Effective Dashboard Design Principles for Best Practices

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A dashboard helps managers and business leaders in tracking key KPIs or metrics and take decisions based on it. The dashboard design is important. A dashboard is usually a synopsis and often a one-pager. It can contain charts or views or tables that are backed by data.

complete guide for the effective dashboard design principles

The purpose of a dashboard is to provide an efficient solution for organizing and presenting data in a clear, direct manner. It is the public-facing page where users can access and analyze their data.

So, what makes a good dashboard? An effective dashboard should be striking yet visually balanced, savvy yet straightforward, accessible, user-friendly, and tailored to your goals. Keep in mind to focus on who the users are and follow simplicity as it is the best policy in a Dashboard design.

 Variety of dashboard templates are around. However, if you have a unique tracking and reporting requirements, you are better off developing your own format. Building a dashboard is not difficult, especially when you have loads of data available and choices on how to visualize it.

Why a good dashboard design important?

 Many dashboards fail to attract users and guide business decisions because they have poorly designed displays. Even if a dashboard has a beautiful interface with attractive colours and data visualizations, it can still fall short of delivering any meaningful insights. Hence the dashboard design has to be planned and implemented well.

Following are the few of the most effective dashboard design principles:

top 12 effective dashboard design principles
  1. Consider your end goal

Even before you start your exercise on a Dashboard design, the first thing you need to consider is your goal. To achieve this, you need to be empathic i.e., think from the user’s point of view. The context and device on which the users will access their dashboards will directly impact on the style of displaying information. Will the dashboard be viewed by one or presented? If so, on which type of device? Thus, remember to build a responsive online dashboard that can be accommodated by all types of screens. Remember your dashboard should contain all key information within one page.

2.  Deciding which Type of Dashboard the User Needs

If your objective is to present information, you need to use analytical dashboards. If you also want the user to take some action(s) based on data, an operational dashboard is more suitable. The other types of dashboards relating to business activities are Strategic and tactical. Each dashboard should be designed for a user group with a specific aim of assisting in decision-making. Information is insightful only when it is directly actionable.

3. Do not try to place all the information on the same page

The one-size-fits-all concept should be avoided. Meaning, do not fix a template for all charts. This has to be done at the early stage of the dashboard design Moreover, do not stuff the entire information into the same page. Think about your audience as a group of individuals who have different needs, for example, a sales manager would not require the same visuals as a marketing specialist, HR, or professionals in logistics analytics.

Suggestion: Use tabs to split the information for each subject. This makes it easier for users to find information.

4. Choose relevant KPIs in Dashboard designs

Many Dashboards are created with an intent to show the KPIs (key performance indicators). Your KPIs will play a major role in shaping the direction of your dashboards. This is because these metrics will display visual representations of relevant insights based on specific areas of the business. Thus, selecting the right KPI is a must to achieve an effective KPI dashboard design.

KPIs designs dashboard

5. Make it as easy as possible

If your charts look too complex, the users will spend more time to comprehend the analysis than they would in general. A user should not be making calculations on his own to ascertain the information. Instead, everything he needs must be clearly displayed on the charts during the Dashboard design stage. As mentioned earlier try and put yourself in the user’s position.

6. Understand the ROI for clear design

Return on Investment (ROI) is where a value-based design approach shines (Value-based design is a problem-solving approach that combines research, measurement, and experimentation in an iterative fashion). Instead of providing only high-level information, you can demonstrate the inputs that result in those numbers.

By digging further in, the users can understand how the inputs affect the outcome at the dashboard design stage. Making a few changes that affect the monetary outcomes can quickly make a product worth the investment.

7. Prioritize simplicity

With a growing trend of making your charts look fancy, you might be tempted to use them at one go. Frames, backgrounds, effects, gridlines might be useful sometimes, but use them only when there exists a reason. Be careful with your labels or legend and pay attention to the font, size, and colour. It should not obstruct your chart view and at the same time, it must be visible. Do not waste space just to decorate.

 8. Provide Context

Without providing context, how will one know whether those numbers are good or bad, or if they are typical or unusual? Without comparison values, numbers on a dashboard do not amount to much. More importantly, users will not know whether an action is to be taken or not. The moment you add context to a dashboard it can help in communicating your findings and report.

Few tips are:

  1. Try to provide maximum information.
  2. Name the axes and add titles to the charts.
  3. Remember to provide comparison values.

The rule of thumb here is to use comparisons, for example, comparison against a set target, projected value, or preceding period.

9. Be careful with colours – choose a few and stick to them

When it comes to colour, you can stick to your company identity (same colours, logo, fonts) or go for a different colour palette. The important thing here is to stay consistent and not use too many different colours. You can pick a few colours and then play with their gradients. A common mistake is using highly saturated colours too often.

dashboard design - colour principle

10. Keep the Dashboard Design Simple and Easy to Understand

Creating a simple interface is an important dashboard design principle. Make it as easy as possible for users to analyse the information on the screen. A dense design can distract the user from focusing on the report.

11. Use the right type of chart

Choosing the right type of chart to display information is extremely important. This must be done with careful thought as different situations and information would be best displayed by different types of charts.

  • Line- Lines are great when it comes to displaying patterns of change across a continuum. They are compact, clear, and precise. Line charts format is common and familiar to most people so they can easily be analysed immediately.
  • Bar charts– This type of chart is great if you want to quickly compare items in the same category. For example, page views by country.
  • Sparklines- Sparklines usually do not have a scale which means that users will not be able to notice individual values. However, they work well when you have a lot of metrics and you want to show only the trends.
  • Tables– Use tables for sorting various variables; for helping organize data and to effectively communicate meaning.
  • Pie charts – Pie charts are the least recommended of the various types of chart They possess low accuracy because the users can find it difficult to accurately compare the sizes of the pie slices. Although the users will notice the biggest slice immediately, there can be problematic in terms of scale resulting in the smallest slices being so small that they even cannot be displayed.

12. Double up your margins

Margin adjustment is one of the most subtle yet effective dashboard guidelines. The principle boils down to balance. White space also referred to as negative space is the area of blankness between elements featured on dashboard design. As a good practice always double the margins surrounding the main elements of your dashboard to ensure each is framed with a balanced area of white space. This makes the information easier to grasp.

13. Never stop evolving

Last, but not the least, is the ability to tweak and evolve your designs in response to the environment. This will ensure ongoing analytical success.

While designing dashboards asking for feedback is essential. By requesting regular input from your team, the users and asking the right questions, you will be able to improve the layout, functionality, feel look, and balance of KPIs to ensure optimal value and arrive at a good dashboard design.


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