Okay, so you’ve been asked to create a business dashboard. Where do you start? How can you create a dashboard that is equal parts powerful and amazing?
Before you do anything, you must define a clear objective. You must understand who plans on using the dashboard, why they want a dashboard, and what they hope to get from this dashboard. You’ll want to pull very specific objectives out of the future users. Don’t settle for generic answers like, “We want to see sales data.” Get specific. You can’t develop a clear objective without very specific goals.
1. Build for substance first, flash second
Some make the mistake of focusing on panel design before function. Keep your eye on the objective. Don’t worry about panel design until you’ve built all of the underlying capabilities. You can make it pretty later.
2. But, don’t forget the user
That being said, don’t ignore panel design. Once you’ve created a dashboard that meets your objectives, fancy it up a bit. After all, users aren’t likely to use a dashboard that is cramped, overwhelming, or doesn’t make sense. I realize that panel design is all subjective, but here are some tips:
- Choose a simple color scheme: Too much color will look bad and overwhelm the user. Try to use no more than 5 colors (at the most).
- Choose your charts/graphs wisely: Nice charts are necessary, but don’t assume the 3D, animated ones are best. Use charts that present data in the cleanest and most concise way possible.
- Keep it simple: Don’t try to fit too much on your dashboard, it will only make the whole thing unreadable. If you do need to put a lot of data in one dashboard, break it up into tabs (like this).
3. Include logical drill downs and filters
A dashboard should instantly tell the user what they need to know, yet give them the ability to drill down or filter that data if necessary. For example, this interactive report is a good example of high level data combined with the ability to filter or drill down as needed.
4. Build it over a database, not a static data source (like a spreadsheet)
Creating a dashboard over a static data source like a spreadsheet will cause two problems:
- It delivers old data: Since data isn’t updated automatically, the dashboard is outdated quickly.
- It creates more work and increases the risk for errors: Someone must regularly update that data source, which is time consuming. It also increases the chances for data errors.
5. Make it portable
These days, it’s good practice to make your dashboards accessible on smartphones and tablets. Doing this often requires building 3 different versions of the dashboard, or at the very least, 3 different HTML presentation layers (one for each device). Place logic in your application to identify the device being used and serve the appropriate HTML layer. Of course, if you’re building dashboards with m-Power, this is all automatic.
(If necessary) Include Multi-tenant security
This only applies if one dashboard is shared by many users, and you need to control which users can access certain data. Multi-tenant security keeps you from having to build multiple dashboards for multiple user levels.
So remember, to build a great dashboard, define a clear objective and focus on it throughout the project. After that, follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to creating fantastic dashboards.
Of course, if you want to create dashboards that automatically includes most of these tips, you should check out m-Power. It lets you create dashboards quickly, all without programming. You can even sign up for a free trial right here.