An Information Dashboard is a real-time display of the key performance indicators of your business. It tells you how your business is doing, which business areas are performing well and which ones need to be improved.
“A single-screen display of the most important information needed to do a job, designed for rapid monitoring.” (Stephen Few)
The mission of a dashboard should be to:
- Provide an overview of what’s going on.
- Highlight what needs attention.
- Provide easily discoverable ways to drill down into details as necessary.
A dashboard is often designed as the initial view when logging into a system.
Well-designed dashboards make it easy to understand critical information and gain insights. If not designed properly, they can hurt your business instead of helping it. For example, your CEO won’t be able to spot risks immediately, and critical areas that need urgent attention may get ignored. If your team doesn’t view relevant information at the right time, it may lose focus and move in the wrong direction.
Here are 6 tips you can use to design effective information dashboards for your business.
1. Identify the objective
Identify a single business objective you are trying to accomplish, and design a dashboard around it. Setting objectives helps you focus on the key metrics to be displayed and exclude the irrelevant ones.
2. Determine the audience
You need to ask yourself, “Who will see this dashboard and what will they look for?” Operations team, Product Managers, Executives, etc.?
Different team members look for different kinds of information. For example, Executives are generally interested in high-level performance such as total signups or monthly active users over past few months. More tactical members like Product Managers, Marketing Managers, etc. want to monitor day-to-day performance and spot deviations from the norm. The most effective dashboards display information relevant to a single type of user.
3. Layout the components logically
We know from UX studies that when we see a web page, our eyes generally start at the top-left region of the page. As we read the contents, our eyes move from left to right. Well-designed dashboards take advantage of this natural reading pattern.
As a dashboard design strategy, place the most urgent and important information at the top-left region of the dashboard. Low-priority and infrequently-changing information should be placed towards the bottom region of the dashboard.
4. Group related components
Grouping related information enables users to discover and understand connections between them. On the other hand, placing related elements far apart can confuse the user and make it harder to see the big picture.
5. Use colors strategically
Dashboards are often packed with a lot of information and can be, sometimes, overwhelming. Colors can be used to highlight key information and to show information relationships. This helps users gain insights easily.
To perform any kind of analysis using a dashboard, the user must be able to extract and process visual stimuli reliably and quickly. The interface should be such that it guides visual processing and doesn’t deter it.
Also, prioritization of information helps make the dashboard more readable. As Amanda Cox, Head of The New York Times Graphic Department once noted, “Data isn’t like your kids. You don’t have to pretend to love them equally.” Know where to focus your user’s attention.
Information dashboards give users the control over our environments that we crave on a psychological level.
With its interactive and intuitive interface and its ability to visualize data in a single screen, it’s becoming a critical tool in the hands of the business user.
So what makes information dashboards so appealing to the human mind? What is it that the human mind seeks that is so nicely provided by information dashboards?
Desire to Control, we love to be in control.
An information dashboard gives you that control. Whether it’s a personal finance dashboard that makes you conscious of you spending trends or an enterprise marketing dashboard that helps you keep track of your marketing budgets, both heighten your awareness of a situation, giving you the sense of control you crave.
Most information dashboards use a three-pronged strategy to establish a sense of control:
- Giving you a clear understanding of things to help establish a feeling of certainty.
- Giving you the resources to predict and plan for the future.
- Helping you complete critical tasks in time to avoid last-minute panic.
Dashboards work by overcoming this limitation of short-term memory. By displaying all relevant information on a single screen within a user’s eye span, they reduce the dependence on the short term memory. You don’t have to remember anything because it’s all there in front of your eyes.
Any product that has an information dashboard as one of its key offerings should keep the psychological needs of its end users in mind. Users like being in control, they have a limited short-term memory, and they love things that are simple. These three factors should form the foundation of all dashboard designs. Understand your user’s requirements and add in your design best practices and you have the ingredients for creating a good information dashboard.
We are wired for visualization. Whether it’s graphs putting raw data into a perspective or the use of icons, which helps to overcome issues of limited real estate, we do value a picture over a thousand words.
Gestalt psychology offers a set of laws that explain how we perceive or intuit patterns and conclusions from the things we see. Applying these laws to charting and data visualization can help users easily identify patterns in their data.
Information-on-the-move will be a key feature of the information dashboard. While web dashboards will provide users with in-depth insights and analysis, the mobile dashboard will be tailor-made to suit the information requirements of the user-on-the-go. Location intelligence, real-time data and predictive analytics will further make the dashboard richer and enable users to gain crucial business insights from their data.
Information dashboards aim to augment human cognitive abilities and aid in decision-making. The challenges of designing an effective dashboard are many, but the potential benefits make this a challenge worth pursuing. The key is not in finding what’s most exciting or what’s most outside-the-box but in applying simple concepts which we know but still tend to overlook.