Building Effective Dashboards

Building an effective dashboard design is the culmination of a comprehensive BI process that would usually include gathering requirements, defining KPIs, and creating a data model. However, the importance of proper dashboard design should not be understated — poorly designed dashboards could fail to convey useful information and insights and even make the data less comprehensible than it was originally.

A good BI dashboard design is one that:

  • Makes the complex simple: we have lots of information, lots of data that changes all the time and different analytical needs and questions. We want to take all this complexity and make it simple.
  • Tells a clear story: we want to be able to connect data to its context in the business and to answer the viewer’s questions. This is where the visual layout of a dashboard plays a crucial role.
  • Expresses the meaning of the data: the chosen data visualizations need to correctly represent the data and the information you want to extract from it.
  • Reveals details as needed: we want each viewer to have access to the data they need — no less but also no more. Some users might need to be able to see a more granular view of the data — others could suffice with an overview.

While each data dashboard has its own requirements, limitations, and goals, there are certain guidelines that are almost always relevant for dashboard creation. We will proceed to present four of these principles, and how you can start applying them to your dashboards right now.

1. The 5 Second Rule

Your dashboard should provide the relevant information in about 5 seconds.

Your dashboard should be able to answer your most frequently asked business questions at a glance. This means that if you’re scanning the information for minutes, this could indicate a problem with your dashboard’s visual layout.

2. Logical Layout: The Inverted Pyramid

Display the most significant insights on the top part of the dashboard, trends in the middle, and granular details in the bottom.

When designing a dashboard, it’s important to follow some kind of organizing principle and one of the most useful ones is the inverted pyramid. This concept originated from the world of journalism, and basically divides the contents of a news report into three, in order of diminishing significance: the most important and substantial information is at the top, followed by the significant details that help you understand the overview above them; and at the bottom you have general and background information, which will contain much more detail and allow the reader or viewer to dive deeper! Just like the headline, subheading, and body of a news story.

3. Minimalism: Less Is More

Each dashboard should contain no more than 5-9 visualizations.

Some dashboard designers feel the need to cram as many details as possible into their dashboard in an effort to provide a fuller picture. While this might sound good in theory, cognitive psychology tells us that the human brain can only comprehend around 7 or 8 images in one time — this is the number of items you want in your dashboard. More than that just translates into clutter and visual noise that distracts and detracts from the dashboard’s intended purpose

4. Choosing the Right Data Visualization

Select the appropriate type of data visualization according to its purpose.

Visualizations should serve a specific purpose and convey significant facts in a more effective way than the basic tabular format.

Before choosing a visualization, consider which type of information you are trying to relay:

  • Relationship: connection between two or more variables
  • Comparison: compare two or more variables side by side
  • Composition: breaking data into separate components
  • Distribution: range and grouping of values within data

Dashboard Design: What Else to Consider

Choosing the right visualization is key to making sure your end-users understand what they’re looking at, but that’s not all you should consider. When thinking about how to design a dashboard, you need to also consider who will be the end-user of the dashboard in the first place.

For example, when designing a dashboard for an end user-focused on ad platform optimization, you probably want to focus your widgets on metrics that will increase conversion rates. Because your end user is in the thick of what goes on with every ad on a day-to-day level, looking at the nitty-gritty measures such as CPM (cost per mille) makes a lot of sense. However, a VP of Marketing probably just wants to see, at first glance, the broader strokes on how ad performance changes leads brought in.

In the end the two key parts of dashboard design is to have the right tools to build an impressive and gripping dashboard while also knowing what’s relevant for your end users, sticking to these principles will ensure a key distinguisher between your dashboards and the empowerment your users feel.

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