Dashboards are foundational for any application that is built around or includes data—which today is almost every application. Application dashboards empower end users to get the insights they need without leaving the applications they already use.
But for customers to glean actionable insights from large quantities of information, application teams have to plan from the beginning to present that data in easily understandable and visually appealing ways. If an application dashboard gets cluttered with unnecessary information, or if it’s poorly designed or not constructed intuitively, it becomes more trouble than it’s worth to customers—who may stop using the application altogether.
A great application dashboard transforms opaque data into visually stunning insights that resonate with a range of users. So what are the most important elements of creating a useful application dashboard?
1. Make Careful Color Choices
Choosing dashboard colors is perhaps the most important ingredient in a useful application dashboard. Whether you realize it or not, your end users’ brains will assign meaning to specific colors without the users even realizing it. For instance, green means go and red means stop. Application developers and UI/UX designers can use those associations to their advantage in an embedded dashboard. By using green to indicate a positive trait and red to show a negative trend, for instance, an application dashboard can eliminate the need for text labels and rely on color instead.
Another element of color to consider—and design overall—is that the best application dashboard will have the same look and feel as the rest of your application. In some cases this may fly in the face of contextual color choices. For that reason, dashboard color schemes should be planned holistically in the early application stages, not as an afterthought later in the development cycle.
2. Size Matters
Whether you are considering shapes, filters, or fonts, your application users will be drawn to the biggest elements first. Think carefully—and poll your customers directly whenever possible—about what information your users care most about.
Size also helps when differentiating one element from another and helps to orient users in the application dashboard. For example, font sizes for headlines should be big enough to make them easily distinguishable from labels and other text, but not so large as to overshadow other elements completely.
3. Less Is More
It can be easy to go overboard in any design project. This is especially true for an application dashboard, where real estate is at a premium.
Too many teams end up cramming iconography, images, information, and a variety of fonts and colors into an application dashboard. But the truth is, cluttering any application screen—particularly a dashboard—will lead to confusion rather than adding value for the customer.
To avoid overloading the user, start with a blank slate and add in only the most important elements one at a time. Also keep colors, fonts, and other imagery to a limited list. For example, using six or fewer colors in a data visualization is best. More than that and it becomes difficult for the user to distinguish differences and quickly recognize what the colors represent.
It’s also important not to subject customers to information overload by presenting every nugget of data available in a dashboard. You will have to choose which information is the most valuable and what can be left to second screens, where the user can drill down or drill through to the information he or she needs.
4. Know Your Audience
Of course, the most important data and the preferred UI/UX may vary from user to user depending on their roles. A successful application dashboard relies on understanding your analytics users from the start. Is the dashboard built for an executive team that needs company-wide data? Or for an individual in a specific role being measured on a quarterly KPI? Customer personas inform how application dashboards should be constructed.
Looking for more information on dashboard design best practices? Check out the additional resources below!