Top 5 Tips for Designing an Effective Dashboard
Updated: Mar 17
The principles of creating an effective dashboard are universal, regardless of the dashboard solution you use. Here are our top five tips for designing a dashboard that will lead to better business decision making.
1. Consider your audience
Your audience is the most important factor to consider when designing a dashboard. Understanding how they will be using the dashboard and what information they require will help you build a dashboard that is relevant and useful for the audience.
To do this successfully, you need to put yourself in the end-user’s perspective. Consider the type of information the user needs on a day-to-day basis and the type of decisions they need to make to achieve their business goals and objectives.
The context or device in which they will be using to view the dashboard (e.g., on mobile, desktop or a big screen) may also have an influence on how data and information is presented on the dashboard.
2. Choose relevant KPIs
In this data-driven age, we are spoiled by a wealth of data sources and data points. It can be tempting to utilise all the information you have available and potentially drown your user in data.
However, to create a truly effective dashboard that facilitates better decision making, it is vital to select relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) that reflect the user’s needs and their business goals and objectives.
Be selective and identify the right data points to use on the dashboard by sorting key metrics into three categories:
KPIs - these are metrics that reflect the business outcome and represent the measure of success. (E.g., Sales, Revenue)
Diagnostics - these metrics are used to identify the levers that will have the most impact on the KPIs. (E.g., Ad Clicks, Ad Impressions)
Red Flags - these are metrics that require minimal attention, unless it suddenly experiences a noticeable increase or decrease. (E.g., Cost-per-click, Cost-per-thousand-impressions)
3. Provide context and narrative
A compelling dashboard tells an effective data story. An effective data story persuades, educates and facilitates further exploration; it helps users to remember important information, understand the meaning behind the data and make better decisions.
Good data storytelling on a dashboard can be achieved by having a logical structure and hierarchical placement of visuals and charts. One of the most useful mechanisms that can be used to facilitate this is the inverted pyramid, a concept that originated from journalism that involves dividing the content into three, from the most to less significant. The inverted pyramid concept can be applied to a dashboard layout as follows (from top to bottom):
Most noteworthy information = most important and high-level insights such as indicators of KPIs and targets.
Important details = trends and information that provide context to the KPIs and high-level insights.
General background information = data with higher granularity that provides more detailed information, allowing the user to drill down and explore the data further.
4. Use the right type of chart and design treatment
Visualisation is the core element of all dashboards. Needless to say, it is important to use the right type of chart as they are the main vehicle used to present information on a dashboard. The type of chart used should serve a specific purpose and convey information in an effective way that is easy for the user to understand.
Here are some general guidelines on when it is appropriate to use each chart type:
Bar Charts - Bar charts are a simple and effective way to show trends or compare values between different categories.
Line Charts - Line charts are the hero of depicting trends or patterns of change across a continuum. They provide a clear and precise way for comparing trends between different categories over the same time period. They can also be used to track and compare developments of a metric across two different periods.
Area Charts - Area charts depict a time-series relationship with a volume element. They are best used stacked to provide a visual representation of part-to-whole relationships across time.
Indicators and Gauges - Indicators are used for showing one metric. They are ideal for providing an immediate view of how well a particular KPI is performing. When incorporated with a gauge, the indicator can effectively show the user if they are tracking above or below the KPI target.
Pie Charts - Pie charts should only be used for representing proportions of a whole. That is, when the sum of your numbers equals 100%. For a pie chart to be effective, limit to 6 or fewer categories.
Tables and Pivot Tables - Although tables are the less intuitive way to visualise data, they offer the ability to present detailed information with different metrics that otherwise may be difficult to visualise in a graph.
Additionally, prioritise simplicity when applying visual treatment to your dashboard. The styling of the dashboard should not distract users from the data. Avoid making charts too complicated and use colours purposefully to aid users in understanding the information. A good rule of thumb is to select 2-3 core colours and 1-2 fonts, and use them consistently throughout the dashboard.
5. Ask for feedback and evolve
Do not just set and forget. Adjust and evolve your dashboard in response to user feedback and changes to the business goals and objectives to ensure the dashboard provides ongoing meaningful and actionable insights. Be proactive in asking for feedback and input from users. Tweak the dashboard’s layout, functionality, KPIs, and look and feel so that it provides optimum value for its users.
Think you’re ready to dive in and put your newly-acquired dashboard best practices into action? Get started by organising a session with your end-users to gather information about their needs and define KPIs. If you’re looking for a more sophisticated dashboard solution and need a bit of help, or just want to find out more - get in touch with Be Intelligent! We would love to hear from you.