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DO’s and DON’Ts of Effective Dashboards

AttreLogix Networks

#1 DO try-it-out, redo, and, ask for feedback

Dashboards can take time to get it right for the audience. You will be too naive to think you can set it up once and the dashboard will works forever. As the author, you should get yourself familiar with various tools available to craft the data and build dashboard. Go through several iterations and get feedback from different stakeholders within the audience group is important to ensure acceptance.

Allow the dashboard to run for a period of time and circle back to gather feedback from the audience, this is a stage not to be missed as audience will have more solid feedback after they looked at the data for while. In particular, if there is a situation occur in the network or system, it’s important that dashboard is able to pick up the event and notify the correct person in-charge.

#2 DO consider the audience and make it personal

Most dashboard applications are extremely flexible, if the platform you are using do not offer flexibility to customise to the granularity you need, speak to us!

Every dashboard audience has their own objectives and things they want to get from the glance of a dashboard, it’s crucial that you tailor the single pane of glass and make it personal. For instance, a financial controller would love to see the revenue, profitability and sales related numbers on the dashboard while an operation chief would be more interested with the inventory and logistics perspective of the business.

#3 DO take inspiration across businesses

Every business vertical has their own metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs), random raw data is only meaningful when it is presented in the right form and context. Hence, you need to have the respective domain knowledge in order to build a powerful dashboard that make an impact on the first glance.

Take an example of a network operation centre, the team who sits in front of the big dashboard screen is very sensitive to what we call the “traffic light” colour scheme. Anything that pops up in amber or red will catches their attention immediately and they know it is something they need to attend to it. (Some people call this “RAG – Red, Amber, Green”)

#4 DO design with mobile devices in mind

No one will argue the fact that there are more people browsing the worldwide web on mobile than desktop in today’s internet landscape. As such, any dashboard design show definitely be mobile friendly and easily accessible on any smart devices including tablet with medium to large screen sizes.

When building mobile friendly dashboard, you should take note on what shows up on the first screen and any information delivered within the “3-scrolls” approach. Consider yourself failed, when the audience needs to swipe all the way down (sometime more than 10 scrolls) to get to what is interesting. This is a big NO! NO!

iPad Pro Optimised

#5 DO use BIG numbers

Don’t feel shy about showing large font size numbers across the screen! It’s a good way to attract audience attention and it’s usually the FIRST interaction point for your dashboard. Once you manage to capture audience attention, that’s where you can drive their usage behaviour and it will naturally form the flow of reading to the rest of your data.

P/S : Colour code the BIG numbers to make them relevant to your context.

#6 DON’T try to answer every question at once

Many first timers get over excited with flexible capabilities and often come up with tons of idea to build the dashboard, result in information overload – too many data got cramped into a small area, make it hard to read and analyse.

Instead, focus on top three (3) questions that you want to be answered when looking at a dashboard. Those information should be easily accessible to audience with the right colour tone and size. Additional information can be hidden via a drill-through hierarchy where data is aggregated and organised into tiered structure for further analysis.

#7 DON’T be a design freak

Dashboard is meant to make messy raw data sensible to their audience. Yes, it should be tailored, it should be customised, it should be personal. But don’t make this your designer playground and trying to realise your design dream by over colouring or having too many graphics in one screen.

Try to practise the “KISS – Keep It Short and Simple” rule where information is presented in an intuitive and easy to read/understand mode.

#8 DON’T use the same chart for everything

In most dashboards, data is presented in series against time, we call this time-series data. However, not all time-series data should be presented the same way. Spend some time to understand what type of data you are dealing with and what’s the context relevant to the group of data. Subsequently, select the right chart type to be put on the dashboard.

If an inappropriate chart type is selected, it may make the data hard to interpret or in some cases misleading, causing wrong judgement or decisions being made.

#9 DON’T forget to estimate the screen size

Size does matter! Every device has limited screen real estate and it should be put to best use and avoid cluttering with menu bar or tool bar. Those should be collapsible and collapsed by default.

If you have a long list of legend items, try to use self explanatory colour code and skip the need of having dedicated legend labelling to save some space for complete visualisation of charts

Collapsible Dashboard

#10 DON’T assume audience are smart

Dashboard is meant to be dummy proof.

First of all, it should be easily accessible, usually over internet browser but more and more from mobile apps these days. When arriving at dashboard, audience should know where to start either through a wizard driven helper (semi transparent overlay with guided steps) or readily available tooltips for every widget on the dashboard.

The 60 seconds rule applied here, if audience unable to find themselves around within the first 60 seconds looking at the dashboard, you have done a bad job building it.

Put these tips to use!

Dashboard building is a craft, incorporating science, art, communication, storytelling, and much more. Everyone can do it, but really effective dashboards take time, collaboration, and iteration. Even a great dashboard can continue to evolve and improve!