Data is a driving factor of businesses. Its contribution in evaluating business insights and bringing innovation into technological landscapes cannot be overstated. Today, we are overwhelmed with data. And presenting information in a clear and organized manner is now more important than ever.
Dashboards are a great tool to organize information. Inspired by the automobile dashboard that lets a driver check speed, fuel, distance, and warnings at a glance, digital dashboards aim to convey to users relevant information in a simple format using efficient dashboard design principles.
In this article, we will see what a dashboard is, discuss the components of a good dashboard, and the methodologies that make a dashboard design effective.
What is a Dashboard
The Big Book of Dashboards, one of the most resourceful reads for dashboard design, defines dashboard as:
“A dashboard is a visual display of data used to monitor conditions and/or facilitate understanding.”
Though it is a broad definition, it conveys the essence of dashboards accurately. A dashboard presents information in a clear and direct manner, empowering users to achieve objectives swiftly.
Relevant information is sifted from overwhelming chunks of data and showcased in a visual format through dashboards. It provides a simple view that will guide users to understand better and make informed decisions.
What are the Key Characteristics of Great Dashboards
A great dashboard can communicate information in a quick and streamlined way. It is built on simplicity and is action-oriented. Look at this enterprise dashboard that we designed for a client. It is clear, crisp, and uses multiple data visualization elements to impart information easily.
Some key characteristics of good dashboards are:
- They can present complex information in a simple manner
- They provide a clean user interface
- The information is clear, efficient, and relevant
- The essential components are visible in one glance
- They implement visual hierarchy and data prioritization
- They convey a clear story and are easily understandable
- They use data visualization techniques to represent data accurately
Different dashboard designs will have different requirements. But these characteristics apply to all dashboards in general. They help to improve usability and simplify communication.
What are the Components of a Good Dashboard
Depending on the use, the dashboard design will differ. However, there are several components that must be included in every good dashboard design. These components are essential in enhancing the dashboard interface. They are:
- Metrics and KPI: Every dashboard will have specific metrics or KPIs that it wants to track. These are decided by the users of the dashboard. And according to the metrics, data is obtained from several sources.
- Data visualization: Dashboards are visual displays. They showcase information through various data visualization techniques like charts, graphs, and maps. It is a key component that improves the usability of dashboards.
- Filters: When dealing with data, users might want to see specific data of a given period or a particular business division. Filters enable them to achieve this and improve user experience.
- Navigation: With proper labels and a meaningful hierarchy of information, dashboard designs should exhibit excellent navigation. It will help users find what they need, quickly and intuitively.
What are the Different Types of Dashboard Designs
Choosing the right type of dashboard is fundamental in ensuring that optimal output is achieved. It depends on several factors such as who will be the users of the dashboard, what problems are they trying to solve, and what their goals are. It also determines the relevant UX design principles that can be applied to the dashboard.
There are mainly three different types of dashboard designs – operational, analytical and strategic.
Operational dashboards are used to display time relevant information to help users carry out appropriate actions. They are frequently updated, and in effect, provide the current status to users. Operational dashboards are used to monitor the real-time performance of key metrics and KPIs.
Google Analytics real-time dashboard is an excellent example of this type. They are often used to manage the intra-daily performance of organizations. Business users and managers typically use operational dashboards. Tracking performance against certain targets and employee awareness are the goals of this type of dashboard design.
Analytical dashboards work with large volumes of data with an aim to discover insights, trends and predict outcomes. They do not undergo frequent updates but rather display data on a historical basis, comparing it against previous performance.
Often used by business or data analysts, their goal is to gain visibility into critical processes and improve performance issues. Their scope is to help organizations establish targets by identifying deeper insights and investigating recent trends.
Strategic dashboards are used to aid the long term strategy of companies by helping them track performances against a set of APIs. By tracking APIs and creating action plans and strategies, they focus on making an enterprise-wide impact on businesses. Strategic dashboards undergo data updates on a recurring basis, but not as frequently as operational dashboards.
They are mostly used by senior-level management, such as executives and directors, to help them stay on top of KPIs through simple data visualizations. They aim to solve top line organizational KPI issues through monthly, quarterly, or yearly performance reviews.
