Dashboards can tell a business's story – a well laid out perspective presents all information, shows trends and valuable areas, and updates users on what has already transpired. This whimsically digital view can be a guide to a promising financial future.
A dashboard is a glance-like preview of the most crucial information to a user when they are looking at it. It's an easy way to navigate directly to various areas of the application that require your attention.
Good dashboard design should be able to communicate the required information quickly and effectively to its users. Think of your digital dashboard design, much like your car dashboard design – a console that lets you check your driving speed, fuel levels, distance driven, and so on.
Creating a well-thought-out dashboard can be a daunting task to design. So, we've put together a list of useful tips and suggestions to help get you started. The list also highlights a few common problems to avoid.
Define the Purpose of your Dashboard
Getting this right is everything – failing to do so can render all your other efforts inadequate. Each dashboard has a specific purpose it serves. There are a few ways to categorise dashboards based on their purpose (Analytical, Strategic, Operational, Tactical etc.). To keep things simple, let's divide them into two main groups and determine what best suits your needs.
These are business intelligence tools that exist to monitor, measure, and manage processes or operations of its users engaged in time-sensitive tasks. An operational dashboard presents data deviations to its users quickly and clearly, showing current resources, and displaying their status. This digital control room allows users to stay proactive and efficient.
Analytical dashboards provide the user with information used for analysis and decision making. They are less time-sensitive and usually contain large streams of comprehensive data that allow analysts to extract insights to help the company progress at an executive level. The primary goal here is to help users make the best sense of the data, analyse trends, and drive meaningful decision making.
Use size and position to show hierarchy
Dashboards need a hierarchy to be easy to view and process. As such, you should use size and position to emphasise the most important information and downplay metrics that need not be looked at frequently. Consistent sizes and clear relationships between elements can create patterns and a visual flow within your dashboard.
In terms of positioning, the top left corner of your dashboard is the sweet spot as that's where the eye goes to first when reading. Don't be afraid of empty space – it's better to leave a gap than to unnecessarily increase the size of something to fill it.
Give your numbers context
To know if a number has positive or negative implications to viewers, they need context. How else would they know, for example, that an additional 100 new leads on a particular day are out of the ordinary?
The easiest way to do this is to include past data. To create a comparison, you can include the same metric for the previous day or a line or column chart showing how the metric tracks over a more extended period. Another technique is to show the average or previous highs and lows, highlighting when changes occur and how significant they are.
Include milestone targets you are working toward as well as your current progress to those goals. A great tip is to add warnings to notify you when a metric is above or below a certain threshold to spot problems and take action to correct them easily.
Group your related metrics
The logical positioning of information on your dashboard is essential. Grouping related metrics next to each other makes them easy to find — while making your dashboard's design more attractive – a double win!
There are different ways to group. You can do this by metric, product, brand, campaign, region, team or even time interval. Giving groups a title makes them easier to spot, and we recommend experimenting with which is most appropriate for your board.
With many dashboards, you'll find there's an element of repetition throughout. For instance, you may be showing the same set of metrics on multiple occasions. This is perfectly fine.
Your dashboard will always be easier to read and more pleasing to the eye if you use the same visualisations and layouts between groups. So, avoid the temptation to use a line chart instead of a column to spice things up – remember consistency is key!
Round your numbers
When it comes to displaying numbers on a dashboard, we can tone down the precision to make the data more palatable. Showing your conversion rate to 3 decimal places or your revenue to the nearest cent when your viewers only care about large scale changes just detracts from what should be the focus. Including too much detail in this context can create unnecessary fuss – keep it simple to see your dashboard thrive.
Use Clear Labels
Dashboard labels that describe each metric or chart shouldn't be overlooked. Utilise them to be self-explanatory to your users. In the same breath, you should try and keep them as short as possible to avoid cluttering up your board and getting in the way of your data.
Abbreviations and symbols can be helpful, too, as long everyone in your audience understands them. Headings are another way to reduce repetition. If you have the same metric for different time frames, grouping them under one heading can mean you don't need to repeat it each time.
Break the Rules
Your dashboard doesn't have to be uniform by any stretch of the imagination. The fundamental thing is that it's engaging, so go ahead and inject some fun into it. If that means including recent tweets, a stream of new deals, or a few outrageous GIFs to encourage your team to look at the board more frequently, then so be it. Just don't go too wild!
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