Building Effective Dashboards


Live visual dashboards are graphic displays that consist of charts, maps, and graphic indicators.  We like to think of a dashboard in the same way you would think of the dashboard on your car. It’s a single screen/page snapshot of your most important information. A dashboard quickly lets you see that everything is working as it should, or more importantly, if it’s not. And just like the dashboard in your car, it’s not a tool for exploring or analyzing. Even though a dashboard will give you an alert when something is wrong, it’s not going to tell you exactly what’s wrong under the hood of your car.

Dashboards allow you to quickly gain insights into the most important aspects of your data at a glance. It also provides real-time results by aggregating and extracting value from all the data you collect then simplifies your data into more manageable chunks of visual information. This allows you to see what you are doing right and where you need to improve.

There are tons of dashboard templates in the market, but how can you recognize a good dashboard versus a bad one? 

Below are some guidelines.

Well designed and effective dashboards:

  • Must be visually appealing but does not draw attention away from the data itself by using distracting and unnecessary graphics.
  • The amount of data presented in each graph is enough to provide value without looking cluttered and difficult to interpret.
  • Gives the user the ability to drill down and gain a much deeper insight as they work their way down the dashboard.
  • Allows the user to select an area of interest and then gives them the key metrics in terms of variables, such as country, region and city.
  • Effectively incorporates filters so the user can view data based on time scales such as day, month, year or last 12 months.
  • Well structured
  • Incorporate a significant amount of data, taking the form of numerous different data visualizations in an organized manner.

Poorly designed, ineffective dashboards:

  • Have too much information in a small space and end up looking cluttered which is distracting. If you flood the dashboard with too much data, it becomes difficult to see what’s important.
  • Too many colors, many of which serve no real purpose. This draws the focus away from the data itself.
  • Too many different types of data, visually interpreted on the dashboard – with no clear linkage between them.
  • Lack of consistency – there are instances when quantitative data gets encoded with inaccurate values in graphical representations or sometimes a flaw on the formula would cause data to skew.
  • Badly laid out. Dashboards come with the challenge of presenting loads of information in limited space. If the information is not organized well, based on the importance and the desired viewing need, the result can be a big mess.

While a good dashboard should answer your simple questions, like, “Am I on track to reach my sales goals?”, it won’t tell you why you are or aren’t meeting those targets. In order to find out “why”, you still need to dig deeper, either in your Sub Reports or in your analytics platform. 

A great dashboard, be it for Sales, Advertising, Customer Service or Financial Reporting will be simple, informative and clutter free to be effective and useful. Users will feel like they instinctively know where to look for a one time use and for roles that need to refer to it on a regular basis a great dashboard will be a coveted and valued part of their business and how they work.