Top 23 Key Dashboard Design Principles for a Successful Dashboard
Dashboards are designed to leverage data and improve the performance of organizations. A good dashboard will encourage users to view and use it as a natural part of their work. A well-designed dashboard is user-friendly and displays data in the best way to help users initiate actions.
Following dashboard design principles will help you create dashboards that are usable and delightful. Let’s take a look at 23 best practices for dashboard design now.
1. Understand the Users
A dashboard design should be guided by the question “Who is going to use the dashboard?”. Once you understand the users, you can gather information such as why they need a dashboard, their expectations, how they would be viewing it, etc. This directly influences the style of the dashboard and information display.
For example, are you designing a dashboard for admin users of an ecommerce platform or customers of an insurance agency? Implementing UX research methods can help to shed a lot of light on users and their needs. Depending on the user persona, dashboard structure, data presentation, and selection of KPIs will vary.
2. Define the purpose
Defining the purpose of a dashboard is as essential as understanding the users. What are you building it for?
Do you want it to enable faster problem recognition? Or is it for measuring the impact related to a particular goal?
Decide the purpose that you want the dashboard to serve. Once it is decided, you can choose among the different types of dashboards we discussed in the earlier section: operational, analytical, or strategic. Setting this, in the beginning, is important; otherwise, it might lead to incorrect design decisions in later stages.
3. Simple is the Best
Today, designers have access to several tools with which they can create stunning visuals. These tools provide a lot of options for making elaborate designs. Although it is a significant advancement, it is ideal to use extra refinements sparingly in dashboard design. Simplicity should be the priority. It is a UI UX design trend that will never go out of style.
Use pictures only if necessary, do not overdo shadows and textures, and use precise and legible labels. The end result should be a simple visual with the relevant points clear and highlighted.
Take a look at this simple dashboard design we created for KSEB with clear labels and minimal outlook.
4. Choose the Right Data Visualization Techniques
A dashboard is essentially a visual display. So implementing data visualization elements like charts and graphs are not merely for decoration but rather serve a specific purpose. The wrong choice of data visualization can leave your users confused.
Before choosing a visualization tool, you should ask, “What type of information am I trying to convey?”. It generally falls into four categories- relationship, comparison, distribution, and composition. Depending on what you want to communicate, choose a relevant visualization type.
- Line charts: Commonly used type to display comparison over a period of time. They are clear, compact, and easy to analyze.
- Bar charts: These are used when you want to compare multiple data in the same category, for example, the number of visitors by the country.
- Pie charts: Used to indicate composition, pie charts are common but not very precise. Although it facilitates instant scanning, users may have difficulty in comparing slices of smaller sizes.
- Scatterplots: They are used to indicate relationship and distribution. However, they are not easy to decipher and are preferred only for a knowledgeable audience.
- Bubble charts: Used to indicate relationships, they lack precision and clarity and are not commonly used in dashboards.
- Sparklines: Sparklines are great for visualizing trends involving a lot of metrics. They are compact and easy. However, they can’t indicate individual values as they don’t have a scale.
- Tables: Tables are used for comparison of multiple items and displaying data-rich content.
Here is a merchant dashboard design we did, where we used different data visualization elements to convey information clearly.
5. Follow the five-second rule
The five-second rule states that a user trying to find information from a dashboard should be able to get it within 5 seconds. If the user has to spend more time trying to gather the required information, it means the dashboard is not efficient enough. All the relevant information and the most urgent queries of users should be answered within 5 seconds, that is, at first glance.
6. Define Layout and Flow
Since in dashboards, you will be dealing with a lot of information, creating a basic skeleton for design is a valuable strategy for improving composition. A great method to achieve alignment and consistency in information placement is using grids.
Apart from this, it is also important to create a continuous flow for users to scan easily through the dashboard. Usually, users start reading from the top left corner of a screen and move down from row to row. However, if there are links between different groups, this flow may not be observed. The designers must understand the context of the dashboard and define the layout and flow accordingly.
This customer dashboard we designed for an insurance company was challenging due to the large amount of data we had to display in a single view. By creating a proper layout and maintaining a flow, we were able to achieve a successful result.
