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A Guide to Creating Dashboards People Love to Use
Part 1: Foundation

by Zach Gemignani, www.juiceanalytics.comFriday, October 9, 2009

Dashboard Design Matters

Dashboards have become standard business practice over the last decade. Dozens of dashboard building tools have sprung up to meet the demand. Yet in the flurry of technology and enthusiasm, little attention has been paid to how to design focused, thoughtful, and user-friendly dashboards. Our three-part guide will show you the concepts and give you the best practices to create a high-impact dashboard that people love to use.

Traditional dashboard design focuses almost exclusively on defining the right success metrics, then piecing together a bunch of charts and gauges on a single page. These techniques result in solutions with a hodgepodge appearance and confusing information.

Traditional dashboard design techniques
result in confused solutions
This guide will help you design more intuitive
and effective dashboards

In the early days of the world wide web, it was good enough to simply have the right information on the web page. The current industry-standard dashboards are no more ambitious. However, modern web design has moved on to seek a union of utility, usability and beauty. With regards to the way business displays data, we must seek a similar union.

This document will approach dashboard design in a holistic way, beginning with general goals and evolving to specific data presentation. Part 1: Foundation will help you identify your target audience, understand what type of dashboard you want to create and why it is valuable to your organization. It concludes with guidance regarding how to focus your message on the information and metrics that matter. Part 2: Structure will get you started on designing your dashboard, including what form it should take, how to arrange for audience understanding, and what navigation, interactions, and capabilities will make the dashboard useful and engaging. Finally, Part 3: Information Design dives into the details of interface and information design. You will learn how to lay out your dashboard and best practices for charting and data presentation.

A Purpose-Filled Dashboard

We’ve all heard reasons why business dashboards are useful: that which we measure we improve, and the importance of a shared understanding of the state of your business.

You need to find the specific reasons why your dashboard will be useful to your organization. This section offers exercises to define and refine the purpose for your dashboard. With this purpose in mind, the real work of creating a dashboard will come more easily. Better yet, you will have a standard against which you can evaluate success. There are three key questions:

  1. Who is my audience?
  2. What value will the dashboard add?
  3. What type of dashboard am I creating?

Who is my audience?

Dashboards need to start with an audience in mind. Who is the consumer of the dashboard? What are their information needs? What do they already know? What are their experiences and prejudices? As we design the dashboard, understanding the consumers of the dashboard will help us craft a product that they love to use.

A complicating factor is that most dashboards have multiple audiences. In fact, delivering the same dashboard across an entire organization has the potential benefit of getting everyone on the same page. However, a diverse audience is hard to serve well. Therefore, try to prioritize the audiences so conflicts can be more easily handled.

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