Dashboards are an amazing tool; they are able to collect your business’s valuable data and present it in a way that helps you monitor and enhance your investments. When set up correctly, they provide quick insights to the most common and important business questions and give a snapshot of what’s working versus what isn’t in near real-time.
Unfortunately, many dashboards fall prey to easily avoided traps and pitfalls. The creation of a good dashboard has practically become a science. And working with enterprise-level brands on their dashboards, we’ve seen it all. The good news is that you can have both a good-looking and effective dashboard - it doesn’t have to be one or the other!
When it comes to dashboards, what seems simple in planning is often more difficult to put into practice. To create a good dashboard, you have to avoid many potential pitfalls. We’ve collected some of the most common challenges our Data Visualization team has helped brands overcome.
- Personal preferences – There will be times when personal preferences don’t align with the optimal design of a dashboard. In instances like these, always value optimal design over personal preferences.
- Visual appeal – Sometimes a dashboard ends up being used as an internal marketing tool, covered in extra flash and branding. A common story is that a dashboard starts off as a simple and effective tool that shows a positive impact. Then, when word of this dashboard’s success gets out, the team wants it distributed more widely and its purpose changes. This can quickly reduce the effectiveness of your dashboard.
- We want everything – When a company has a mass amount of data at its disposal, it’s easy to want to show it all off. Dashboards can seem like the best way to do that, however they end up becoming a data dump, filled with too many numbers and datasets to make sense of.
- Changing technology – The tools we have at our disposal to track data and create dashboards are advancing quickly, oftentimes, in ways that our dashboards can’t keep up with. But when a new functionality appears with the potential to add value, it’s important to adapt. Your dashboard is never “done”, it should be part of a continually evolving process.
What Can You Do?
The critical question for dashboards is how we can evolve the art of the dashboard without completely compromising the integrity of what they are intended to do. To help solve this, I recommend the following three principles:
- Utilize technology - Earlier, I alluded to the common dashboard mistake of trying to get as much information as possible into a single dashboard. What usually happens is that as more information is added, the less effective your dashboard becomes. A great solution for this is to utilize filters and dynamic functionality. This gives the user all the data they want, but in usable portions that they will easily be able to interpret. If they want to see more, they can utilize one of the filters you have already built. The use of filters will not only release all information to your users, but will also help guide your users towards the positive habit of asking a business question first.
- Make the right concessions – There are times when your optimal dashboard isn’t aligned with individual visual preferences. When this problem presents itself, start by looking at the dashboard and make a list of all of its components and attributes. Once this is done, evaluate every component and attribute, mark anything that is crucial to the integrity of the dashboard. Then look at the ones you didn’t mark and start to think about how you can modify these as a platform to evolve the dashboard. Concede the aspects you can change and enhance without breaking the core of what makes your dashboard effective.
- Start with a plan – Whether you are creating a simple or complex dashboard, the best way to get started is by creating a simple 2-column table. In the first column, write down the best practice. In the second column, write down the rationale. Once you have this table created, put a big red ‘X’ through the first column and start creating your dashboard from there. As long as you keep the original rationales for the best practices in place when creating something new, you’re likely to end up with a well-designed and effective dashboard.
Back to Basics
So how do you make sure that your dashboard is set up for success? Luckily, there are a handful of key fundamentals to creating effective dashboards that you can use to evaluate your dashboard. Let’s do a quick test – open your dashboard and check it against the following guidelines:
- Use a clean, grid based format – When a dashboard’s content is well aligned and organized, it’s easier to follow and the reader can clearly differentiate between sections.
- Group related content – Arrange related items together to help tell a logical story and let each chart or graph build on those around it.
- Avoid multipurpose dashboards – Trying to do too much with a single dashboard almost always leads to it becoming less effective. Define a specific purpose for your dashboard. Whether it be a business question or a collection of items that need monitoring, it is critical to clearly define a purpose and focus the dashboard on that.
- Use colors carefully – Arbitrary color use can quickly derail your dashboard. Science tells us that the most readable and effective dashboards use monochromatic colors instead of contrasting. Colors like green and red are commonly associated with attributes such as ‘up’ and ‘down’ or ‘good’ and ‘bad’. These natural human instincts should be accounted for when designing your dashboards.
- Skip the pie charts – One of the most commonly used components of a dashboard is also one of the least effective. Humans have a more challenging time judging relative area within a circle than they do when it comes assessing lengths. Additionally, when there are multiple data points, and the slices of the pie increase, quickly discerning a clear leader can be a difficult task. Look at the example below, which is easier to evaluate?
What are you waiting for, go create your best dashboard!
Dashboards are wonderful tools when used correctly. If you weren’t already aware of most, or even all, of the dashboarding principles we went through, you can now put them into practice. Embrace the small details in each chart that can help to make your dashboard more effective.
It is my hope that this overview helps you and your team utilize your dashboards to their fullest potential… but remember, avoid the pitfalls!
Does your team have specific dashboarding stories of your own? We’d love to hear them! Simply respond in the comments below or reach out to us at info.US@ebiquity.com for more information on our Data Visualization solutions.