Companies of all sizes need data analytics to help them decide on how to allocate their resources, time, money and efforts. A dashboard is an essential tool that can help them achieve this objective by providing a singular platform to review and engage with large amounts of data. Learning how to craft a dashboard can provide you with the necessary knowledge to implement it for your own business initiatives and purposes. In this article, we discuss what a dashboard is, review why it’s important, explore how to design a dashboard in 10 steps and examine its benefits, including examples.
What is a dashboard?
A dashboard is a tool that displays your most pertinent information in a visually accessible and interactive manner. In this format, data is easy to understand, allowing you to use it to make critical business decisions needed to achieve your goals and objectives. Dashboards are intuitive toward readability because they consolidate and order information on one screen, allowing you to monitor and review what you need with a simple glance. Data visualization is a core element of dashboards, utilizing an array of techniques like bar graphs, scatter plots, pie charts and many other data presentation methods.
Dashboards are highly customizable, giving you critical control over the layout, style, structure, content and practical usability of the system. Therefore, you can modify and augment the dashboard to meet the needs of your target audience and users. For a dashboard to function as intended, simplifying complex data is the priority and all design choices within your dashboard should actively serve this specific purpose.
To this point, there are three common and useful dashboard types to consider, including:
An analytical dashboard is helpful for presenting important data compared to previous performance data. This is a data-focused dashboard that should present as much information as possible. This type of dashboard functions by starting with the leading data information, minimizing any graphic or visual elements that may distract from the primary details. It helps you to see the user’s stats while inside the application, simplifying your ability to find problems and identify performance standards and trends.
A strategic dashboard functions by presenting performance data within the context of KPIs or key performance indicators. These are measurable and critical value sets that help you determine the effectiveness of a business or user’s ability to achieve important business goals and objectives. You can set a KPI for a variety of purposes, like increasing company revenue by 10% within the next six months or hiring more employees to boost customer retention. As such, the primary focus of this dashboard only needs to reflect how well a user or process is working to achieve the set strategic goal.
An operational dashboard focuses on what is happening currently, providing real-time data about what a user is presently doing inside the application. If you want to display relevant information that’s time critical, then this is the dashboard to accomplish that objective. For example, this dashboard may tell you how many users are active on the website, the number of page views per minute or where the primary social and communications referrals come from.
Why are dashboards important?
Dashboards are important because they provide detailed data in an accessible and simplified way, meaning that any user can gather vital information to make critical assessments and business decisions. This is especially crucial for businesses who need to present their most relevant material to their customers, clients and users. These programs are highly intuitive for their ability to compile large quantities of information onto a single platform, eliminating the need to conduct time-consuming analyses through multiple systems. Furthermore, dashboards rely heavily on visual presentations, which is much easier for a reader to consume compared to walls of text.
There are additional reasons that make dashboards essential for businesses, such as:
Provides a holistic view of the company
Improves sales tracking procedures
Improves strategic marketing management
Enhances the efficiency of financial reporting
Offers more effective customer service monitoring
Helps you make more informed choices
Makes it easier to foresee trends and make predictions
Provides mobile compatibility for global accessibility
How to design a dashboard in 7 steps
Here are seven steps to help you design a dashboard:
1. Determine the dashboard’s purpose
The first step of designing a dashboard is to determine what purpose it serves. Consider what type of dashboard to use, like an analytical or operational dashboard. Then define the different metrics that you want to monitor regularly so you can ensure to include those details.
2. Represent your data accurately
The next step is to identify how you plan to represent your data and metrics, the most common being data visualizations like charts, bars, graphs and other mediums. However, be mindful that your dashboard is likely going to display multiple types of data and information. Therefore, choose the visualization method that best conveys each metric.
3. Name and date consistently
Make certain that when you name different metrics on your dashboard, be consistent. The names should clearly define what the metric is and what it’s conveying to the user, helping to remove any confusion about their purpose. Also, be sure to follow the same convention for dates, ensuring they are uniform throughout the entire dashboard.
4. Decide on the flow and layout
Predetermined layouts, called grids, are really helpful and effective because they create consistency and alignment through your entire dashboard. Grids prepare a basic structure for the overall design, which you can then further customize to meet your needs. These grids come segmented, allowing you to place your personal design elements within the spaces they have set out for you. This allows you to seamlessly organize your information and save time.
