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7 Best Practices for Building Effective Dashboards.

When a dashboard is done right, people wonder how they ever lived without it, because a well-designed dashboard will help users to make better decisions much quicker.

Why? A well-designed dashboard is a launch point for your analytics. Armed with the same powerful collection of information, your business makes faster decisions based on a single source of truth.

A great dashboard’s message and metrics are clear, color enhances meaning, and every bit of information you need is at your fingertips. So how do you build dashboards that live up to this promise and that are just right for you?

It really comes down to three things: thoughtful planning, informed design, and a critical eye for what stays and what goes.

  1. 1. Know your Audience

    First thing’s first, who are you designing it for? Think about the audience for the dashboard. The most effectively designed dashboards target a single type of user and just display data specific to that ‘use case’.

    ‘Does the CEO really need to know the servers are operating at 95% capacity?’ Obviously no!

    Is the dashboard going to be used by the executive team to monitor the company financials or will it be used by the marketing team to monitor daily activities? It’s important to ensure that where possible your dashboard consists of data that are specific to a single audience. Often this step is overlooked and dashboards include a mix of data: Some of which is relevant to one audience and some to another.

  2. 2. Choose metrics that matter

    Metrics must be relevant to your audience and your goal.

    Different dashboards may require a different number of data (for example an Executive dashboard may only need 5 numbers, whereas an Operational dashboard may need 15-20) There’s no one size fits all here, except ensuring that everything you display is relevant and meaningful to the audience. Do not add a graph or text simply because you want to.

  3. 3. Consider display size

    If you build a dashboard for a desktop monitor, but your viewers are looking at it on their phones, you’re probably not going to have a very satisfied audience. Do some research up front to know which devices your audience uses to view dashboards. The place to set size for your dashboard is on the left Dashboard pane, under Size.

    If your audience will be looking at your dashboard on a wide range of devices, you have a couple choices.

    • Responsive: Regardless of any screen size, Zepto automatically adapts the overall dimensions of the dashboard based on browser window size. This is a good approach if your dashboard has few views and the views are very simple and scale well.

    • Precision sizing: You can use the Range sizing feature, which provides you with two predictable “breakpoints” for your dashboard.

  4. 4. Use the Right Visualization

    I’m pretty sure that you’ve heard someone telling, “friends don’t let friends use pie charts.” I think this is a bit extreme but the idea is important. Each type of visualization highlights different information within the same data set. Using the right visualization at the right time makes for better decisions, using the wrong visualization leads to confusion.

    A good rule of thumb is to keep it simple. More often than not, a bar or line graph, or some simple variation of these, is more than enough.

  5. 5. Test your dashboard

    As part of your final testing, make sure that labels are oriented so that they can be easily read:

    Take a look at all the titles in your dashboard – are they using parallel construction and is everything capitalized consistently? For example, in a dashboard about volunteer work, if you name one view “Track Donations,” name another “Find Your Donation” – not “Donation Finder.” would definitely confuse the user.

    Finally, as you get your dashboard off the ground, don’t forget to walk your users’ walk. As with any successful project, good testing is key. As you learn how your dashboard’s being received, you can enhance and update it.

  6. 6. No One Cares if its Pretty

    This doesn’t mean a good dashboard should, or even can be, ugly. If you have established a good hierarchy with an understandable user journey, logical grouping, and appropriate negative space, the dashboard should look alright. But in a business setting, an alright looking but very actionable dashboard is a great dashboard.

    Making a business facing dashboard Dribbble-worthy isn’t going to add any value to that dashboard. Focus on aligning everything you do while designing and producing your dashboard to the goal of empowering your users rather than making something beautiful. If your dashboard helps your users make better decisions, the way it looks will be the last thing they notice.

  7. 7. Make Them Interactive

    When you are presenting a more detailed analysis of the data, there are two ways to go about it. The first is to create the filtered charts yourself for each important data segment. You would create a dashboard where each sheet is a different trading block for example or a different consumer segment.

    The second (and more efficient) way is to use controls. With Zepto, you can add interactive filters to dashboards that allow the viewer to filter, without editing rights. For each dimension, you can create one of these controls.

    The result? Instead of many, many charts that explore subsections of data you can have a small set of charts with the power to explore all of the different subsections.

    The latter is almost always preferable unless you want to bring the viewers’ attention to a specific filter combination.

Right data and metrics can drastically change how a business operates which in turn impacts decision making. This is where tools like Zepto comes into play, where it allows users to inspect, investigate and have varieties of views on their business data and share among their clients. What are some of your best practices for building effective dashboards? We would love to hear them!