10 simple tips for designing better dashboards
I just had a very interesting conversation with our channel manager, Zach Kathnelson, talking about strategies for making information on a dashboard easily consumable. Unfortunately, the primer for the conversation was a Klip that I had built, which had Zach a little confused. Here's the culprit:
The part that had Zach confused was the term "Goals." My mistake was assuming that he (and by extension, other dashboard users) would automatically know what I meant by goals. Goals, from the perspective of Google Analytics, maps to conversion points on your website like downloading a PDF, making a purchase, or signing up for a free trial. His first thought was that I was showing my daily goal for socially-referred web visitors. To fix this, I simply changed the "Goals" label to "Leads Generated."
This got me thinking about the little things that are easy to take for granted when designing a dashboard. Things like changing a label can have a significant impact on the clarity of your message. In that spirit, I've put together 10 simple tips for designing better business dashboards.
1. Clear and consistent naming convention
Don't make my mistake! Clearly name and explain the metrics, units of measurements, and values shown in your visualization. And keep it consistent for all of your visualizations.
2. Consistent colour scheme
Red means bad, green means good is easy for people to get. When you start adding in other colours like blue for improving, orange for declining, yellow for neutral, and gray for no change, things get confusing. Keep your colour scheme simple.
3. Consistent display icons
The same goes for display icons. Stick to a handful of icons and keep it consistent across all of your visualizations. If you use a green check mark to signify a positive value in one visualization, don't use a green square in your next visualization.
4. Appropriate time frames
Avoid using multiple types of time frames on a single data dashboard, such as last 30 days, this quarter, and last year. If you want to show historical data alongside a rolling time frame, make sure the time frame lines up and is clearly labelled.
5. Consistent date formatting
Showing a date on the dashboard is a great way to provide context. Try and stick to a single format to make that information easy to process.
6. Truncate large values
We made $32,435,546.12 last year! Instead, you made $32.4M. If an end-user wants more detailed information they can either go to the source, or view a dashboard that provides much more detailed information.
7. Be selective with how much data you display
If the data doesn't add to your story, ask yourself why you're showing it. The exception is when your audience demands more data.
8. Use menus and filters to simplify complex data sets
Can't avoid showing a complex data set in its entirety? You can still be kind to your end-users and use drop-down menus to allow them quickly sort and filter the data they are viewing.
9. Device-specific design
Consider how the dashboard is going to be viewed. Is it going to be displayed on an LCD TV? Or, it is going to be viewed on a mobile device? The differences between devices can have a huge impact on dashboard consumption.
10. Know your audience!
What does your audience want from the dashboard? Awareness of your audience, their data reporting needs, and how they will be using the dashboard should guide all of your design decisions. An executive will want a very different sales dashboard than a sales director, who may be looking for a simple Salesforce dashboard, and you need to design accordingly.
Originally published November 20, 2013, updated Jun, 18 2019