designed using a consistent layout.
- To make your dashboard easier to read, use similar visualizations and layouts between groups
- Put related information closer to each other
- Group related content visually
Displaying related information together in a dashboard will help the user to understand it quickly.
- Put related information closer to each other
- Don’t scatter related information across the dashboard
- Group related content visually
The elements of a dashboard need to align visually to make it a balanced look.
- Do align dashboard elements with each other to organize better.
- Try to place dashboard widgets in a Grid view.
- An unaligned view does not give a good impact to the user.
Whitespace is as necessary to design as air to breathe. It provides a breathing space to the user when he is using your design.
- Whitespace in the dashboard design appeals to the user when he comes to see the information
- Reducing whitespace will overwhelm the user with a cluttered view
- Use whitespace to group related information visually
Use an effective color scheme to grab the user’s attention and help them go through the information easily.
- Choose colors carefully to make the content readable
- Use maximum contrast to display the visual elements properly over the background
Standard fonts are the best fonts to display on a dashboard unless there is a specific need to use other fonts.
- Use standard fonts as they are easier to read and scan
- Unusual and stylish fonts may look good visually but are difficult to understand
- Avoid All caps text as it is difficult to read and the human mind takes time to absorb it
- Use a suitable size and style of font that communicate the information effectively
9. Number Formats
Displaying numbers with the more than required level of precision make them difficult to read and understand.
- Round numbers where necessary as long numbers can confuse the user.
- Truncate the unnecessary information.
- Make it easier for the user to compare simple details.
Use labels that convey the required information to the user quickly and efficiently.
- Avoid using rotated labels as they are difficult to read for the user
- Use standard abbreviations where possible
Key factors is intended as “Why” we want to make a specific representation
Design rules is intended as “How” we make the representation
Data to visualize is intended as “What” we have to represent
Dashboards are intended to save time and effort, providing a simpler representation of complex and abstract data. The purpose of a dashboard is to communicate the critical information to your audience in a way they can understand. Make sure to deliver what your audience needs and then they need the information.