7. Use the Inverted Pyramid Structure
Information hierarchy is an essential aspect of dashboards. The inverted pyramid is a concept that is used to achieve this organization of dashboard design. It involves dividing content into three parts in descending order of importance. That is, the most significant details are displayed at the top, followed by an overview, and all the background information comes at the bottom.
In a dashboard design, this principle translates as the insights are located at the top part of the dashboard, the trends which help users understand the insights are at the middle, and the granular details are located at the end. This helps catch user attention, satisfy their needs immediately, and make it easy for them to grasp information.
8. Implement Card UI Design
Cards can be used as the building blocks of a dashboard. They are responsive, minimal, easy to arrange, and flexible. Each card can be used to represent an idea and can act as a content container. It also brings incredible consistency to the dashboard design structure, making it easy for users to navigate. While using cards, remember to leave ample space in between. Cards also support design scalability, which makes it an ideal dashboard design principle to follow.
9. Lead With Data
In dashboards, the hero is not design but data. Great dashboards communicate through big and bold numbers. These are realistic, have no embellishment, and clearly conveys what they want to. Showcasing information in this manner helps users identify relevant information in a few and simple steps. It saves users time and fulfils the purpose of a dashboard to the core.
See how this CRM dashboard we designed for travel agencies leads with data!
10. Choose Relevant Metrics
The choice of metrics that needs to be displayed in the dashboard has to be carefully done as it will affect the effectiveness of the dashboard. Who is your target audience, and what do they want to know – depending on this, choose the metrics that provide the right details. Otherwise, it will lead to cognitive overload and a cluttered design, which will decrease the understandability of the dashboard.
11. Split Information Wisely
When designing a dashboard, resist trying to display all information on the same page. Split information into different blocks or even separate dashboards, if needed. This is one of the golden guidelines of dashboard design. Information overload hinders usability and makes it hard to find desired information quickly.
Suppose you want to design a dashboard that caters to users of different divisions, say marketing, analytics, and HR. Instead of filling up all the information on the same page, you can use tabs to split the information or group them into distinct and legible blocks. This makes it easy for every end-user to find the data they need easily.
12. Less, Not More
It’s easy to go over the top while designing a dashboard with enthusiasm to show everything. But before you do, hold your horses. UX psychological principles show that the human brain can process around nine images at one time. Therefore, it is ideal that your dashboard should not contain more than nine images in it. Otherwise, it will just distract the users and contribute to clutter.
13. Always Give Context
Without context, any information you give is incomprehensible to the users. The users may not be able to identify if the graphical relationships are good or bad or if they have to take any actions. By giving context, you provide light to a whole scenario. This is one of the most practical dashboard design principles to be followed.
So, always give context, even if it seems evident to you. Name all visualization elements, give proper titles, mark the axes in graphs and charts, and provide comparison values. This brings a certain standard to dashboard design and increases its usability.
14. Consistency is a Must
Consistency fuels functionality. A consistent dashboard design will subconsciously guide the users and enable them to do actions naturally. The aim of a dashboard is to provide its users with important information at a glance. Consistency in labelling, formatting, and structuring is indispensable to paving the way towards this goal. If your formatting or labelling for related metrics or KPI are inconsistent throughout the dashboard, it will confuse users and obstruct a smooth dashboard experience.
15. Round the Numbers
Numbers constitute a significant part of dashboards. While dealing with numbers, you might be tempted to display them in the most precise or detailed format. You may think of presenting conversion rates to 5 decimal places or revenue to the nearest cents. But according to dashboard design best practices, it is ideal to round the numbers.
Becoming too number-specific isn’t necessary and might not be visually appealing.
So resist the urge to say 47.87654% and instead just use 48%.
16. Use Progressive Disclosure
Progressive disclosure is an excellent dashboard design guideline that will help to reduce clutter and save user time and errors. It involves prioritizing features to be presented to the users and moving rarely used features to a secondary screen. It will improve efficiency and increase user attention.
One way to achieve this is by using animation, for example, by displaying a sign of progress. This will give users feedback, set clear expectations, and give them something to view while an element is loading. Progressive disclosure improves confidence in users to use the dashboard and makes it easy for them to learn.