5. Build a consistent structure
To build a consistent structure, you can use widgets to align your dashboard to meet company and business needs. Widgets are customizable tools you can add or remove from your dashboard to make it more personalized, like infographics, buttons, controls, charts and other amplifying details you can include. Arrange the dashboard cards as you see fit, which are the moving blocks you can put content into and scale as necessary.
Make certain to use a consistent and uniform layout for the controls and data of your cards. For example, input the name of the card in the top left corner, place the alignment view controls and actions in the right top corner and then use the rest of the space for your metric content.
6. Double the size of your margins
Negative space or white space, is the white area between all the different tools, features and elements within your design configuration. While the user may not be aware of this detail, it’s important to pay close attention to it as the dashboard designer. Make certain to balance the white space that you use within the framework of the dashboard. Ideally, double the outside margins to help bring focus to the content and elements in the middle.
7. Reveal your information through minimal interactions
The primary objective of a dashboard is to display the most pertinent information at a surface view. Designing a dashboard that forces users to scroll through large amounts of data or requires them to click many buttons to reveal the information that they want can be laborious and counterintuitive. Avoid this by designing your dashboard in a way that makes the data easily accessible.
Benefits of an effective dashboard
There are many benefits of an effective dashboard, the most notable being that it acts as a virtual assistant towards achieving your primary goals. To elaborate, when a dashboard has a successful design, it can eliminate tedious tasks and focus on providing you with the most relevant metrics for your organization or business. It’s an impartial device that can take all of your information, like financial data, search engine optimization data and marketing data and then compile it into a neat and visually appealing form. You can see the performance indicators that you need, removing unnecessary information from view.
Here are some additional benefits of an effective dashboard:
Complete transparency into the business
The total visibility of the dashboard ensures that you and your users understand many aspects of the business at any given moment. You can see what’s working, what needs replacements and where you can make improvements. For example, an effective dashboard can show the metrics of a social media post and include details like how many shares or responses the post received. These aspects appear instantly on your customized dashboard, ensuring a completely personalized experience to meet your organizational needs.
Dashboards can save you a significant amount of time by removing the need to perform the laborious task of creating reports in a spreadsheet program. If there are reports that you make regularly, consider moving such work to your dashboard. This allows you to use your saved time for other important business matters. Once you program the report into your dashboard, you can set it to update at whatever time interval you see fit, further emphasizing its customizable capabilities.
Reduced operational overload
Outside of a dashboard, you may rely on a wide range of tools to handle individual aspects of the business, like sales metrics in a spreadsheet and then performance measurements on a digital platform. By having all of your data within one central location, you can alleviate the operational overload of having to use and manage different applications, software, platforms and tools. You can see all aspects of how the company is performing and then identify areas that can use some improvements.
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It’s often important to measure many things that hold significance to the productivity and functionality of a business or department. When you’re able to use a dashboard to better monitor your metrics and performances, you’re more likely to be able to make positive changes and adjustments toward achieving your primary objectives. This becomes easier to achieve with automatic success indicators that inform you about how a specific metric is performing, like green up arrows and red down arrows. As a result, you can prioritize the red metrics and turn them green.
Increased productivity and profits
You can use a dashboard to measure performances with quantitative data, which means using numerical indicators. For example, a company can review the percentage of customers that call to learn about a promotion then you could also see how many of those customers actually sign up. When you monitor a performance metric numerically, it helps you determine exactly where improvements are crucial. Making these changes can increase profits and revenue as a result.
Example situations when a business might create a dashboard
Here are some examples of when a company might create a dashboard:
Monitor the performance of multiple revenue streams
Example: A financial investment firm has many portfolios they need to monitor, spanning over several industries like stocks, real estate and bonds. In order to assess how all the portfolios are performing at a glance, the firm constructs a dashboard to compile all of their securities. Doing so allows them to determine which investments are profitable and which ones are no longer lucrative.
Determine where to improve productivity
Example: A company sells a variety of electronic devices like phones, televisions and computers. Each department focuses on the production of a specific device, but figures indicate that the company is producing fewer products and in turn, selling less. Therefore, they create a dashboard to determine which departments need to improve their productivity to meet corporate goals and benchmarks.