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The Path to Meaningful Dashboards

The success of any dashboard should be gauged by its usage and how well it embeds into a business, not by how pretty it looks. Achieving such an outcome can be made simpler by addressing some key points throughout the process.

Dashboard Purpose

It sounds simple but quite often people dive headfirst into dashboard design, without first thinking about its purpose. You should consider:
  • How it will support business strategy
  • What benefits will it bring?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What are the key actions and decisions that it should help to drive?
If these questions cannot be answered then maybe it’s not worth proceeding with this project and you must be prepared to prioritise your BI consultant’s time with work that will add value.

User Stories & Requirements

One of the most important milestones in building a dashboard is the initial engagement we have with key stakeholders. Here we define the scope, discover requirements, and agree the acceptance criteria. It’s important to understand the views of different stakeholders, so that we can get a 360 degree of the existing and desired process. Some users will have detailed requirements whilst others will give high-level overviews of what they want to achieve, best captured through user-stories.

Simplicity is Key

“One of our goals of achieving simplicity in our dashboards while still offering maximum functionality, is to cut out any non-essential steps or works flows that stop the user from achieving their goals quickly and efficiently within 3 to 5 clicks…”

Daniel Maddocks

To improve the effectiveness of a dashboard, it needs to show actionable and useful information at a click of a button.
The visualising power of a dashboard:
  • Represents complex data helping the user or stakeholder, understand the data presented.
  • It shows how to retrieve various metrics,
  • Helps to break down, examine and present crucial insights.
We pride ourselves on enabling input from the user throughout different stages of development. This means we can roll-out a new process into a business that the user will already be familiar with.

Wireframing

Wireframes or Mockups are used to illustrate what a dashboard may look like when its finished. Wireframes are a low-fidelity visual representation of what the final product will look like including placement of buttons, visuals, measures and so on. In short, it is a clean and simple way to demonstrate how the functionality will affect the data displayed.  We use the Wireframe to set expectations in order to:
  • Give end users an early representation of what the dashboard looks like
  • Become familiar with the widgets available and what they are displaying (axis labels, chart calculations and positioning)
  • Show the interaction and how many clicks to achieve a goal
  • Verify that requirements were correctly interpreted
By organically growing the initial wireframe to a fully functional dashboard, stakeholders and users can view the final product and how it aligns with their overall business goals. This process is iterative and will evolve the dashboard as more information is provided, as we move further along the development lifecycle of the dashboard. At this stage, the dashboard is an accurate reflection of the goals set out in the scoping requirements session.

User Experience (UX)

UX design is everywhere, from the apps you use to the way you use your mobile phone. It is equally important that we consider this in the creation of dashboards given that it can vastly improve the look, feel and the quality of scoping requirements gathered early on.
Examples of good UX in dashboards are;
  • Filters at an accessible pane that narrow down results by common fields
  • Reducing the steps taken to achieve a task within a dashboard
  • Guage the experience in using the dashboard according to emotions felt (positive experience or negative experience).

Context in Colour

It may seem obvious but choosing the right colours can help connect the information displayed in the dashboard, making it easier for end users to understand what is being displayed. We begin using colours that match the branding of the company and the data points using contrasting colours, which are already familiar with the end user. This is important to consider because;
  • Colour has meaning. Some colours can even convey an emotional response!
  • Colours have different associations e.g., green to show success, red implies negativity etc.
Throughout the design phase, we try to make sure that the colours we use bring out the intended message so that it does not get lost in the dashboard and always draws the user’s attention as opposed to detract from it.

Change Management

For many organisations, the concept of moving away from paper-based reporting can be very alien. As the project progresses it is always important to consider the impact on the business.
  • What existing processes will the dashboard replace?
  • What new capabilities will it bring?
  • What training and support is required and who will deliver it?
  • Who is the business owner and super user going to be?
Managing people’s expectations is just as important and quite often a dashboard will shine a light on underlying business processes and their potential flaws. The business will need to be prepared for that and be willing to act.
acumine path to meaningful dashboards

Summary

From the scoping requirements we gather, and the time spent, we research and seek to understand the user and their psychology. We discover what makes them tick and provide a final product that shows insights as opposed to just raw data. Our approach allows the user to answer questions about ‘why’ something happened, safe in the knowledge that the information presented not only answers those questions, but is also accurate, easy to obtain, shareable and actionable.

To learn more about how Acumine’s approach can benefit you organisation please get in touch.

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