BI Trends

Designing Dashboards for Left and Right Brain Thinkers

By Chris Valas
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“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple… that’s creativity.” Charles Mingus

In the first two articles in this series, we discussed how right brain traits, such as visual content and storytelling, relate to dashboards. Of course the left side of the brain is responsible for all of the facts that go into our dashboards.

Most people favor one side of the brain over the other. While the left-brained person may be more analytical and logical, the right-brained person may be more thoughtful and intuitive.

Left vs. right brain
Knowing the audience of your dashboards, and whether they are primarily right or left brain thinkers, can actually help in your dashboard design. Of course, first you will need to know exactly who will be using the dashboard.

Left-brain users typically need to be able to see more data. The left-brained are more likely to want to know specifics of how they are being informed and how the data was created. This type of information may require a tabular view instead of a visual representation.

In contrast, right-brained users are more likely to want to quickly view the data from all aspects of the dashboard at once. The design will be more important to them. They may also need a stronger comment section so they can get additional guidance as they view the data. They are also more likely to want to take the data with them and discuss it with others.

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Lazy brains
Another factor that can adversely affect your dashboards and is rarely discussed is that we have lazy brains. Now, before anyone takes offense, please understand that our brains are lazy by design. Our brains are built to conserve power until needed. This means they are quick to take in information, but most give up when that information don’t make sense.

When a user is presented with a new tool (in our case, a new dashboard), the brain will expend great amounts of energy to learn what it means. However, when the learning curve becomes too steep or the information simply doesn’t make sense, our brain gives up.

The answer is to create simplified dashboards that only give the user the information they need and nothing more. It’s important to boil down a large amount of data into a few key ideas that will easily fit into an understandable context for that person. Having over 1,000 pieces of information may be overwhelming for a reader and is too much for our primitive brains to process.

Knowing whether the reader is primarily left or right-brained can allow you to create the right level of visual content. You’ll understand whether the person prefers a high-level graphical overview or a way to drill down and view the numbers and see where they came from.

Knowing your reader in these ways makes the difference. It allows you to not only give them the story they need using data they can trust, but to showcase your skills and help push the business forward!


Originally published December 17, 2015; updated on May 20th, 2021

About the Author

Chris Valas is the Senior Director of Engineering at Logi Analytics. He has spent over 30 years working in software engineering.