Following our last set of tips on graphic design for dashboards, the second part of our special “spotlight on dataviz” focuses on usability and user experience (UX). With dashboards, the very first seconds are crucial. Often, the first impression you create with your analytics dashboard will be decisive. If your dashboard is clear, concise and logical, you’ve already done half of the work. The layout of your dashboard is therefore a priority.
1. Start at the end
First, think about the end usage of your analytics dashboard. Put yourself in the shoes of the person(s) who will be viewing data in this dashboard. Even if it seems like a given, it’s an important point to remember.
Practical tip: If your dashboard is going to be printed out, use templates with print zones to avoid having your graphs cut off.
2. Don’t confuse monitoring and interactive management
It’s important to differentiate between these 2 types of dashboards. Monitoring dashboards are designed to help you keep an eye on your data – and real-time data is key here – but with no direct actions taken on the dashboard. On the other hand, the interactive management dashboard is meant to be used more interactively, like an analysis, where users can work directly with the data (clicking, sharing, navigating through tabs, etc.).
Practical tip: Monitoring screens, which are consulted over long periods, generally have a darker background colour in order to offer more contrast with the graphs. Lighter-coloured (white) backgrounds are more often reserved for interactive management dashboards, as they make it easier to read descriptive texts accompanying diagrams and other graphs.
Don’t expect to create the perfect dashboard on the first try. But an iterative approach will enable you to continuously improve your dashboard. Run tests during periods that are long enough to produce significant results.
Practical tip: From the very start, get your end users to participate and share their needs. But keep asking them to provide feedback during your dashboard’s entire life cycle, as their needs will evidently change with time.
4. Structure your analyses
Create several different tabs in which you’ll display 5 or 6 graphs per element to be measured – no more, no less. The ordering of these different tabs should be logical. It must tell your story.
Practical tip: If you’re analysing the performance of your online sales, the order of your tabs could go like this: Overview / Lead generation / Sales / ROI
5. Prioritise information
Place your most critical performance indicators (like traffic volumes, sales revenue, conversions… depending on your objectives) near the top of the screen. This will give you a quick overview, and enabling you to then react quickly in case traffic dramatically drops, or sales revenue peaks…
Practical tip: A media site should, for example, focus on acquiring traffic with a detailed view of performance by device.
6. Don’t fear blank space
Don’t give in to the “fill it up” syndrome!Take care to leave adequate space around your blocks of information, and properly separate parts that should be distinct. By not overloading your screen, you’ll improve your dashboard’s readability.
Practical tip: There’s no point in stuffing your screen. Remove any superfluous information. Ask yourself the following question: What are the 3 or 4 performance indicators that are truly most important for the decision-maker who will be using this analytics dashboard?
7. Be logical with your layout
If your dashboard contains several tabs, be sure to keep the same formatting and layout style on each of these tabs (titles, placement of graphs, colours used, etc.).
Practical tip: If your visual elements are centred, then centre all your titles and your text. If your visuals are left-aligned, be sure to use the same alignment everywhere.
8. Beware of your Height x Width ratio
Remember that the screen on which you’re creating your analytics dashboard is perhaps different from the screen on which it will be viewed. This is why it’s a good idea to put your key information at the top, as mentioned in the point above.
Practical tip: If you create monitoring dashboards, be careful about the height – the end user won’t be able to scroll or adjust the size of his or her screen.
9. Speak the same language as your users
Be sure to adapt your text content to your dashboard recipients. If you’re building a dashboard for the Finance, HR or Marketing departments or for general management, be sure to use terminology that’s understandable.
Practical tip: Not all of your colleagues are digital analytics experts. Avoid jargon or vocabulary that’s too technical. It’s not useful to mention “Conversion rate (post-impression contribution)” to someone who does not understand or analyse the display of ad banners.
10. Limit the analysis periods
Within a single screen, avoid showing too much information or using different time period filters, as you risk confusing your dashboard users and generating erroneous interpretation.
Practical tip: Devote one of your dashboard’s tabs to real-time analysis of your KPIs, for example. On another tab, show monthly data.
In part 3 of this series, we’ll look at choosing the right graphs based on your analyses.
Many thanks to Erwan Lumbroso, UX designer at AT Internet, for his contributions to this article.