There are some important rules to follow when making dashboards and to ensure your dashboard hits the mark it needs to and gets people using it. Now let’s dive deeper into what makes a good dashboard.
1. Make sure you are designing the right dashboard for who is going to be using it
If you are going to spend your time and energy making a good dashboard you need to know who the dashboard has to be “good” for. Executives will want to see something different from a salesperson and so on for a data analyst, you need to know about the audience of the dashboard. The most effective dashboards are those which target a single user or group of users and then provide the right data and visualizations accordingly. A lot of people overlook this step, which creates havoc later on.
2. Display the dashboard data in a logical manner
Ensure that your data is displayed in logical groups, and in a proper manner. The top left-hand corner of your dashboard is where the eye will immediately go to and as such, it is the most important part of the dashboard. When we say to display the data in logical groups that is to say; if you are making an executive overview that compares two marketing strategies, the data for each strategy should be grouped together so that all of the visualizations for strategy A go on the left and all of the visualizations for strategy B go on the right.
3. Vary your visuals
When it comes to dashboards, variety is always better. Don’t use only one chart type, no matter how much you love stacked bars. Mix it up with straight lines and curves. Vary your report elements between low-level tables that show granular data and higher-level pie charts, gauges, and value widgets.
Here is an example of a good variety of visualizations for a monthly recap. It immediately shows the important totals as well as a comparison to last month and where our customers are coming from.
4. Locate the most important visuals “above the fold”
Above the fold is an old newspaper term, and it means the top part of the front page, which is still visible when the paper is folded. For dashboards, this means the screen real estate at the top is visible when the dashboard is first loaded by the user. Put your most important and/or summary level visuals at the top. Tools like Inzata (https://qastaging.wpengine.com) let you view heatmaps of how your users scroll and navigate within their dashboards. Use these to identify their most important and most-viewed elements and move them near the top.
5. Don’t forget your headline
You’re probably tired of all the newspaper references, but hey, there’s a reason why nearly every print newspaper on Earth is organized in more or less the same way: it’s effective.
What do headlines do? They communicate the main message to the reader about what happened or is happening. They’re in big, bold print so they’re hard to miss. We recommend using a nice row at the top consisting of 3 or 4 easy-to-spot widgets that are easy to read, like gauges or single-value widgets. This “headline” row quickly delivers key information to the viewer and sets the stage for further exploration as they continue reading.
6. Always refresh your data
Data that is being displayed on your dashboard only maintains importance if it is up to date. If you are trying to decide what to do tomorrow based on data from three months ago, you are going to arrive at the wrong conclusions.
7. Keep your dashboards focused!
Make sure that the most important data gets highlighted in the dashboard. You should also keep your dashboard small so that it is able to focus on the thing which is most important. Long dashboards aren’t always the best. Many small dashboards, which are focused on a single topic or goal, make a better dashboard than long and heavy ones.
Your dashboard should be focused on answering a single question and should almost never have more than five or six visualizations. It may be tempting to make one huge dashboard where someone could find all the answers, but that is not how people’s brains typically work. It will result in users feeling lost and confused because they can’t find what they need quickly. If it takes someone more than 5 seconds to find what they need on your dashboard, consider redesigning it.