When customers first open an account with us on ClicData, they often ask us for example dashboards to help them get started. Our response is typically to point them to our Dashboard Examples & Templates page on our website and let them know they can easily use their own data with them if they want to.
But some customers have needed more, so our Dashboard Ninjas offered to put together some tips to help guide our readers and customers along with those first steps of building efficient dashboards so they can quickly get valuable data at their fingertips and to make smarter business decisions
First of all: What is a dashboard?
Let’s start with some definitions. A dashboard is a tool that displays data in visual graphics such as pie charts, line or area charts, maps, gauges, number indicators, etc. Using dashboards, business managers and data analysts are able to measure the performance of a wide range of actions and efforts by individuals, teams, and entire organizations. The main features of dashboards are indicators.
What are indicators?
Indicators play a big role in business intelligence and data analysis. They are measurements that help an organization evaluate its performance and progress towards achieving all sorts of business goals. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are those indicators that are of most vital concern to the organization and provide the most significant feedback about a particular type of performance.
There are two levels of KPIs:
- Low-level or operational KPIs
These are the KPIs that are closely monitored on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
- High-level or strategic KPIs
These are the indicators that are discussed and presented during company meetings and among C-suite executives. They are most likely reviewed on a quarterly or twice-a-year basis.
See a list of top KPIs per category on our blog:
Now that the definitions are out of the way, let’s design a dashboard.
How to design a good dashboard?
1. Ask questions first
A valuable dashboard is one that gets a lot of use. So, the best place to start when designing a dashboard is to ask yourself questions about the purpose you intend for it along with questions about how to keep your users engaged so they get the most benefit from it. Here are a few questions to get you started building a great dashboard.
- What questions do you want to answer? Are you trying to understand how your marketing ads are doing? Or how long it takes for your sales team to close deals? Or how your business Net Profit is evolving on a daily basis?
- Who is going to use the dashboard? (Who is your audience?)
- How much experience do the users have with the intended KPIs? If they’re somewhat inexperienced, take time to educate them and make sure they understand the metrics and their meaning.
- What result do you want to achieve with your dashboard? For example:
- Raise awareness about your team’s or company’s performance.
- Improve the team’s or the company’s decision-making process.
- Improve response to customer needs.
- Identify missed opportunities.
2. KISS – Keep It Simple, Silly!
The best dashboards are ones that look simple enough yet they drive the focus of their users to the most important indicators. The whole purpose of your dashboard is to quickly and easily provide a clear understanding of the performance of key aspects of your business. Yet, while it seems obvious, but it’s actually harder to accomplish than you might think. As you build your dashboard, it’s just too easy to fall into thinking that “more is better” or to get lost in indicators, data relationships, numbers and more. (See “The KPI overload” cartoon by Marketoonist to get the picture!)
Data visualization expert Stephen Few reported that the human brain can only process four chunks of information at a time. That means that, if you overcrowd your dashboard with charts, numbers, gauges, and more, you overload your user, and you defeat the whole purpose of your dashboard.
ClicData recommends: To keep your dashboards crystal clear, don’t include more than 10 KPIs per dashboard!
3. Explain your KPIs
Are your users familiar with all the KPIs you plan for your dashboard? You need to find out before you begin. To do so, step into their shoes for a moment and see if you can spot weak or too-complex data representations. For example, no one would expect you to understand this graph at first glance:
Yet a useful dashboard should be informative with only a simple glance. Be sure to use legends, labels, and even a KPI glossary on your dashboard to make things very easy to understand. Using scales in charts is also very helpful.
The dashboard below reports metrics about a hotel’s performance. Notice how easy it is to read and understand. For example, along the bottom is a list of KPIs, including the acronym, the full name, and a description of how it’s calculated for anyone that needs it. Notice, too, that the indicators are specific to hotel management. The ADR indicator, for example, shows the average daily rate for a single room, calculated from room revenue divided by rooms sold.
Counter-intuitively, sometimes the best way to convey information is with text. Explanations help to prevent your users from misinterpreting the data and making poor decisions based on it. In the dashboard below, the relevant info is just a simple paragraph.
4. Smart use of colors
You’ll undoubtedly want to incorporate your brand’s color palette into your dashboard. See how to set your custom palette in ClicData here. Beyond that, it’s important to pay attention to all the colors you use in your charts and indicators.
When you choose colors, remember that certain colors don’t mean the same thing for everyone. They vary according to the region and cultural background of your audience. For example, red represents a danger in the Western part of the world, but it is used for wishing someone good luck in China. And while black is very often used to represent death in the West, China uses white to do the same thing.
Here are some more interesting facts about color and its meaning to different cultures.
To work around these issues, consider using the following:
- Up and down arrows. If people within the same team hold different meanings for different colors, it can be helpful to use icons like up and down arrows to indicate the health of your KPI. An arrow going down would mean a negative performance and an arrow going up would indicate a positive performance.
- Gauges or bullet charts. These visualization options show progression against targets. The information gets conveyed regardless of the use of color.
- Finally, consider the fact that eight percent of the global population is colorblind. That means that 600 million people struggle every day to define their perception of color. Your dashboard has to be clear to them, too.
5. Choose your format: TV screen, desktop, mobile, or tablet
In order to keep your dashboard users engaged with your reporting, they need easy access to the dashboard. In other words, you need to adapt the dashboard to the device they’re using. Will your dashboard be displayed on the office TV screen for everyone to see? Will it be used on a computer during a weekly team update? Or do you want people to access it via their mobile during their commute? How people access your dashboards will determine the dashboard formats you choose.
With ClicData, you choose your format during those first steps of creating your dashboard:
ClicData recommends: if you need to design a dashboard for multiple device sizes, use the mobile-first approach and build a canvas for wider screens.
These are the very first steps to make sure your dashboards are the most effective they can be and get the most engagement they can get. Next, we’ll discuss some basic and some advanced features.
Power up your BI dashboards
Dashboards are not necessarily—and, in some cases, should absolutely not be—a static, one-page event. Your users might want one high-level KPI dashboard that also allows them to access a more in-depth dashboard with a single click of a button. You might choose to incorporate interaction between charts to let people drill down into the data for more precise actionable insights. Your users also might want you to embed their dashboards into their internal portal, in which case a white label feature might come in handy. Here are some examples.
A dynamic interaction between charts allows users to access more data without forfeiting space or clarity on the dashboard. In the dashboard below, we set up dynamic interaction to display all the data from a survey in a single chart. It allows users to drill down into the data without having to display every combination on a separate chart on the dashboard.
Linking multiple dashboards
As mentioned earlier, it is sometimes very useful to build multiple dashboards and link them together in web-like navigation. For example, your marketing team might ask for a Content Performance dashboard, a Social Media dashboard, and another dashboard for all their paid ads. But they also want to be able to easily access all of them every week during their marketing update. Or, your team might ask for more than 10 KPIs, so linking multiple dashboards is a viable workaround to keep your dashboards clear and easy to understand.
In the example below, we linked four dashboards to each other and then split the KPIs by region, segment, and sales rep:
Embed dashboards in your website or application
Most dashboards are built for internal users and are meant to be kept private and protected. But some customers desire to go public with their dashboard by embedding them into their customer portal or even their websites.
Our white label feature lets you embed dashboards without any mention of ClicData, making them fully yours! Here’s an example:
You are now well-informed about the fundamentals of dashboards. It’s time to put these tips into practice and build your first dashboards with ClicData!