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June 8, 2020

Dashboard Design Principles and Dashboard Design Examples

In today’s business world data matters, but so does an effective dashboard.

A dashboard offers you a comprehensive and simplified view of your business key data points.

The importance of a well-designed dashboard can’t be underestimated.

An effective dashboard allows you to learn more about your KPIs without the need to read pages and pages of content. Such a dashboard also extracts value from your collected data and arranges it in the form of actionable visual metrics.

A poorly designed dashboard will distort the information you want to pass to your target audience as the same data presented differently will mean different things. The result will be the making of misinformed business decisions.

One of the major culprits when it comes to poorly designed dashboards is that designers get carried away and end up creating colorful dashboards with numerous charts.

Such dashboards are hard to understand and analyze.  

But you need to know it’s not just the number of charts or the colors in your dashboard that are important even the scale of your charts and the shapes you use are also crucial. All of these things factor into how you decide to present your information.

Dashboard Design Principles

If you want to display your data in the best way, here are a few dashboard design principles that you need to follow.

1. Anticipate your audience needs

A dashboard needs to be designed with the user in mind.

Questions you need to ask yourself relating to the user before designing your dashboard include:

* Who is the user of this dashboard?
* What are the information needs of the user?
* What is the audience preference when it comes to a dashboard design?
* What questions does the user need answered?
* What is the user’s technical skill level?

Understanding the user of your dashboard helps you come up with a product that they will love.

2. Use the right dashboard

Knowing your user also helps you choose a dashboard that fits your user needs. For reference here are four dashboard types that you can choose from:

* Strategic – This dashboard focuses on monitoring long-term firm strategies with critical factors in mind. This is the best dashboard for senior managers who want to track the company performance against provided KPIs
* Operational – This type of dashboard measures, monitors and managers business operations that are immediate. A good example of this type of dashboard is a financial trading app
* Analytical - This type of dashboard displays large and complex data volumes in a way that is easy to understand and interpret. A good example of such a dashboard is the Google analytics tool.
* Tactical – This dashboard helps come up with growth strategies that are based on the organization's strengths, weaknesses and trends.

3. Your dashboard should quickly provide the relevant information

When coming up with your dashboard, try to follow the five-second rule.

This rule provides that with just a glance, your dashboard should answer your user’s business questions.

Ensure the most important metrics pop up on the screen within five seconds after your user opens the dashboard.

4. Less is more

Don’t cram all your information on one page. The human brain can only comprehend 5 to 9 images at any one time, so this is the number of images you should have in your dashboard.

If you must put lots of data in one page, ensure you use tabs that split the information per subject, making it easier to find. You can also use hierarchies and filters to minimize visual clutter.

5. Make it as easy as you can

Even as you design your dashboard, you should never forget the purpose of designing it- to present information clearly and in an understandable manner.

Ensure you provide content that is easy to understand. Your charts shouldn’t be too complex that users can’t understand them. The data analysis done on the dashboard should also be valuable.

6. Give data context

Always give enough information for your audience. Without context, the users of your dashboard will never understand the numbers on your dashboard.
Ensure you name all the axes and title your charts. Provide comparison values to help your users make informed decisions.

7. Tell a story

Your information should be well-organized and give a snapshot of what is going on.  

The common rule is to use the inverted pyramid layout when designing your dashboard. This layout puts the most important information first.  This should be followed by details that help one understand the information at the top. At the most bottom part are the general information and any background data.

8. Select the right type of data visualization

An overlooked dashboard design principle is the selection of the right data visualization types. Don’t get carried away and use just any graph, chart or table.

The right data visualization can help your audience better understand your data.

Examples of Visualizations

Data visualization is the presentation of information in terms of pictures and graphics. The primary goal of data visualization is to help users understand difficult concepts and identify patterns that may be impossible to point out in text form.

Asking yourself the core questions below can help you decide the best data visualization type for your dashboard.

* What story do you want to tell – Visualization is only as good as the story it gives.  Knowing the message you want to convey to your audience makes it easier to choose the best data visualization type
* How do you intend to show your KPIs – Consider the data visualization type that can best convey the message you want to pass across. For instance, bar graphs are best used to compare data, while column charts are perfect for analyzing trends.
* Who is your audience - Take the time to research your dashboard users, and you’ll be able to use data visualization types that resonate with them. For instance, stakeholders don’t have a lot of time to analyze data they prefer transparent information, simple shapes and large numbers that they can easily understand. On the other hand, analysts can use more sterile designs that emphasize on granularity while customers prefer dashboard designs that place heavy emphasis on their relative value and your commercial relationship.

Here is a look at popular data visualization examples and how they are used to present data.
* Line charts- These are clear and easy to understand. They are suitable for showing patterns in data or changes over some time. Ensure your line chart doesn’t have too many lines as this can make it complicated.
* Tables - These are preferred when one wants to show large amounts of data. Ensure your table doesn’t have too much data that make it hard to scan
* Number charts –Number charts are easy to build. They are suitable when you want to give an overview of a given KPI.  
* Maps- Maps are suitable if you want your audience to visualize data by geographical location. Maps are very effective in telling a story and can also be used to direct action.
* Bar graphs – Bar graphs are perfect for comparing data. To make them easier to understand, use the right colors and the right spacing
* Speedometer or gauge charts - These charts are easy to digest as they display data using needles and colors like a speedometer.  You can use them to show a target value or compare different variables in one data point.
* Scatter plot – A scatter plot is perfect when you want to show correlations in large data sets.
* Spider or radar charts – This comparative chart is suitable when you need to display multivariate data and compare it with other quantitative aspects or variables. Such charts are perfect for reviews, appraisals or ranking.
* Bubble plots –Bubble graphs or charts are great for comparing different data sets at a glance. These are visually stimulating and very effective when it comes to providing a comparative narrative.
* Pie charts - These are the least effective visualization data type. They are hard to understand as the user has to analyze each chart scale. However, they are effective when you need to show data parts that add up to 100%.


How you present your data on a dashboard is just as impactful as the underlying information. Different types of team members consume data differently, and more isn’t always better. However, matching the right audience with the proper presentation increases considerably organizational efficiency.

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