In a world driven by big-data, dashboards have become a popular means to deliver important information at a glance.
Have you seen a dashboard of a car? I’m sure you have, and did you notice that all it requires is a quick glance to know the vitals of your car. Similarly, businesses utilize dashboard to summarize important real-time data. It simplifies your data into more manageable chunks of visual information that allows you to gauge knowledge from umpteen data and helps you measure your actions and highlights the area where improvement is required. If designed right, dashboards can help organizations make informed decisions that can dramatically impact business performance.
However, designing an effective dashboard is not a walk in the park. In fact, it’s quite daunting and challenging. Recently I got an opportunity to gain first-hand experience in designing a dashboard, and I realized, despite your inner creative desires, dashboards are not the right arena to unleash your artistic potential. Quick Pro-tip: Keep a leash on that creative mind while you design a dashboard before it goes on a somersault. For more such tips, keep reading, there are 7 more to go.
Know Thy Audience
At Lollypop, throughout each stage of designing an application, we designers solely design with the intent of giving superpowers to the users. Many may assume that a dashboard is all about data, but it isn’t. It is about information, and about enabling users to make sound business decisions.
To achieve that, you need to sit with your users before you jump into wireframes, understand their pain points, find out what sort of information they need to know and what is their ultimate objective. Once you have gathered all the information, only then you can put your thoughts up on the screen.
Furthermore, unlike other applications, dashboards should be designed keeping only ONE user in mind. Hence the data on the dashboard should be of relevance to a single type of user. In the occasion of multiple users, create different dashboards based on their roles.
Information shouldn’t be put on a dashboard just because it pleases your aesthetic sense or to fill up empty space. While designing a dashboard it’s good to maintain an information hierarchy; basically, organise the information in a way that makes sense to the users. Key information should be placed in a way that it stands out and is understood quickly.
Important information that relates to a user’s primary goal should be showcased on top, followed by supportive data that will help set the context for the main information below it. In general, make sure to showcase relationships between the data so that users have all the information they need to make the right decisions. For example, if it is a dashboard for finance, you need to see your monthly expenditure on the same graph as the money you are receiving from projected investments.
Group Data Logically
This is where it gets obvious; group data logically so that it is clear to the users. For example, if you are designing a dashboard for an oil refinery, don’t put a number of accidents next to the sales figures for the plant.
It is not advisable to follow the best practices used while designing a website when we are looking at dashboards. For example, in websites we generally, place navigation or company logo on the top left corner which is not a good idea while designing a dashboard. We, humans, read from left to right and top to bottom, hence, in a dashboard, the most important real estate is a top left-hand corner. Use it wisely.
Take the Minimalist Route
In efforts to find the sweet spot, drowning your users with a lot of useless data will only end up giving them a nasty headache. Keep it minimal, crisp, and cut out the noise at every turn.
When considering the information that you should present to users within a dashboard, there is one key question that you should always ask – What is the user going to get out of this information?
Refrain from cramping your dashboard with too much of text - use text only to show the graph's title and keys. Stay away from unnecessary graphics or imagery which will only clutter the dashboard and create visual noise. Surprising as it may sound, with the right approach to usability, you can put a huge amount of functionality behind a simple, user-friendly dashboard design.
Choosing the Right Data Visualization
Data visualizations are intended to be more than mere eye candy – they play a crucial part in dashboard design. Raw data is often complex, hard to process and monotonous to read over. The purpose of visualizations is to sift through raw data quickly and reveal relevant information in a short amount of time while allowing the user to gain more details if they wish to do so. Charts, plots and graphs guide users to interpret and analyse data, however, don’t go overboard. You don’t want to throw too much at users or data visualise them to death!
Thou Colour Wisely
Colours play a fundamental role in the design world, they are a great way to help users analyse and interpret data. Choose your button and alert colours wisely to notify users of tasks, activities, and features in your interface. Best practice would be to create a style guide that you can refer to for the various state of your data.
Take note that dashboards are meant for actionable information, they are not a place to showcase the different palette of colours.
Know How Often Data Needs to be Refreshed
The frequency with which data gets refreshed is important, as it helps in prioritising and placing elements. For example, if some data is going to be refreshed often, it might be of prime importance, thus it’s a good idea to place at the beginning or where it can be viewed quickly by the user.
It is equally imperative to let the users know when it was last refreshed or if they need to refresh the data manually.
Trust me, knowing what data to present to your users – and more importantly, what not to present to users – is a science. Dashboards are of great importance in a business set up, they hold the power to make or break your application. Data by itself lack meaningful context and us designers’ shoulder great responsibility in making this data easy to understand.
End of the day, love what you do and do not forget to have fun while you do. If you are currently designing a dashboard or about to, and need some extra tidbits, hit me up on the comment section below.