Business Dashboards are a great way to monitor your business and grow it faster. A dashboard provides at-a-glance view of all the key aspects of your business, in one place. If designed properly, dashboards can provide amazing insights. Else they can confuse and misguide you.
Here are 7 steps you can use to design business dashboards for your business.
1. Identify the business objective
The first step is to clearly identify why you need to build a dashboard. What purpose will it serve? What is the business objective you’re trying to accomplish? This helps you focus on the key metrics to be displayed.
Once you identify the business objective, you can determine what metrics to measure, how to present them and what data to use. For example, if your objective is to get 10,000 signups in the next 4 months, you know you need to monitor signups by each source of traffic, their conversion rates in your dashboard. Revenue numbers don’t belong in it.
2. Determine the target audience
Next, you need to figure out the target audience who will use your dashboard. Every dashboard is built for a specific target audience. Who will see your dashboard? How will they use your dashboard? What questions are they trying to answer? What information are they looking for? The more you know about your audience, the quicker you’ll be able to build a dashboard for them.
If you don’t clearly identify the target audience of your dashboard, you may end up showing irrelevant information in it. For example, would you show a metric like ‘server uptime’ or ‘% cpu usage’ on a marketing dashboard?
3. Identify the type of dashboard
Different people in an organization look for different kinds of information. For example, executives look for high-level trends to quickly get the big picture. They’re interested in aggregate metrics such as total revenue, revenue for each product, etc. over the past few months. On the other hand, tactical users like managers look for daily/weekly KPIs such as daily revenue and weekly revenue to ensure operations are on track. They are looking for detailed information that they can drill-down to reconcile the metrics. It doesn’t help if you build the same dashboard for both types of audience.
Ask as many question as you can about your target audience. It’s important to be as detailed as possible, not just about the KPIs shown on your dashboard but every aspect of user experience. How often will they access your dashboard? How often do you need to refresh dashboards? Which device will they use to access dashboards?
4. Identify the KPIs to be displayed on your dashboard
Once you’ve identified why you are building a business dashboard and who will be using it, it’s important to determine what KPI’s you’ll display on your dashboard. Tracking the wrong metrics can misguide the viewers. For example, 400 percent growth sounds great, but 400 percent from what: 1,000 shipped units or 100,000? Do you know what you would do if your KPIs go up, down, or stay the same? What will you do differently based on the changes in your metrics? If you can’t find an answer, then you shouldn’t really be measuring it.
Avoid tracking vanity metrics in your dashboard. Vanity metrics are those metrics that may make you feel good about your business but don’t really provide any actionable insights. If you are tracking KPIs that can’t be acted upon (you don’t know how change in the metric will change your behavior), then it’s a vanity metric and you should ignore it.
Whereas actionable metrics such as current active users, monthly revenue, etc. tell you how your business is doing, what’s working for it, and what isn’t. They give you an idea about the specific repeatable tasks that you need to do to achieve your business goals. Tracking the right metrics can provide meaningful insights about your business.
5. Choose the right visualization
One of the biggest mistakes one can make while designing dashboards is to choose the wrong data visualization. It conveys the wrong message and might even confuse the viewer. For example, both charts below show the same information.
The sales trend is obvious in the second visualization. In the first chart, the user ends up wasting time between the pie slices and their legend, and might even miss key insights. Imagine showing this to an executive.
Here’s a handy diagram you can use to choose the right visualization for your dashboard.
Learn more about how to choose the right data visualization
It’s necessary to pay attention to every aspect of visualization while choosing one. Since dashboards often contain a lot of densely packed information, the visual content must be kept simple. Else it can cause a lot of visual noise.
For example, colors can be used to highlight key information and imply relationships, as shown in the above charts. However, using too many colors unnecessarily can thwart users from drawing insights while using dashboards. Some colors demand our attention, while others are less eye-catching. If we’re not careful in using colors in our visualization, it may naturally compel us to start looking for meaning where none exists. The 2 charts below show the same data:
In the first chart, the additional colors don’t provide any new insights. On the contrary, it might make you wonder, “Does red mean something bad happened in December?”, “What positive event happened in October?”. The extra colors subconsciously make us to look for meaning in different colors.
6. Layout the components logically
Once you’ve figured out what metrics to track and how to visualize them, it’s necessary to arrange them in an intuitive & easy-to-understand layout. This makes your dashboards insightful and actionable. It ensures that you don’t waste time looking at things that are neither important nor urgent.
When we look at a web page, we begin reading from the top-left region of the screen. As we read the content, our eyes move from left to right, as we scroll down. Well-designed dashboards make use of this reading pattern. While designing the dashboard layout, it is essential to place the most urgent & important information at the top-left area of your dashboard. Information that is low-priority and doesn’t change frequently should be placed in the bottom-right region of your dashboard. This ensures that key insights are immediately visible to the viewers and they don’t get distracted by unimportant information.
Let’s look at the example below, where charts & tables weren’t laid out in a logical manner:
The 2 charts at the top ( “Top 10 Customers by YTD Revenue” and “Number of Users by Age Group”) don’t change frequently.
On the other hand, frequently-changing charts such as “Signups per month” and “Daily Metrics”, are placed at the lower region of the dashboard. This means every day a user sees this dashboard, he will waste time on the top two charts before he gets to the meat of the insights.
7. Group related components together
Grouping related charts & tables on a dashboard makes it easier to spot the trends and understand connections between them. On the other hand, placing them far apart makes it difficult to see the bigger picture. Let’s look at the dashboard below.
In the above dashboard, you can see the charts have been grouped using position and color scheme:
- The top row displays overall sales metrics
- The middle row displays product sales metrics
- The bottom row displays regional sales metrics
As you can see, clever use of positioning and color helps users group related information and compare them easily.
While grouping dashboard components, it’s also important not to place unrelated charts & tables nearby. Else it may confuse the viewer. They may start looking for connections that don’t exist.
Also, when dashboard charts look similar, it may cause people to think they’re related. It’s because similar-looking charts might unintentionally suggest relations that don’t really exist in the data.
Let’s look at the dashboard below:
The use of same colors in different charts suggests that the dashboard charts are related. The two colors, blue and red, do have the same meaning in three of the charts. Blue stands for the Americas and red stands for Europe. But this is not applicable for the fourth chart, where blue stands for “Quarterly Growth” and red stands for “Annual Growth”.
By following the above steps, you will surely design business dashboards that contains relevant data and provides actionable insights. The trick is to keep your audience in mind and work backwards.