A picture is worth a thousand words – especially when it comes to your data! A data dashboard is an analytics tool that helps capture, track, and consume data in a way that is meaningful to your business. Here is how Stephen Few, founder of Perceptual Edge and author of countless visualization books, describes the dashboard:
A visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives; consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance.
Designing Your Dashboard for a Target
Advanced analytics tools such as Power BI and Tableau are making it easy to get started with out-of-the-box solutions for building dashboards. But just because you can add a chart, graph, or table with the click of a button, doesn’t mean you should! If you want your dashboard to truly enlighten your team and provide at-a-glance insights, designing for a target is key.
Before building your dashboard, meet with the end users to understand their reporting needs. Ask them these questions:
- What do you want the dashboard to communicate?
- Who will be using the dashboard?
- What metrics matter to you most?
Keep asking questions until you are able to picture what the dashboard should look like. Knowing the types of dashboards can help narrow down your design focus. Let’s take a closer look at the three different types of dashboards.
The 3 Types of Dashboards
The strategic dashboard focuses on providing the key performance indicators (KPIs) in an easily consumable and quick-to-understand visual. These at-a-glance dashboards rely on consistency and clarity. The users are looking for immediate answers rather than digging deeper into the data. Here are some design best practices to keep in mind when building your strategic dashboard:
- Your strategic dashboard should help users understand if a KPI is on track by showing current value, targets, and using colors to indicate good/bad performance
- Use progress bars or gauges to show progress toward a goal
- Show simple trends using sparklines or line graphs without any labeling
- Generally does not include drill-downs
The operational dashboard focuses on showing the progress of the work that the individual will be overseeing. These dashboards are designed to show the current state of a branch, department, or product line and highlight when there is a problem. These real-time dashboards typically aren’t used for digging deeper into data, however, there may be exceptions where drill-down is needed. Here are some design best practices to keep in mind when building your operational dashboard:
- Comparisons to sub-units are often used to understand where issues are
- Line graphs are used to show trend progress towards targets and visualize where things will land in the end
- Can sometimes include drill-downs
The analytical dashboard focuses on allowing the user to explore the data in as many ways as possible. Specific points of data do not necessarily need to be called out and large summaries are usually not needed. Instead, this dynamic dashboard enables users to explore their data through filters and comparisons to uncover meaningful insights. Here are some design best practices to keep in mind when building your analytical dashboard:
- This is the one instance where girds are the main focal point
- Needs to be as flexible as possible, meaning lots of filters and alternate comparisons
- Can often involve features such as predictive models and what-if parameters
- Will always include drill-downs
What Does Your Ideal Dashboard Look Like?
Every dashboard will look different, depending on your unique business goals. The more you can get ahead of the types of questions you’ll be asking your data, the better off you’ll be able to identify the type of dashboard you need and the individual design features you want to include.