It’s hard to say what we enjoy more. Making sense of big data is our passion. But designing and building dashboards is our bread and butter. When we get the opportunity to combine the two, we strive to create an engaging dashboard to convey metrics effectively and facilitate the decision-making process for our users.
We asked three of our experts with three different areas of expertise to tell us—what makes a great dashboard and why? Find out how a data analyst, front-end developer, and UX designer respond.
What’s your favorite dashboard and why?
Trey Chapman, Front-End Developer
My favorite dashboard has to be one that I’ve had the opportunity to create here at SingleStone - and there have been many, so I can’t narrow it down to one as I believe they were all great. However, I can say the reason these custom dashboards are my favorite is because the designers challenged me to build something new and innovative each time, whether it’s a stylish typographical treatment or an animated graph, it’s always fun as a developer.
Victoria Griffin, UX Designer
I'm a sucker for dashboards that are visually appealing and enjoyable to use. I think Mint from Intuit does this very well in their product. Their use of voice throughout their content is tailored to me and fun to read, they display my credit score information in a way that is easy for me to comprehend, and they provide an intuitive way to track my finance goals and budget numbers. They actually do all of this while providing a clean and simple interface – which is one of the main challenges in dashboard design.
Reggie Moore, Data Analyst
Context is critical and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but my favorite dashboard puts the user at the forefront of operations. I appreciate when it considers my platform (laptop, mobile, or both) and effectively displays data in a way that is accurate, logical, and easily digestible.
What top 3 features should every dashboard have?
- Clean design - No clutter, being able to see the information displayed in an easily digestible user interface (e.g., big numbers, easy-to-understand graphs, typographical styles, etc.).
- Simple info - Instead of showing lots of data, the best dashboards isolate a number or piece of text that makes the most important piece of information readily accessible, and then you can drill down from there if you’d like.
- Answers a question immediately - Many dashboards try to answer a lot of questions and unfortunately users spend time and energy trying to follow along. Dashboards need to be tailored to a specific user or group so that they get the information they’re looking for at a glance.
- They are purpose-driven - Just like any good design, we always have to ask "what problem is this trying to solve?" Dashboards should answer that question by displaying key data and metrics needed by users. For example, our car's dashboard shows us the most critical information we will need while using it. We should avoid building a catch-all product that lacks focus. Instead, we can prioritize the needs of the user and find the purpose.
- They exercise restraint - Although we can display all the data available to us – that doesn't mean we should. A good dashboard has focus and directed interactions that allow users to navigate through in an intuitive way. We can guide them through the data with key insights that drill down to supporting metrics.
- They look good - At the end of the day, most users enjoy technology that looks and feels good. While we may not consciously point out a simple interaction or breathe a sigh of relief at a nice color palette, we generally know what using a good product feels like. Effective dashboards do what they need to do and look good doing it. They provide the right types of charts that are easy to look at it and give us key information at first glance.
- Keep it simple - Prioritize the layout so the dashboard is visually organized. Key metrics should be prominently displayed in the upper left-hand corner, since most written languages are read from left to right, then top to bottom. Readers will intuitively look at the top left of the page first. Additionally, the 'big picture' should be easily seen at a glance. Be consistent with labeling and formatting, and try to use frames, background effects, and gridlines sparingly.
- Avoid data visualization mistakes - To properly tell your story in terms of data, precision and conciseness are key elements. Incorrect calculations can immediately harm the credibility of your data and your report. Most metrics should add to 100. If there are situations where values can be in multiple categories, choose to present those metrics in tables rather than graphs where the reader can be confused. Ensure you are choosing the right type of visualization to represent the relationship between your data and easily interpretable results. Additionally, displaying too much data in a chart or graph can also be a problem. The reader won't be able to quickly see the point of what's being displayed and may turn off from reading much more of the dashboard.
- Continue to evolve - Don't create a dashboard with the intent of displaying the same metrics and layout repeatedly. Having the ability to continuously make improvements and include additional metrics and visualizations will ensure analytical success going forward. When designing dashboards, gathering feedback is an important step in the process. Asking the right questions from dashboard creators and users will ensure optimal layout, look, feel, and value is delivered. The audience is the number one priority when it comes to creating a product that brings value and displays actionable information. Delivering an effective dashboard requires constant change and a willingness to continually improve the design and esthetics.
So, what differentiates a good from a great dashboard?
Great dashboards get to the point. They give the user the info they’re interested in without a lot of fuss - again, with just a glance they’ve gotten an answer. Great dashboards not only look great and are easy to use, they also power decisions. The insights great dashboards provide give the user the information they need to take actions and drive change.
For me, it's all about the user. A dashboard can have the most beautiful design I've ever seen but if it doesn't meet the needs of the people that are using it, then what's the point? On the flip side, if a good dashboard can display the relevant information but struggles to keep users engaged or coming back, then we've failed. A great dashboard answers the questions of those who are using it AND presents an enjoyable and intuitive user interface.
An effective data dashboard should be striking yet visually balanced, savvy yet straightforward, accessible, user-friendly, and tailored to your goals as well as your audience. All the above dashboard design tips form a water-tight process that will help you produce visualizations that will enhance your data analysis efforts exponentially.
There’s a way to connect key business results to a modern, aesthetically pleasing, user-friendly dashboard display. We have the tools and expertise to create simple, yet compelling dashboards tailored to data-driven metrics. Shoot us a message if you agree with our favorite dashboard principles or are looking to optimize your digital interface.