17. Thoughtful Use of Colours
An essential consideration while designing a dashboard is the minimal use of colours. You can choose colours that reflect the company’s brand identity or the app’s theme. But the number of colours should be minimum, say 2 or 3, and these colours should be followed throughout the dashboard design.
Take a look at this dashboard we designed, where we used a simple and consistent colour scheme.
You can play with gradients of the selected colours to bring attention to certain elements of the dashboard. It’s best to use saturated colours sparingly as it would affect the user experience adversely. Assigning a single colour tone for similar items throughout the dashboard design will make them more comprehensible and improve the UI and UX.
18. Addition of Interactive Elements
Interactive elements add an extra layer of usability to the dashboard design. It allows users to investigate certain trends or insights in depth. Thus, integration of elements like click to filter, time interval, drill down, etc., makes a dashboard all-inclusive and is a vital dashboard design principle.
Click to filter enables users to filter values throughout a dashboard according to filter criteria chosen from within the dashboard. For example, filtering data specific to a country. Drill-down, as its name suggests, lets a user drill deep down into certain elements or metrics of a dashboard. The time interval widget lets users view data over time, such as days, weeks, or months.
19. Give Ample White Space
One of the most important web design trends, white space, is also a crucial design guideline for dashboards. Since dashboards present a massive amount of data, the role of empty space in bringing balance and clarity in design is an essential consideration. It is ideal to double the margin space for the main elements of the dashboard. Also, ample white space should be provided between different sections or elements to make it easier to view and understand information.
20. Design for Multiple Devices
With the increase in the usage of handheld devices and changing work culture, users don’t always access dashboards in an office setup. Therefore, it is essential to optimize a dashboard design for multiple devices. Since users can access dashboards from anywhere, the designers must consider the possibility and design accordingly.
When optimizing for mobile devices, the dashboard layout, placement of elements, and level of analysis will differ compared to a desktop dashboard design. It requires integrating intensive testing in the UX design process to have a design that is well optimized for multiple devices.
21. Take Care of Common Mistakes
Data visualization has advanced so much to make visuals more interactive and stunning. However, you should remember that the value lies in data. Don’t create visuals just for the sake of it, but use them to present data in a clear and accurate way. Avoid common mistakes like:
- Selecting an incorrect technique for data visualization concerning the information you want to convey.
- Using too much real-time data. Unless you are monitoring some real-time trend, the dashboard doesn’t need frequent updates.
- Confusions in calculations, like the percentages of pie chart, slices not adding up to 100 or overwhelming users with too much data in a single visual.
These general mistakes can be avoided with enough presence of mind from the designer and by not getting carried away with visual design alone.
22. Personalization and Customization
Personalization and customization are effective dashboard design methodologies that help to increase user engagement. Personalization is done by the system, while customization is done by the user. In personalization, a system can identify the users and provide them with relevant content. In customization, the user can make changes to the dashboard to create an experience suitable for them.
Both options give users a feeling of acknowledgement and value. Giving users more control in their hands facilitates a positive response from them and encourages them to use dashboards.
23. Keep Evolving the Dashboard
The success of all things depends on their ability to evolve over time by integrating the necessary changes. What works today might not be enough tomorrow. So it’s crucial to observe the changes, take constant feedback and improve the dashboard design. Changes may be needed in the layouts or KPIs, and some functionalities might need to be altered. Take inputs from the users and keep evolving dashboards to provide the best outcome continuously.
How Aufait UX Can Help You Design Effective Dashboards
Aufait UX is one of the best UI UX design agencies in India, with a good share of happy and satisfied clients. Dashboard design is our forte! We have worked on several dashboard projects and are equipped with a great idea of dashboard design principles. Having designed different types of dashboards for various clients, we know what it takes to make a dashboard design effective. We love designing, and our enthusiasm reflects in our work!
If you are looking for a reliable UI UX design team to undertake a dashboard design project, we make the perfect choice. We have hands-on experience in implementing dashboard designs, and our insights can tremendously help you. Take a look at our works in Dribbble or contact us now. Let’s get talking!