Dashboards are used to display everything from business data to weather information and political trends. Software programs and websites offer turn-key solutions for creating your own dashboard design, and you’ll certainly find no shortage of companies you can contract with to do it for you. However, this is a task that you can do yourself if you have the time and the inclination. Follow these tips to create a dashboard that’s easy for users to understand. First, we’ll discuss the planning phase for your dashboard. Then we’ll move on to creating the framework. Finally, we’ll consider the data itself and how to best represent it.
When you are embarking on a dashboard design, it’s tempting to jump right in and start throwing together charts and graphs. However, starting with a plan will save you loads of time and frustration. There’s no shortage of corporate jargon to tell you in theory why a dashboard is helpful. You probably already know how important it is to set benchmarks and goals for the future. But it’s not enough to rest on buzzwords. You need to know why it matters to your project.
With a solid plan in place on the front end, the rest of the process is much easier. You also know what you’re working toward and how you’ll define success. These three topics should always be a part of your front-end planning:
Dashboard Design: Why A Dashboard?
Why do you want to create a dashboard? That question has many possible answers, but some common ones are:
What Information To Include?
Your dashboard doesn’t have to treat every piece of data equally. In fact, to create a dashboard that is user-friendly and valuable, you will have to prioritize some information. Focus on the data that is at the center of why you created the dashboard in the first place.
Before you decide to include a particular statistic, fact, or figure, ask your audience one question. “What will you do differently if you have this information in the dashboard?” If the answer is nothing, it’s probably okay to exclude that data in favor of something that drives more action. If that’s not possible, you can create an appendix of information that is good to know but not critical.
Who Is The Audience?
Who is the audience that will actually use your dashboard? Are they customers, employees, contractors, or someone else? Are they decision makers? If not, what is their role in the organization? What questions do they have over the course of a day that a dashboard can answer? Once you know what information they need, you will know where to focus your dashboard design.
Don’t try to modify your work flow to make it match the dashboard you come up with. The opposite should be true. Map out a typical day for your audience. At what points will they be consulting the dashboard? What devices do they typically use at that time of day? If your audience is largely mobile and working from a smartphone, then your dashboard should be optimized for that.
How comfortable is your audience with using the data in the dashboard? Do they want to see the details or just a high-level overview? Again, if you want your audience to use the dashboard regularly and reliably, tailor it to their level of understanding.
Consider the language you use in the dashboard. Make sure you don’t use abbreviations, initials, and terminology that your audience is not familiar with, and make sure you include definitions where they’re needed.
If your dashboard will be used by more than one group, you’ll have to decide if they can use the same one or if you need to develop multiple versions. If you can’t serve everyone equally, you may need to give the needs of some users a higher priority than others.
Dashboards come in many formats, so you will want to carefully consider how to set yours up. Your primary concern with the design of the board is whether it’s easy for the user to understand. If it’s not easy to navigate and interact with, no one will use it, and you’ll have wasted your time and energy. Consider these four parts of designing your dashboard before beginning:
A dashboard’s structure usually falls into one of three categories, flow, relationships, or grouping. A dashboard that flows is one that depicts a sequence of events over time. A dashboard that depicts relationships shows the connections between the various elements. A grouping dashboard simply puts things together into categories or a hierarchy. Most data sets will fit nicely into one of those three possibilities.
Goals And Objectives
Keep the end in mind when you’re determining the framework of your dashboard design. Don’t try to include so much information that it becomes unwieldly and your users don’t find it valuable. Strive to keep it streamlined and compact by breaking the data down to the individual questions it answers. Another strategy is to present the summary or overview and then give the user the ability to drill down to more specific data. Finally, you can use fonts, colors, headings, and other devices to guide attention to the most important pieces of data.
As dashboard design evolved, some specific tools have been developed to make them more user friendly. Take advantage of these in your projects to keep your audience engaged and minimize frustration.
Managing The Data
When you’ve taken care of the basics, and you have the framework in place, you’re ready to start adding in charts, graphs, and other representations of the data. Give these areas careful consideration as you start to assemble your dashboard design.
When you’ve done the hard work of planning, putting together the framework, and incorporating the data, you’re ready to share your dashboard design with your audience. Following the tips in this guide gives you much better odds of creating an instrument that your team can rely on and trust to guide them.