Designing Dashboards

7 Design Tips for Pixel-Perfect Operational Reports

By Jing Jin
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In a data-driven world, operational reporting is a popular analytics functionality—especially for application teams that need precise control over layouts.

Pixel-perfect operational reports let you calculate and position every element with a high level of accuracy. They present complex data using charts, tables, and diagrams, delivered in precise layouts that are easy to understand. These reports are ideal when you need something that can scale to handle large amounts of data and support formats including browsers, PDF, and print.

>> Related: 6 Essential Capabilities of Embedded Operational Reports <<

Unfortunately, even if you have access to pixel-perfect reporting technology, there’s no guarantee your report will look beautiful. One small mistake and it could fail to accurately convey critical information.

For optimal results, keep these seven design best practices in mind:

#1. Start with a Strategy

Before you design your pixel-perfect operational report, spend some time creating a design strategy. You need to take all use cases and possibilities into consideration. The high-precision, front-end templates you create for your pixel-perfect reports should have the ability to be:

  • Populated with both small and large datasets
  • Rendered in different browsers
  • Exported as PDF
  • Added to emails and newsletters
  • Printed in high-quality portrait and landscape orientations

To create an effective design strategy, list all scenarios in which your customers might need operational reporting. Consider all report formats, filtering and exporting options, datasets, screen sizes, and device types.

#2. Calculate Precise Dimensions

Pixel-perfect reporting is quite different from other web design projects. Because they often need to be exported to PDF and printed, pixel-perfect reports are usually designed to be static, not responsive. You need to focus on the precise placement of elements such as labels, images, and text on the page.

As a best practice, think of pixel-perfect reports as maps where every object has a fixed position. Set up the X and Y locations of each component on the page and specify width and height as well. Since pixel-perfect reports are usually not responsive, you should always use absolute CSS units such as pixels, inches, and centimeters. Avoid static positioning, as it can lead to errors when the user runs the report with different amounts of data. When you use newer CSS techniques, don’t forget to check browser support and apply fallbacks where necessary.

#3. Maintain Brand Consistency

Your operational reports should be part of your broader branding strategy, so they need to have the same look and feel as the rest of the application. Make sure design elements such as colors, fonts, icons, and labels match your overall brand appearance. If you have a style guide, apply the same rules to your pixel-perfect reports as you do the rest of your brand’s assets.

Also pay attention to the layout of the report. For example, if labels are displayed in a specific order on your interactive dashboards, they should follow the same order in the operational report. As a rule of thumb, your reports should deliver the same user experience as your entire application.

#4. Reuse Components

Most organizations will create more than one pixel-perfect report over time. Some pixel-perfect solutions will make the reporting process more scalable by allowing you to reuse components, including header sections with your company logo, footers with your contact information, or even frequently used data connections. Reusing pieces across various reports means you can quickly scale to meet new requirements.

Reusing components also saves you maintenance time. If you want to change the look and feel of a component, you only need to adjust the design once instead of multiple times.

#5. Use a Limited Dataset During Design

When designing a pixel-perfect report, the goal is to create a template rather than a final report. That’s why it’s usually easier to work with a small dataset, or even no data at all. If you work with too much data in the design phase, the report might get very long while it’s still under construction. As a result, it won’t be easy to calculate the relative position of objects on the page.

To reduce design errors, first create the backbone of the template using a limited dataset. Then test it with different amounts of data and adjust the elements as needed. By creating a template, you can ensure your pixel-perfect reports will accurately display both large and small sets of data.

#6. Don’t Manually Adjust Components

In pixel-perfect reporting, everything needs to be precisely placed. Avoid moving objects by hand when you want to adjust them, as manual movements are subject to human error. Instead, make use of property controls to place objects. Most report design tools come with a report inspector that allows you to directly adjust properties. Many even let you move multiple objects at one time with precision.

#7. Pay Attention to Print Quality

Printing on paper is one of the most common uses of operational reports. To increase print quality, create specific print styles using a separate print.css file or by adding a print media query to your regular CSS. Since many customers will print their reports in black and white, always use a high-contrast color scheme. You can also apply CSS filters to increase contrast or otherwise adjust colors.

Don’t forget to hide unnecessary elements that make no sense in print, such as links and background images. Check that no charts or other data visualizations span across multiple pages. Finally, test your print styles in both portrait and landscape orientations.

Get more design best practices in our ebook: 17 Dashboard Design Tips for Non-Designers.


Originally published May 16, 2019

About the Author

Jing is the technical support and report developer at Logi Analytics. She has over 10 years of experience in report development and technical support at Jinfonet (now a Logi Analytics company).