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 present that data in easily understandable and visually appealing ways. If an application dashboard is poorly designed, it becomes more trouble than it’s worth to your customers—who may stop using the application altogether. Are you seeing poor user adoption? This may be why…
Here are the top three reasons users hate your dashboards:
#1: Irrelevant data
Remember that you are speaking to an audience—and that audience wants to hear something that informs them, and moves them to make a decision. Your audience can range from a data analyst to an everyday business user, and all of your users think and understand data in their own way.
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 brains to process.
The best thing that you can do is ask your audience: “What information do you need from me and what form do you need it in? What do you need or want to understand about this data?” If you’re designing a dashboard for a sales team, for example, don’t include visualizations on marketing campaign channels. Placing sales and marketing metrics on the same page will only confuse users and won’t provide the data correlations they need to make the best decisions.
#2: An overdesigned layout
In dashboard design, clutter is your enemy. Simplify content and reduce visual elements to only the most critical pieces. Anything that’s not data in a table or visualization should be just visible enough to perform its role—but no more than that.
Your goal is to create a visual hierarchy with all the content displayed in your dashboard. Use a single font type and no more than three sizes in that type. You can emphasize font copy by either bolding it or adding an accent color. But remember, if everything is bold, nothing is. You should mix regular and bold fonts for visual effects.
Colors and shapes shouldn’t distract, but help you absorb and digest information, so stay away from visual effects like background gradients, shadows, and 3D elements. At the same time, keep the sizes of similar elements consistent. Group several types of visualizations on the same screen to show different aspects of the dataset you’re considering.
#3: Confusing use of color
Choosing the wrong colors is the first mistake most people make in dashboard design. Good use of color starts with leveraging contrast because it makes your message clear. Color should only be used in a dashboard to serve a particular communication goal—for instance, when you’re highlighting something.
Use dashboard colors sparingly. To be on the safe side, always use six or fewer colors in visualizations. Use any more, and it becomes difficult for users to see the differences. Use natural colors to display most of your information and reserve bright or dark colors to highlight outliers or important calls to action.
Use different colors only when you want to communicate differences in meaning. If you’re showing two different colors on a chart, they should always represent something different and meaningful. As long as you can answer the question, “What purpose does this color serve, and will it serve it effectively?” then your use of color is entirely appropriate.
To learn more about dashboard design best practices, read our Definitive Guide to Dashboard Design.