Rich analytics and effective data visualizations have become a requirement for modern software applications. And great dashboards are key—they can transform opaque data into visually stunning insights that resonate with a range of users.
A crucial element of an effective dashboard is the careful selection of useful and actionable information. Too little information will limit dashboard actionability. Too much will render the dashboard cumbersome and difficult to view. What are the emerging dashboard design trends that are resonating with users? Just like fashion trends, dashboard design trends change over time and sometimes come back—what’s old is new. Here are some of the top dashboard design trends you can expect to see in 2020:
#1: Asymmetrical design
Dashboards are typically contained visuals in little blocks of content with organized rows and columns. In an asymmetrical design, content is placed with an overlay of objects. This provides an infographic-like visual which can be more visually interesting than traditional dashboard design.
One particular type of asymmetrical dashboard design has borrowed from Brutalism, an architectural style from the 1950s and 1960s. The aesthetics are rough and in-your-face. The term originates from the use of “beton brut” which translates to “raw concrete” in French. Coined by the British architectural critic Reyner Banham, it is a punning twist to express the general horror with which this concrete architecture was greeted in Britain.
#2: Data storytelling
Often times, a dashboard is a means of delivering critical information to the end user for a wider business purpose. Dashboards are moving towards a storytelling approach—it’s not just about sharing data but communicating it in a coherent way. Everything builds up to a point where you know what’s going on with the overall picture.
Mico Yuk, founder of BI Brainz, says, “When telling data stories, there are three key things to keep in mind: the message has to be really focused, outline your KPIs, and keep it simple.”
#3: Mobility is still top of mind
The proliferation of mobile and tablet devices has forced product managers and developers to re-evaluate the user experience for analytics. The challenge is how to replicate the same relevant content usually seen on desktop devices on mobile. They shouldn’t compete but rather complement each other with features that allow the remote worker to be fast and agile.
For instance, if you are using Facebook on a desktop, there’s a lot going on because you have more screen real estate. With a mobile app, you’re not going to see the chat window—the features available to you are very specific. Similarly with dashboard design, you’re viewing something that is adaptable for a mobile device. You’re not going to many line charts in a mobile view.
#4: Colorblocking is in
There’s a growing problem with the use of color in dashboards these days. There’s either too much color, making the dashboard visually overwhelming, or too little of it, producing a dashboard that’s, frankly, boring to view. To engage users, the best use of color is a balance of monochromatic background colors, juxtaposed against bright colors to highlight important insights or anomalies in that data that users should pick up on.
#5: Less really is more
Dashboards should always deliver actionable insights on information that’s relevant to its purpose and audience. How should this be done?
- Minimize the use of logos as it takes up valuable real estate
- Wireframes, as mentioned earlier, increase the focus on typography and simple, clean graphics
- Use minimal charts and tables for visualizations rather than 3D graphics that can be difficult to read
Some designers are even moving toward almost no visible text, and instead relying more on images and icons to convey important information.
#6: Rethink gauges
Ten years ago, gauges were considered dashboard eye candy. But it’s time to reconsider them.
The intention of this chart type was pretty straightforward. If anyone could read gauges in their cars and tell how much gas they have, how fast they’re driving, and where their oil levels are, then it should translate well to a dashboard. While some still prefer this visualization (and it’s true, it does grab your attention)—gauges are notorious for taking up valuable space and providing limited information since they present data on a single dimension. All a gauge really tells you is whether something is on target, above target, or below target.
What are some other alternatives? Line charts show trends over time; bar charts are great for making comparisons; bullet charts are good for targets; and if the feeling for a next-level chart arises, opt for a combination of a few chart types.
#7: Icons deserve some attention
To help support a great user experience, dashboards are more frequently being integrated with labeled icons in the navigation pane.
This usually consists of a small graphic or image followed by a brief description so users know exactly what they are viewing.
#8: Be dynamic
A dynamic dashboard can provide users with the ability to seamlessly update and add new content. This can include importing/exporting abilities, customized dashboard views via drag and drop, and integration with platforms or existing web technologies like Salesforce or Google Analytics.
Today’s dashboards are leveraging richer content experiences through interactive elements like video, lightboxes, overlays, and slicers to promote user engagement with content and help them derive further insights. Capabilities like zooming, drill-down, and filtering are becoming more commonplace as well. Some dashboards even utilize social feeds to heighten brand loyalty and deliver real-time actions.
#10: Location, location, location
It used to be that dashboards used maps to visually represent performance metrics based on geography.
Now, with the steady advent of GPS technologies embedded into more and more devices, location mapping has become much more intelligent—like machines-are-taking-over-the-world intelligent. Questions—such as what data is being accessed the most across a certain area, or total miles traveled by country—can now be answered quickly.