By now you should have a good idea on why you need dashboards and how you can use them to improve your company’s performance. While this is a good start, it doesn’t help you understand how to design the look and feel of an effective dashboard. That’s what we’re here to help you with today! Here are just a few things to think about as you begin creating compelling dashboards for your company.
Using Screen Real Estate Effectively
It’s easy to get caught up on the “sexiness factor” of dashboards, since they’re naturally more attractive than traditional business intelligence (BI) reports. But dashboards also pack a lot of punch in terms of functionality that enable interactive, in-depth analysis, so the content needs to be compelling. One of the biggest considerations is how to utilize screen real estate. Dashboards need to present a lot of information in a concise, digestible way so users can immediately understand what’s going on and take action. However, given that dashboards are often consumed on many different devices – including PCs, tablets, and smartphones – you’ll need to design your dashboard for multiple screens and potentially multiple use cases. For instance, your users may access a dashboard on their phone to see a high-level summary or a single chart, but expect to see more information and be able to dig into the details from their PC. So the same dashboard needs to accommodate different screen resolutions, as well as enable different functionality, depending on the device used.
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In the case of dashboards, less is more. Focus on key performance indicators (KPIs) and decide on the best way to present them. Force yourself to work with a limited amount of space to determine what is most important. You might decide to build multiple tabs to include more information, but keep track of what people are actually using and be prepared to eliminate any tabs, charts, reports, etc. that are never accessed.
Choosing the Right Visualizations
Another important piece is identifying which visualizations are most effective for the type of data being examined. Luckily, vendors are making this much easier, as many provide suggestions as to what type of gauge, dial, chart, graph, heat map, etc. will best suit the type of data being accessed. It’s then up to the user and/or designer to customize and create his/her own visualizations.
Regardless of whether you choose standard or more unique dashboard designs, remember to keep it simple and don’t make users think. It should be immediately apparent what users should take away from a particular chart or graph, so don’t bury the point in a complex design. Function > Form. End users need to be able to glance at their dashboard and understand what they are looking at, whether targets are on track and how to take action when they’re not.
Getting the most out of data requires consolidating different sources and applying business rules to transform raw numbers into digestible and actionable information. To do so effectively requires collaboration between those who will be using the tools and those developing them. Understanding the data layer becomes important when trying to consolidate data across business areas to get a broader view of the overall business. Simply looking at one data source no longer provides the value it once did.
Organizations need to develop a framework that manages data on the back end to enable effective delivery on the front end. It’s simple, if the data are not valid and reliable, the dashboard will not have any value. In some cases, organizations will not want to create a data warehouse or centralized data access point, but some form of database is required to maintain data relationships and quality over time. Without this, dashboards will be limited to real-time data streams or one source of data. In some cases, business users only want to look at one data source, such as sales volume. But to get more value out of sales data it becomes important to understand the customer, product life cycle, environmental factors, competitors, etc. All of this information resides in a variety of data sources and requires a consolidated view to get the proper value out of sales information.
Creating an effective dashboard requires communication and planning but the effort pays off in the end. Designing a compelling dashboard will allow your end users to gain insights in real-time, allowing them to take immediate action.
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