No matter the industry or size of a business, it collects information about customers, market, conversions, etc. and almost every business uses dashboards to manage this data.
Dashboards do the tricky work of presenting complexity in the simplest of ways. It takes a lot of effort and attention to detail to organize information in a way that is easy to understand by the intended audience.
Although it’s not impossible, the effort can be quite strenuous. If done correctly, however, a dashboard can be a great tool to get the right data to the right people at just the right time.
Research is the first step in designing a dashboard that users love.
The 7 Steps to Building an Efficient Dashboard
Step 1: Identify Your Audience and Predict Its Needs
Although it sounds more difficult than it really is, it’s an important step that’s often overlooked. It is essential to know who and why you are creating the dashboard. Executives will want high-altitude views that allow them to drill down to understand trends.
People in the trenches do not necessarily need to be able to see the big picture. Therefore, it is best to communicate more details upfront.
This step is worth the extra effort. It can help you set the tone for the rest. Your dashboard will improve the more you know your users and what their needs are.
Step 2: Determine the requirements for each element
Each dashboard is a collection of data visualizations that each have specific requirements. You will need to match business terms with data definitions.
Don’t assume that you know what “customer” and “week” are to your stakeholder. Each company will have its own method of counting customers. A week may run from Monday through Friday, or Sunday through Saturday.
These terms should be defined precisely according to available data. This will allow you to confidently say that a customer is an opportunity with closed status in the deal columns.
You will need to ensure that you have all of the necessary information to create each element in the dashboard. Here is a checklist to help you get started:
- What insight(s) does your audience need from this element? What are they trying to accomplish?
- What dimensions and measurements are required for this visualization?
- How can data be modelled to produce the right output?
- Which type of visualization should it use (bubble chart or table, map, KPI, etc.)
- Which benchmark lines and limits should be considered?
- Do point labels need to be included? Are there any preferences regarding axis labels or titles?
- What units should be used? For example, data stored in USD may need to be converted into EUR to reach the intended audience.
- Which colors should you use/avoid?
- Is there conditional formatting? What logic will it be, if so?
Also, don’t forget to look at non-visualizations:
- Are there interactive filters? What specifications would you like to see?
- Do you have any icons or images that you think we should include?
- Are there URLs you would like to embed?
- Is the text correct and concise?
As you improve your process, don’t be afraid to add to it!
Step 3: Create a Wireframe
This is a crucial step and an excellent opportunity to receive feedback from a small group of casual and power users. This step is also an opportunity to finalize visualizations. Your users can make a big difference by choosing between a table or a bar chart.
Step 4: Go ahead and create the dashboard
This stage is simple. Your beta testers will be able to see your dashboard once you have assembled it. Your wireframe might have been seen by the same group, but they may not be. If your dashboards are popular, don’t hesitate to share them with other groups.
Step 5: Gather feedback and QA
After your dashboard has been launched successfully, gather the data that you will need to iterate. Ask your testers and yourself the crucial questions:
- Does your dashboard work? This can be taken in its most basic meaning (i.e. it doesn’t crash), but also in terms of usability. Is it useful for your users? If they don’t, they can help with Step 6.
- Is it clear? You should ensure that someone who has semantic knowledge of the data reviews it and can confirm that it is correct.
- Does it commit any statistical fallacies?
- Does it follow design best practices?
- Is it as good on the device you intend it to be? Does it look great on the CEO’s computer but not on the tablet of the warehouse technician?
Step 6: Revise Your Dashboard
Based on the data that you have gathered about your users’ use of your dashboard, take action. This is a great time to remind yourself of something you probably already know: If something isn’t working, get rid! You don’t have to spend a lot of energy or time on something that isn’t being used by your users. Be brave and get rid of it.
Step 7: Finish
It was done! It’s done! You’re almost done. The data sets and use cases of your dashboarding software are constantly changing. Updates to dashboarding software can also lead to new behavior. It will be your responsibility as the dashboard author to ensure that it continues to work.
Practice makes perfect, as always. The next implementation will be influenced by the lessons learned from this one. Do you have a dashboard that you want to create?
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