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How to Design an Effective Dashboard: The Best Practices to Follow

By CIOReview | Friday, March 17, 2017

Dashboards act as a governing medium of communicating insights about any enterprise. The trademark of a constructive dashboard is its potential to facilitate relevant and useful data at the speed of thought. Companies today greatly rely on this valuable tool for the effective management of their business and to steer growth in the right direction. A well-executed dashboard enables an organization to represent its best self to keep its workforce informed. Hence, the idea of a dashboard has become a fad among commercial enterprises in recent times.

With the expeditious technological advancements, the market is replete with dashboard solutions meeting this burning need. Despite the upsurge of technology and computerization, blunders are often made in the designing of a dashboard that impairs its actual purpose. While creating a dashboard, incorporating the principal data is not enough.  It is equally imperative to ensure that this data is delivered to the user in an engaging fashion, aiding them to drive right decisions. In the light of these aspects, what are the steps to build a dashboard that will signify the organizational goals of a company? There are a few best practices to be kept in mind while designing a high-impact and user-friendly dashboard.

To begin with, the most crucial ingredient that justifies the making of a dashboard is its audience. It is very important to determine a target audience so as to lay out data particularly addressing that ‘user case’.  This helps in the systematic arrangement of data and discards the cluttering of unnecessary information. In addition, a smart dashboard should be designed in a way that it meets the requirements of its users. For instance, an executive or strategic dashboard usually exhibits an outline of the current state of business along with the opportunities and challenges that a company might encounter in the near future. It also comprises of a track record of KPIs for the company to analyze its progress on a timely basis. On the other hand, unlike strategic dashboards, an operational dashboard narrows down its focus on the functional side of a business and present statistics based on real-time information.

When designing a dashboard, it is better to emphasize on the substance rather than the visual demonstration. The dashboard should carry thoughtful information and not a vibrant explosion of colors. Going by Stephen Few’s words, “Dashboards are not an appropriate venue for artistic impression.” A clear-cut depiction shall make a whole lot of difference in bringing out the context and upholding lucidity. With dashboards, consistency is the answer to navigation. Maintaining a uniform font style and color palette will give the dashboard a cohesive look. Moreover, all options and features must be preferably tailored in the same fashion thereby making it easier for users to quickly comprehend the functions and leverage the data as per their requirements.

A vital aspect that often gets overlooked at the time of creating a dashboard is the size of the dashboard. Traditional methods of dashboard designing are limited exclusively to charts and graphics used to illustrate success metrics on a single page. As a result, the dashboard remains overpopulated with data, leading to confusion and misinterpretation. It also hampers the aesthetic essence of the dashboard, lending it a muddled appearance. To minimize such inconveniences, it is advisable to integrate only those data which are actionable and meaningful to the audience. To that end, a logical grouping and presentation of data is of paramount significance when it comes to dashboard designing. Another tactic to simplify the outlook of a dashboard is the employment of information diversity. This is possible if users are empowered to customize what they want to view, as implemented in news portals like Google News and MSN. It is preferable to use a constant template instead of an inconsistent pattern so as to benefit users with finding the right data at the right place.

With businesses evolving over time, the design formula of dashboards also needs to evolve correspondingly. An iterative design approach is considered most favorable for a dashboard to operate successfully. The procedure starts with identifying the requirements of the users compiling which a blueprint of the home page is created. Once it receives suitable business feedback, the initial layout is revised incorporating the necessary changes. Thus the entire process is repeated all over again to formulate the complete, final draft. This modus operandi can be applied from time to time to accommodate to the market demands.

An effective dashboard is the first step to leveraging a company’s resources and thereby enhancing its worth in the industry. Of late, the concept of storytelling with data has been garnering immense popularity. This is an art parallel to contriving stories around data and communicating them in a precise, engaging way to generate maximum impact on the audience. Utilizing the aforementioned practices, one can build an advanced, workable dashboard that is seamless for the masses to imbibe and connects to even non tech-savvy users.