Effective Dashboard Design Practices

Through conversations with many customers, I’ve been asked either directly or indirectly what makes a dashboard good in terms of design. Put it another way…what are some design best practices to make a dashboard more effective at conveying the “data” message.

Well…here’s the list of dashboard design best practices that I try to follow. How many do you follow already?

1. Keep the dashboard to a single web page that viewable in a single screen. If additional detail is needed, have that detail (or related data) be navigation to different pages on the dashboard.

2. Make sure there is context to all data elements presented on the page…meaning if presenting a number (let’s say sales revenue by quarter to quarter comparison), is the latest number good or poor.

3. Keep “like” data grouped (arranged) within the dashboard.

4. Keep precision and detail of data to a minimum. For example, to conserve space on a page, instead of showing $3,000,000 show $3m. Think of “detail data” in the same light…does it really make sense to show all that detail if it is better served on a subsequent dashboard page.

5. Don’t use pie charts or radar charts on a dashboard.

6. Use a uniform color scheme and object rendering as appropriate –put in other words, don’t just use a cool image/representation of data “just because”.

7. Don’t use bright colors in charts/graphs…use either light colors or even grayscale. Use the bright colors for highlighting important information, like yellow or red KPI status.

8. Keep most important data (aka data your want the user to see first) in the upper left, least important data in lower right. Also keep in mind relative size to one another…for example; a large colorful graph in the lower right may overpower the important data in the upper left.

9. Don’t over complicate the dashboard page(s) with design elements…aka, fancy gauges, images, etc. Not only do these designs waste space, but they draw the user’s attention away from the important data.

10. Reduce non data pixels as much as possible…meaning do away with borders, gradient fill colors, grid lines, extra images, etc. The simpler the better.

11. Use “sparkline” and “bullet” graphs to represent data. Both can be achieved within Reporting Services 2005/2008 (as seen below).