Steer Your Business Straight with a Dashing Business Dashboard

dashboard

How do you know where your business is going if you can’t track it, trace its progress, point out its highs and lows? How could customers understand any facts and figures you want to deliver to them if those facts are full of gobbledegook and those figures blurred by balderdash?

Whether your communications are internal or external, they don’t communicate if they are weighed down with unnecessary frills or distracting graphics. Poor communication can be an infectious disease.

The cure: business dashboards.

Let’s start by defining what a business dashboard is. Then, we’ll go over some of the steps involved in designing the dashboard, as well as some common mistakes people make.

What’s a business dashboard (and why does it matter)?

A dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives, consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance.

- Stephen Few

A dashboard is an overview: a distillation of information.

It’s a big-picture visualization that informs you instantly: here are facts—do I need to act on them? Has something important changed? Is this a trend? In keeping with the dashboard metaphor: Do I need to get gas? A quick glance at your car’s dashboard will let you know. A business without gas doesn’t go anywhere.

Dashboard Design the Easy Way

Know the message

Determine the purpose of your graphics and text. What do you need to know in an instant? This month’s revenue compared to last month’s? Which product is soaring and which is sinking? Can you produce a clear chart of your competitors that displays your dominance?

Audience awareness

Don’t try to create the most beautiful piece of data art the world has ever seen. Your purpose here isn’t to win a design award or get 1000 likes on Dribbble. Who cares if your viewers gasp at the symmetry of your Mobius strip of gradient lines?

Grasp the essentials and sweep away elaborate gradients and stylized typography. Graphic elements that don’t contribute to communicating a clear, straight-to-the-point message must go. See the 3D prettification in the graph below? Goodbye.

Don’t fragment data into separate screens

Arrange the data in a way that you don’t have to scroll or switch between multiple screens. We can hold only a few chunks of information at a time in short-term memory. Relying on the mind’s eye to remember information that is no longer visible is a rocky venture. Clear the rocks.

Misuse of color

Stick to soft, muted colors – except when highlighting data.

The graph on the left misuses distinctions in color in a meaningless and distracting way

Say NO to Chart Junk

Chart junk, a term introduced by Edward Tufte, refers to:

The interior decoration of graphics generates a lot of ink that don’t tell you anything new… Regardless of its cause, it is all non-data-ink or redundant data-ink, and it is often chartjunk. (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, p. 107)

Clarify the message by removing unnecessary chart junk, e.g., distracting or non-contributive gridlines and borders.

Graph with and without chart junk.

References

  • Few, Stephen. Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data, 2006

Further Reading

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