5 dashboard design tips from the experts
No two dashboards are the same. They serve different audiences, different purposes, and tackle problems as unique as your business.
How much thought you put into your dashboard’s design is directly proportional to its effectiveness as a business tool. Dashboard designers don’t just lay out the initial prototype; they continuously tweak, iterate, and evolve their original design.
Here are some design tips appropriate for first-time and experienced designers alike. Enjoy!
1. Content is King, Context is Queen
Tim Johnson, Founder at Energy Mobile Studios
Tim recently dropped by Klipfolio HQ for a visit, and kindly showed his dashboards off to the team. They are information-rich, well-designed examples of what you can accomplish with the right blend of design and user experience.
Tim gave us three pieces of advice:
- Content is King and is nothing without Context (yes, the Queen).
- Paying close attention to dashboard vocabulary reduces cognitive overhead for users.
- Applying opacity extends your colour palette, helps users connect the data's story visually and still renders if printed in black and white!
2. Tell your story at-a-glance
Scott Pagodin, Business Intelligence Analyst at BPV Capital Management
In one shot, Scott offers good advice to novices and experts alike: "focus on visualizations and dashboards that tell a clear story, or that can be quickly interpreted at-a-glance." Telling that story requires you to know your audience and test various iterations of your dashboard’s design:
"Ensure that all dashboard users are familiar with the underlying data, and use organizationally common language for labels and measures. Test the functionality and usability of your dashboard by asking users to interpret visuals without explanation. If the visual is immediately intuitive to the user, then you’ve done well; if it takes too much explanation, you may want to reconsider the approach."
3. Design for what is happening now
David Penalver, Senior Operations Analyst at SevOne, Inc.
David recommends that dashboard designers think about "simplicity, with lots of options." He reminds us that designers need to consider what the user wants out of the data: "When people look at a dashboard, they don’t need to know the data's life story. They just want to know what is happening right now. That can sometimes be achieved using a simple chart."
How about when users want to get something different out of the data or go a bit deeper:
"This is where your options come in. If you allow options to help break down or summarize data with things like drop down menus, users get to tailor their experience and see what is relevant to them. Done well, it allows you to show a huge amount of data in a simple way."
4. Communicate with your audience and give them options
Sven Scheepers, Director at Efficient Foundations
Sven likes having options available to his clients, and suggests listening to clients and end-users to understand what they need.
"Understand exactly what your clients need to see before you start building their dashboard. Encourage visualizations over tables. Give clients options of how to display the data because, while they may know what they want to see, they may not know the options available. This way you always end up with better results."
5. Make data quick and easy to consume
Sean Leach, Systems Engineer at Integrated Network Cable
True to his advice heeding brevity, Sean’s feedback is short and to the point:
"Simplicity. It is easy to go and make something because it looks amazing. But what people actually want is the data to be quick and easy to consume."
Aim to inspire action with your data dashboard rather than draw "ooohhs" and "aaahhs" from your colleagues, as if they are at an art exhibit.
Originally published February 12, 2015, updated Jun, 14 2019