Remember the good ol’ days when you had to deliver weekly insight reports consisting of hundreds of pages worth of black and white data tables, only to have to quickly amend them because the results had already become outdated? The fact is, not much has changed in regard to delivering reports – countless hours are invested in creating lengthy reports filled with redundancies and trivial information.
The one thing that has changed is the approach and availability of robust tools.
No matter the tool, whether it’s Tableau, Google’s Data Studio, Power BI, or Adobe Workspace, dashboarding has democratized data for business stakeholders by summarizing vast sets of data and presenting it in easily digestible visualizations. To achieve this, however, your data sources require accuracy. Data visualizations need to be executed properly in order to serve their ultimate purpose: to enable data-driven decision-making.
We have boiled down 8 key ingredients that will help you to stand up a dashboard that demonstrates clear and obvious business value.
Dashboarding 101: Guidelines For Effective Data Visualizations
Simplicity is king.
Clutter misinforms – it achieves the opposite of what the dashboard intends. Stick to two to three types of data visualizations. Adding a wide variety of graphs does not add value to your dashboard.
On the contrary, it distracts by creating visual chaos. You want to be strategic with your viz type usage, and remember that uniformity and symmetry go a long way.
Align your dashboard with your KPIs & objectives.
Dashboards ideally stem from a measurement framework, which clearly outlines the metrics and dimensions are used to track key performance indicators & ensure objectives are being met.
Begin by outlining what the primary objectives are for your organization and focus on the ones that are a constant (i.e. revenue). This will allow you to create dashboards that are simple in execution but complex in capabilities.
Carefully consider the intended audience.
Are you building dashboards for C-level executives who care about revenue and growth, or for marketing managers who are more concerned about the performance of their campaigns and their acquisition channels? What if your audience is composed of small to medium size business owners?
Being cognizant of this will impact how your dashboard looks and presents information, but more importantly, what metrics are being featured. Our recommendation to make your dashboards effective: when creating dashboards for multiple audiences, consolidate views whenever possible.
Consider the following two examples:
Which of the visualizations below is more effective?
A – Dashboard addresses an executive marketing team with relevant KPIs that tell a congruent data story.
B – Dashboard is visually cluttered and contextually noisy. Catch all dashboards way me great for personal reasons, but when building out one for a business team, think “what kind of questions are they trying to answer on a day-to-day basis?”.
Usability is your best friend.
There’s no doubt that your dashboards need to be interactive, meaning stakeholders should be able to interact with your data to view the exact information they need to answer simple and complex business questions. Oftentimes, that will involve applying the right filters, metrics, and dimensions to sections of data.
With that in mind, however, if you add too many filters and dropdowns that your audience doesn’t know what to do with them, it defeats the purpose of creating simple visualizations. Our recommendation to improve usability: narrow it down to one to two filters per dashboard view. If you need to add more than a few, you probably need a new dashboard view altogether.
Source: Adobe Analytics – https://www.adobe.com/analytics/web-analytics.html
Answer the pressing business questions.
Dashboards can be cluttered if they are trying to address a thousand topics at a time – if everything is important, then nothing is. Focus on core business areas and if your audience is trying to solve multiple problems, consider creating different views to ensure each one tackles a problem respectively. The less your audience has to guess what a dashboard view helps with, the more efficient it becomes at discovering useful information.
Check for accuracy.
Just as it is important to have implementation and QA in data collection, the same applies to information visualizations. Make sure your dashboard is connecting to a live data source, but also be efficient in making connections.
Sure, you could connect your data viz tool to all of your data warehouses, but when constructing dashboards, accuracy is a big dependency. You want to make sure that all your data sets sync correctly and link properly to display data and information without any issue – even if that means sticking to two to three data sources.
Keep your labels tidy and concise.
Make sure all titles & headlines in your visual representations are clear, easy to read, but more importantly, straight to the point. Abstain from writing a sentence in the graph title. Instead, stick to two to three words max, and add a short describer underneath if you need specifics.
Less is more with format.
Don’t go overboard with colors and highlights. Stay within three – four colors max for data items, and white or grey for the dashboard background. Your goal is not only to reduce clutter in text and data but also in design and style.
Giving the eye permission to glance through your dashboard easily will make it seamless for your audience’s brain to start making inferences. You basically want to avoid having design distract away from the value of the data you are presenting.
In the example below, the creators use blue and grey as the lead colors to present and categorize data, but they also allow some blank space to clearly communicate high-value pieces for decision-makers.
Wrapping It Up
Now that you have mastered Dashboarding 101, remember that less is more when summarizing vast amounts of data into concise, easy-to-digest dashboards. Stakeholders all around you will be grateful that you saved them time and more importantly, that you provided them with an eagle’s eye view of how their organization is performing.