A comprehensive business intelligence project includes everything from gathering information, cleaning data to creating data models, and designing dashboards. Even though a dashboard is the pinnacle of the BI process, its importance cannot be dismissed off. Creating an effective dashboard is not just a creative piece of art to play around. Rather, it should be perceived as a preview of vital information to be presented to the user in the easiest possible way.
Gone are the days when enterprises needed a specialized IT technician and a qualified graphical designer to the pretty and dazzling dashboard. Today, with the advent of many dashboard design tools, having the ability to grasp logical judgment and strategic thinking is sufficient to successfully design an appealing dashboard.
A dashboard is a platform to view important information, show trends and loopholes, and provide frequent updates to users. Hence, designing a dashboard is the most important phase of a business intelligence process.
An effective BI dashboard should have the following qualities:
- Simple to present complex information, with lots of data changes and various analytical requirements, in an easy to interpret way.
- Clear enough for a user to retrieve the required information within 5 seconds of surfing across.
- Meaningful to convey the right information to the user in a clear and understandable way.
- Consistent in its layout, organization, and content to display information in an organized manner.
This article lists out top 10 dashboard design principles to guide you in preparing the simplest user-friendly comprehensive dashboard to meet your business requirements
1. Define the Purpose of the Dashboard
Before starting to design the dashboard, you should have a clear idea about the audience requirements. Having an in-depth idea about the audience’s background and their level of understanding would help you to create a user-friendly dashboard.
The style of the dashboard should be finalized by taking the context and device into consideration. Make sure your dashboard is targeted to assist a single user group in their decision-making process.
Based on the purpose of business activity, the following 4 types of dashboards can be designed:
A. Strategic dashboard to monitor long term strategies by considering and analyzing trends in critical company data.
Figure below shows a strategic dashboard which focuses on the revenue in terms of MTD, YTD, factors affecting the revenue, and rate of customer reorders. This is a strategic dashboard which summarizes an eCommerce company’s performance over different time zones.
B. Operational dashboard to monitor, measure, manage time sensitive operations or processes of the company.
Figure below shows a marketing operational dashboard showing performance of an AD platform in terms of total clicks, impressions, click through rates, and campaign performance.
C. Analytical dashboard to provide comprehensive data which can be drilled down to extract further information. It allows user to leverage the available data, draw insights and make progressive business decisions.
Figure below shows an incident and ticket analysis dashboard showing number of incidents by different factors wherein user can also view further information by applying drill downs.
D. Tactical dashboard to strategize company’s growth by analyzing the trends, strengths, and weakness across various departments.
Figure below shows an example of tactical dashboard demonstrating sales trends and top performers in terms of average sales.
2. Choose the most Suitable Visualization Type
Importance of data visualization and different ways to enhance your visualization credibility has already been illustrated in our previous article. On a nutshell, it can be said that selecting the right type of data visualization is mandatory to serve your purpose of conveying the desired facts in a well-crafted manner.
Before finalizing the dashboard visualization, have a clear idea the type of information you want to depict:
3. Avoid Cluttering on the Dashboard
While a dashboard is undoubtedly a visual platform to demonstrate a complete picture to the user, cramming your dashboard with each detail is not a good idea. As discussed in the first point, you should have an idea about your target audience before designing the dashboard.
Information required by one set of audience may be an irrelevant piece of extra information for another. You can use tabs, filters, or drill down lists to segment your dashboard as per user needs, or you can just simply create different dashboards for each user type.
Remember, human being’s cognitive ability allows them to ingest only 5 to 7 images at a time. Any extra information would be perceived as visual noise.
4. Choose Appropriate KPIs
Key performance indicators are vital to monitor and measure your department or company’s progress. Choosing the correct metric is essential to demonstrate desired insights, subsequently helping the end-user to make relevant business decisions.
Tracking KPIs is essential to foster business growth, support business objectives, motivate employees and monitor performance. Key Performance Indicators are widely used in operational and strategic dashboards.
5. Follow an Organized Layout
A good dashboard design cannot be achieved with just few good metrics and relevant graphs or charts. Rather, a neatly organized structure should always be considered an essential add on to demonstrate your metrics. Remember, no one will spare much time to figure out required information within a jungle of graphs and charts.
Following suggestions should be implemented to design a well-structured dashboard:
- Display the most important information at the upper left corner of the screen. As per scientific wisdom, people automatically tend to look at upper left side of a page at first glance.
- Follow a pyramid like structure for your dashboard, displaying the most important information or major trends at the top. The next layer should contain charts or graphs giving deeper insights into these trends. Finally, the bottom layer must be filled with high granular details for the user to drill down and explore.
6. Contextualize Your Dashboard
Apart from a structured layout and appropriate visualization techniques, it is essential to align the user with circumstances or situations behind the displayed numbers and figures. Unless and until you provide a threshold data to compare your given information, the numbers are just meaningless.
Idea behind your BI dashboard is to allow the user to deduce valuable insights and make decisions. This is not possible if you do not provide any context to the charts and graphs.
Always provide relevant comparisons against a target, previous value, or projected value.
Also, a combination of natural language generation with visualization would be helpful to engage your audience.
7. Present Data in the Easiest Way Possible.
To design an effective dashboard, it is always important to keep yourself in the audience’s shoes. The purpose of the dashboard is to provide a clear picture of the required information. Always display information in the simplest way possible such that that the user doesn’t take much time to grasp relevant information.
Make your dashboard simple by showing evolution ratios or trends to help the user in making relevant comparisons, understand the current situation, and take progressive decisions.
8. Consistency is the key
Main objective of your dashboard is to assist the user in extracting valuable insights at one glance. Apart from a well-organized layout, consistent labeling and formatting would be cherry on the cake.
Using different formats and labels for common metrics or KPI would be very confusing and slow down the analytical capabilities, thus defeating the very purpose of a dashboard. You can also give a consistent layout to your dashboard by grouping related content and using similar layouts between groups.
A consistent structure allows the user to find every required detail at the expected place and work easily with the interface. Cards are the perfect example of widgets that can hold the information, view controls, and charts at their right place, thus giving a consistent look to your dashboard.
9. Balanced White-space
Apart from a well-organized dashboard with consistent layout and labeling, another subtle yet essential requirement is to have a well-balanced white space between your data elements. White space or negative space is the blank area between the content elements.
It is as vital for a dashboard user as air to breathe. You cannot expect a user to ingest the given clutter of data with minimal or no space between the elements.
A better option is to use double margins to ensure your dashboard elements are well organized within a frame of balanced white space.
10. Frequently Update your Dashboard
The last, but not the least principle of dashboard design boils down to frequent updates. Updating your dashboard with respect to the regular changes is essential to ensure a high rate of analytical success. Implementing feedback from your team, higher authority or even the user would help to improve functionality and layout of your dashboard. In this ever-evolving digital word, it is always paramount to regularly enhance your design.
Top Dashboard Design Trends of 2020
Dashboard design is a forever evolving technology with the emergence of advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Analytics, NLP, etc. According to Gartner, the predefined dashboard with static point and click visuals will be replaced by the dynamic context-based automated storyboards.
Figure below shows top trends in dashboard designing:
The main purpose of a dashboard is to provide complex information using the simplest possible way in a short span of time. The dashboard should be visually balanced, easily accessible, and user friendly. Make sure your dashboard is designed in a way to help the end-user grasp required information and accelerate their growth, evolution, and development within the business.
Click here to view few best dashboards in action and leverage our dashboard design skills.