If you Google “data visualization” or “dashboard design,” which is likely how you ended up reading this, you’ll probably find examples of beautiful widgets and dashboards that leave you wondering, “How can I make these for my business?”
You may not have the resources — like a full team of UI/UX designers — to dedicate to your dashboards, but there are some practical tips you can start with in order to make your widgets and dashboards nicer to look at and, more importantly, functional for your end-users.
Let’s have a look at three dashboard examples and highlight some simple tips you can use right now in your own design.
1. Simplicity and Layout
Analytics dashboards are similar to car dashboards. In a quick look, the user should get all the important information they need. Only after that should they be exposed to the rest of the information on their dashboard. Dashboards should give more value to your data by making it as clear and simple to understand as possible. You should make sure that the user doesn’t need to do any unnecessary calculations in order to gain insights.
In order to do this, don’t crowd the dashboard with too many widgets. Challenge yourself to tell the story of the data in 6-8 widgets. Placing these 6-8 widgets in a clear layout will help you achieve effective alignment and consistency with little effort. Using a grid also allows you to organize and arrange the widgets quickly and easily and can be a good base for responsive design.
You can see all of these principles being used in the example below. This dashboard contains eight widgets, which allow users to understand and process the most important information just by glancing at the gauges at the top. From there, they see data that supports the story of the main gauges. All of this is done in a minimalist design allowing the user to focus on the data rather than be distracted by a messy and confusing dashboard.
One of the greatest principles in design, and specifically dashboard design, is the hierarchy. Similar to the points above, there is an expected widget arrangement that users will automatically understand without an extra explanation. The right hierarchy helps make dashboards scannable and follows a couple of simple rules:
- The most important information should be located on the top left corner of your dashboard. This is the most prime location, as it’s where the eyes go to first when reading.
- Widgets that follow the top-level should explain, in more detail, why a top-level KPI is what it is.
- Use a text widget to create titles that can help the content to be more clear.
- Don’t be afraid of empty space. It’s better to leave a gap than to make something bigger just to fill space.
The example below is a dashboard that displays key KPIs for a business user. As you can see, the most important KPI (total revenue) is placed in the top left corner. From there, the other gauges give a top-level summary of key metrics. Under that is where more explanatory widgets come into play. These widgets break down data to support and explain the key metrics in the top row.
3. Styling and Choosing the Right Widget
Styling may seem subjective, but the truth is, with some simple tips, you can easily create appealing dashboards and widgets. Good styling, like the rest of the tips so far, helps the user to understand the story behind the data and emphasizes important areas of focus.
Let’s talk color. Choosing a color palette that matches your organization’s brand creates a unified graphic language and experience for your users. You can also use color for easy-understandable color coding. For example, if your monitoring traffic to your website you can show an increase in traffic in green and a decrease in red.
There’s also value in a lack of color. White space is a tip you can keep in your back pocket to make your dashboards easy on the eyes. If you use white space correctly, text will be easy to read and your dashboard won’t seem jam-packed with widgets (remember rule #1 about using the correct amount of widgets as not to overwhelm the users). The dashboard example below uses white space to create a minimalist look and feel while still including all of the information a user would expect to see.
Choosing the right type of visualization also plays a huge role in conveying the right data in the right way to your users. It’s important to think about what kind of information you want to show your users and pick the right visualization to do that. Don’t go into designing a dashboard and assume what kind of visualizations you’ll use. Instead, think about how your users will interact with the information you are presenting and follow some of these tips:
- Line charts are handy when you’re displaying patterns or change over time because they are clear and specific.
- Scatter charts, like in the example below, are useful for showing correlation and distribution.
- Donut charts, also shown in the example below, are helpful when your data adds up to a meaningful whole, you have less than seven categories in your data series, and you’d like to plot more than one series of data.
Go Forth and Design!
Dashboard design is an important part of making sure that your users get the most out of their data. However, it doesn’t take a full team of UI/UX designers or a ton of time to make a serious impact. Even the basic tips I explained above will allow you to rest assured that your users will have a pleasant experience and get the information they need easily. Happy designing!