9 Ideas you can use today to improve your dashboard

Ideas to improve your dashboards

Building an engaging business dashboard is really hard.  It takes time, patience and persistence to get a dashboard to a point where the majority of users think it’s doing its job.  It’s very easy to get attached to what you have built at the cost of delivering the message.  You’ll never get it right the first time but that’s kind of the point.  A dashboard introduces the audience to a new perspective or view of something they are familiar with.  You’re inviting them to change their perspective with your dashboard and with that comes a shift in thinking.

Here are 9 ideas you can use today to improve your dashboards. 

1. Headlines

Every dashboard should have a clear message.  A clear message requires big bold numbers that everyone instantly sees.  Using no more than three numbers, make sure these stand out and grab people’s attention.  Place them in the top left hand corner and then make sure that everything else on the dashboard supports these numbers.

2. Feedback

Your audience is defined and the purpose of the dashboard is clear.  Using your skills you’ve built them this awesome dashboard but don’t forget your view on what’s right is just your opinion.  THE ONLY WAY to find out if it’s the best dashboard ever is to ask the audience.  Get feedback from as many people as you can and gather a consensus of what is appealing about your dashboard and what isn’t.  Finally, read between the lines and tease out the ‘need’ from the ‘want’.    

3. Speed

Any dashboard should load in less than 6 seconds.  If you have dashboards that take minutes to load, consider a different approach.  Create a summary dashboard as a landing page that uses cached or extracted data that’s been pre-aggregated.  This delivers a summary of the message in an instant and acts as an intro to what’s next.  If you have the tools and the skills, use this aggregated dashboard as a filter for users to dig into the details.  

4. Use the right chart

This is not always obvious.  There are 4 main ways to examine data:

  • Comparison
  • Composition
  • Relationship
  • Distribution

The same chart can be used for a variety of visuals so the context is important.  Here’s our take on how to choose the right graph:


5. Colours

Simplicity is important when selecting the right colours.  Using too many colours is a sure fire way to turn people away.  Colour should be used sparingly and its primary objective is to highlight or contrast key points.  If you have a large set of categorical data like states, product lines, clients, etc avoid assigning each of them a colour.  Try using the same colour for all of them but highlight the outliers, exceptions or the selections with complimentary colours.  For more details on design essentials, read this article: four-essential-design-concepts

6. Less is more

Is everything on your dashboard supporting your key message?  If not, then move it to a secondary dashboard, or at least push it below the fold.  Cluttered dashboards distract the eye from the message.  It can be a huge challenge to get the whole story on just one page so try to avoid squashing everything onto one screen just to make it happen.  White space is your friend so take a step back and review each component to see whether it truly supports the message.  If not, ditch it or relegate it to a secondary dashboard.  

7. Fonts

Use a font that your audience relates to.  If you have a corporate style guide, lean on that.  Otherwise keep the font in line with other familiar documents, publications or go with something modern like these:  

Check them out and download them at google font:  https://fonts.google.com/  Size is important.  Use font sizes to emphasise the importance of each section.  This is no different to a Word document where you use a combination of Heading1, Heading2 and Heading3 styles in your documents.  The same applies to dashboards and helps tie things together.  

8. Mobile

This should go without saying, but how many of your dashboards render on a mobile device in a way that doesn’t need a magnifying glass?  None?  Call me!  Creating mobile layouts can be challenging and is almost impossible with some dashboarding tools.  That shouldn’t mean you can’t serve up mobile versions regardless.    

9. Alerts

Not everyone will make your dashboard their go to place when they wake up in the morning.  Email alerts are a fantastic way to make sure your audience is pushed to the dashboard when they need to take a look.  Set thresholds around the key headlines so that if they slide outside your expected zone, the key audience get a message telling them what’s happening.    

In Summary

Building the ‘right’ dashboard takes time, patience and persistence.  The trick is to let it evolve.  A dashboard shouldn’t replace an existing report, it should give the audience the potential to ask why.