Dashboards have become a staple for executives and managers in the past decade. Since all business and services are not created equal, the ability to customize dashboards to highlight information that helps you be more effective is important. However, designing a useful dashboard can be daunting.

Stephen Few, author of Information Dashboard Design, calls structure one of the greatest challenges of dashboard design:

"Dashboard content must be organized in a way that reflects the nature of the information and that supports efficient and meaningful monitoring. Information cannot be placed just anywhere on the dashboard, nor can sections of the display be sized simply to fit the available space. Items that relate to one another should usually be positioned close to one another. Important items should often appear larger, thus more visually prominent, than less important items. Items that ought to be scanned in a particular order ought to be arranged in a manner that supports that sequence of visual attention.” (Pervasive Hurdles to Effective Dashboard Design, Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter, January 2007)

Here are some tips on dashboard design to get the ball rolling.

Choosing what data to include on your dashboard

  1. First ask yourself what metrics are the best indicators of the state of your business or   department. This is an important question. But it is also important to then ask yourself, “Would I do something with this information?” Effective dashboards focus on actionable intelligence and less on “nice to know” metrics. Use your dashboard real estate for the most helpful information.
2. Snapshot vs. predictive information. A snapshot is a representation of operational or business metrics at a point in time. You can make a snapshot easier to comprehend by adding in predictive value with color coding. This takes more time to setup on the front end, but it may be a more effective way to alert a user to a problematic situation. An example of a predictive summary would be a snapshot of what trays are needed for scheduled OR cases that day. Based on the average time required to reprocess the needed trays, and where the trays are in the reprocessing cycle, in a predictive scenario the pending trays would be displayed in red, green or yellow, indicating whether there is enough time to get the tray to the OR on time or not. At a glance, a supervisor can easily prioritize what actions need to be taken.

Dashboard Structure

Two popular layouts:

  • Grouping—keep related data metrics in same area
  • Gradual Reveal—summary at top of page, detailed metrics of the summary below

Impact of Color

  • direct user’s attention to what is most important
  • colors should have meaning, i.e. green=good, yellow=caution, red=problem

Pick the right graph type for the type of data to make user comprehension easier

  • Bar graph: comparative stats, measured over time
  • Point-to-point graph: stats measured over time
  • Pie chart: stats that are represented in per-cents

Pay attention to where users tend to focus their attention

Put the most important information where people tend to look first. Studies show that people tend to scan a page in a similar pattern. Imagine the image to the right is overlaid on your dashboard page. The research indicates that users look first for information on the top and left. Users also focus their attention down the left side. The center gets a fair bit of attention as well. But the bottom and right may not catch the users eye.

Dashboards are great tools to help manage your business. Taking the time to tweak and customize your dashboard can make this tool that much more useful.



Reference: October 2009, www.Juice Analytics.com.