At best, the average dashboard contains a large number of data visualization features that most users either don’t understand or don’t pay attention to.
At worst, it resembles the flashing advertisements of Times Square – cluttered and ineffective.
With too many visual pieces of information, it quickly becomes overwhelming for anyone passing by. As a result, the ads are often overlooked by the very people they were meant to reach.
Dashboards don’t have to be a such an outrageous mess of information. In fact, by following a few simple steps, you can turn your old, tired dashboard into a new, exciting future. One that makes data easy to digest for everyone involved.
Here are four key points to help you design your dashboard for success.
Who are you talking to?
When building your dashboard, it’s important to think about who the end user will ultimately be. Who is going to be using the data you present on your dashboard?
Employees? Managers? Suppliers? The CEO?
Each of these users has different wants and needs for their own dashboard. Consider what aspects of your data would be most relevant to your target audience and adjust your visualizations accordingly.
The purpose of having a dashboard is to tell the story of your company in real time. But you need to make sure the story being presented to each user is one they want to read.
Telling Your Story
Take a moment to consider the message you actually want to convey with the data contained in your visualization. Remember, we’re trying to tell the story of your company as it happens.
In order to do this as effectively as possible, think about what part of the overall story each visualization needs to contain.
Does it need to:
- Explain the relationship between multiple pieces of data?
- Break down which products are selling better than others?
- Compare income from the current year to the previous one?
- Group data from multiple departments into one meaningful chart?
Each of the end users is going to read the story your dashboard is telling, but if they can’t follow the plot, or understand the data, your visualizations are useless.
Now that you’ve created data visualizations that serve a specific purpose for each user, it’s time to focus on making the layout of your dashboard as effective as possible.
How effective? The users of your dashboard should be able to find the information they need within 5 seconds of looking at your dashboard. If they can’t, you need to start over.
The visualizations that each user needs to do their job on a daily basis should be the most obvious and appear at the top of their dashboard. Everything else underneath should just be details that support the main information.
Finding information quickly and effectively should be the ultimate goal of every dashboard design. It doesn’t matter how great your dashboard looks. If there’s no substance behind the pretty packaging, everyone ends up disappointed.
Do More with Less
Remember in the Lego Movie when the characters were trying to build a submarine?
Each one had their own separate vision of what the finished product should be and when put their individual pieces together, it was a bit of a wreck. The submarine had too many irrelevant parts that didn’t work together effectively and it sank.
Dashboards can be like that. When you’re dealing with legacy systems or input from multiple users, it’s easy to get caught up putting various pieces together without considering if they are necessary in the first place.
Don’t fall for that trap.
Instead, aim to have a small, select number of components Most experts advise having no more than 5-9 visualizations on your dashboard at once. Less than 5 isn’t useful and more than 9 is overload.
Applying the four key points described above will not only make your dashboards easier to use, but also more effective for the people that are using them. Reject the useless dashboards of the past and embrace the new visualizations of the future.