Tips for Creating Effective Information Dashboards
What is an information dashboard?
A dashboard can be defined as a tool that visually tracks, analyses and displays the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) relevant to a particular objective or business process – all in a single source of view.
To help you come up with highly effective dashboards, in this post I share several tips which I believe will help you improve your dashboards.
1. Begin with the business questions or KPI’s to be measured.
You don’t want to develop a dashboard and later find that a critical piece of information (to the user) is missing. Or spends weeks or months developing a dashboard and later realize that some data is missing or is not in right level of detail.
That’s why; you need to begin with your dashboard’s goals always. Seek to understand the business questions or KPI’s being measured? Understanding this will help you in the following;
Guide you in gathering the right data be it mainstream or external data source.
Help you evaluating whether you need whole data or subsets of your data for the analysis.
Guide you in preparing and shaping your data.
Keep you within the subject matter. Avoid being carried away in the name of being thorough.
2. Know your audience
What does your audience need from the dashboard? Get to understand their work flow – if possible sit with them to understand how they make decisions. Ask which metrics matter most to them? Seek to know how much time do they have in consuming this information; is it a busy executive with only 10 seconds to spare for the dashboards? Or is a supervisor spending hours in reviewing portfolio performance with the dashboard? Understanding all these metrics will guide you making the right decisions for your dashboard.
3. Use clear naming conventions
Always use names, metrics and units of measurements which everyone understands. In cases where same metrics vary across user segment within the organization – in consultation with users come up with a new vocabulary that cuts across all your users segments.
4. Use color consistent
Color can sway your message or complete hinder the interpretation of your dashboards if abused. Use less color and consistently across different sections of your dashboard.
5. Truncate large values
Space is very critical when designing dashboards. You have to make good use every space within your dashboard – while ensuring you don’t clutter it. One of the simple ways to do this is truncating large values. For example, 12,365,567 in profit could be written as 12.4M.
A good example is in the dashboard below where values have been truncated to fit in the view – without appearing to be busy.
Interact with the dashboard here
6. Speed matters a lot
Slow dashboards have no time for your audience. Nobody will have time to wait queries get executed in minutes of time. Always plan for quick data interpretation. Ensure you don’t use heavy calculations or too many quick filters in your dashboards. Where necessary leverage on high performance databases to speed your query processing.
7. Provide context
Always provide as much details to guide end user in interpreting the dashboard and taking the necessary actions. This could be simple things such as naming axes and title of various charts, as well adding color shout-outs to inform users when certain conditions (set parameters) are met or violated.
8. Keep it simple
Less is more. Always avoid cluttering your dashboards in the name of being thorough. Leverage on in-built tool functionalities (such as filters and parameters) that allow you to slice views into different levels rather than creating and presenting those views independently.
9. Leverage the sweet spot
Generally most people read from top to bottom i.e. left to right, top to bottom. So, put the most important metrics at the top left corner and show more details in the direction audience uses for reading.
10. Choose the right data visualization
Charts and graphs are the building blocks of data visualization. That’s why before visualizing any data it’s good to consider the type of information you’re trying to visualize;
Do you need to compare items?
Do you need to do comparison overtime?
Do you need to measure relations between variables?
Do you need to see distribution of your data?
Do you need to show certain business KPI’s? .etc.
Choosing the right viz will help you convey your data story better.
For more ideas on data visualization. Here is a free guide to 35 different ways of visualizing data to help you fast-track your data visualization skills.
These are some of the tips to give you an edge in dashboard designing. Think of a previous dashboard you did (probably revisit it) and see how you could have done it better.
Practice! Practice! Practice always!!!!!!
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Thank you for reading.