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A Guide to Creating Dashboards People Love to Use
Part 3: Information Design

by Zach Gemignani, www.juiceanalytics.comWednesday, November 11, 2009

Dashboard Design Matters

Dashboards have become standard business practice over the last decade. Dozens of dashboard building tools have sprung up to meet the demand. Yet in the flurry of technology and enthusiasm, little attention has been paid to how to design focused, thoughtful, and user-friendly dashboards. Our three-part guide will show you the concepts and give you the best practices to create a high-impact dashboard that people love to use.

Traditional dashboard design focuses almost exclusively on defining the right success metrics, then piecing together a bunch of charts and gauges on a single page. These techniques result in solutions with a hodgepodge appearance and confusing information.

Sample Digital Dashboard
Traditional dashboard design techniques
result in confused solutions
This guide will help you design more intuitive
and effective dashboards

In the early days of the world wide web, it was good enough to simply have the right information on the web page. The current industry-standard dashboards are no more ambitious. However, modern web design has moved on to seek a union of utility, usability and beauty. With regards to the way business displays data, we must seek a similar union.

This document will approach dashboard design in a holistic way, beginning with general goals and evolving to specific data presentation. Part 1: Foundation will help you identify your target audience, understand what type of dashboard you want to create and why it is valuable to your organization. It concludes with guidance regarding how to focus your message on the information and metrics that matter. Part 2: Structure will get you started on designing your dashboard, including what form it should take, how to arrange for audience understanding, and what navigation, interactions, and capabilities will make the dashboard useful and engaging. Finally, Part 3: Information Design dives into the details of interface and information design. You will learn how to lay out your dashboard and best practices for charting and data presentation.

Clear presentation of information

The third part of our dashboard design guide provides practical tips for putting information on the page in a way that communicates effectively to your audience.

We stand on the shoulders of giants in the area of information design, including visualization guru Edward Tufte, visual business intelligence critic and teacher Stephen Few, and numerous leaders in the field of web design. This paper is our attempt to synthesize some of the most important best practices while adding a few extra wrinkles.

Information presentation is a balancing act—How do you convey a lot of information without making it feel overwhelming? How do you capture attention without distracting your audience? How do you make information feel simple yet profound?

As we’ve done throughout this series, we will tackle the problem from the outside in. First we share best practices for designing a clear, aesthetically-pleasing page. Next we concentrate on the charts, table and visualizations that communicate the information. Here’s what you can look forward to:

Section 1: Interface design

  1. Organize the dashboard page like a web design expert
  2. Choose the appropriate use of color to enhance your dashboard
  3. Make the right typography decisions to ensure attractive, readable text

Section 2: Information display

  1. Pick the chart type that best fits your data
  2. Style charts to be attractive and effective
  3. Learn about advanced visualization and features for your dashboard

Section 1: Interface design

Simplicity is a primary goal of many well-designed websites—limiting visual clutter to help users easily navigate and understand the content. Dashboards share the same goal. It is no surprise then that we can learn a lot from the rules and tools of web design to help guide our thinking on creating dashboard interfaces. We can learn about:

  • Organizing the page. Where should you place the most important content? How do you lay out charts and text to enable visual rhythm? How can white space help your audience absorb information?
  • Color. What meaning does color bring to the dashboard? How do you pick the appropriate color palette and scheme for your situation?
  • Typography. Why does it matter what fonts are used? How do you consistently use fonts to enhance the interface?
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