1. Focus on your users, not the data.
Speak to your potential users first!
For example, you want to understand the following:
This information is typically collected by interviews and/or surveys. Occasionally, I have already been able to gain this information through working with the involved team(s) throughout the project. However, even in those cases, I make sure to check in with my potential users to make sure (1) nothing has changed, and (2) the answers I believe are true actually are.
2. The 5 Second Rule and the 1 Second Rule
Your users should be able to find the information they need in about 5 seconds. Each graphic should take less than 1 second to understand.
I have seen dashboards with incredibly complicated graphics, that take far more than 5 seconds to interpret each one. No one, regardless of their experience level with metrics, should be asked to waste their time in this manner.
Keep things simple! The information most people need and/or that is used often should pop out at the users in a simple, clean, uncluttered way. The old adage "Less is More" definitely applies to dashboards.
Yes, you want to provide opportunities for deep dives in the information for those who need it. However, deep dives can be faciliated while still making the dashboard easy to use, clear, and intuitive (e.g., with filters allowing users to drill-down into the data, interactive elements, animation options).
3. Choose Your Layout and Design Carefully.
Make sure you are following basic design principles even if you are using a pre-designed template.
Dashboard design and data visualization design have a substantial knowledge-base. Keep in mind that when you look at the dashboard it should look clean, simple, and easy to understand. I like the ones I design to even look enjoyable to use.
Here are some tips:
4. Be Cautious with Real-time Data
Only provide live data when it is necessary and appropriate.
LIve data can be confusing. As data comes in, it may only be telling part of the story. It is easy to misinterpret. For example, when conducting a survey, it is rare that there are enough results to properly interpret the data until the survey is closed. Avoid live data unless you have a solid reason for providing it. When you do provide live data, make sure you include any applicable warnings.
I have seen poor business decisions being made because the user didn't consider the sample size even though it was clear on the dashboard. These intepretation errors can be costly. Be Cautious.
5. Leave Plenty of Time for Testing and Revising
Test Everything With Your Users
Don't wait until you are completely done with the dashboard to test. You will want to speak to them frequently to make sure that your design is consistent with their needs.
For example, for a complex dashboard, you will likely want to make sure that the organization of your dashboard makes sense to people (e.g., what information is on each page). Cardsorting is traditionally the UX Research method utilized for this.
Regardless of how simple or complex your dashboard is, you will want to understand the following through usability testing:
I also like to know what the users first reaction was to the dashboard. Are they delighted, intimidated, etc.? What can I do to make their first reaction a positive one? Sometimes that is as simple as changing some design details.
Lori Shelby, Ph.D.
The Shelby Global Team
Articles and news from the Shelby Global Team.