Monday 17 September 2018

How to Design a Business Dashboard

8 Simple (but not easy) Steps

An effective dashboard can help you achieve your goals faster, and more efficiently. But not all dashboards work as intended, and some are actively unhelpful. So how do you get the design right? And how do you decide what should be included, and what should be omitted? Dashboards originated in cars, and the car is a great place to look for inspiration.

When driving, the objective is to get from A to B safely, efficiently, and without unnecessary expense. So a car’s dashboard communicates the essentials: speed, fuel, and problems with the engine - in that order. Sure, there’s more information such as whether safety belts are on, and doors are closed, but when you are driving the focus is on the essentials.

Varying weather conditions, hazards on the road, and the stress of navigating in unfamiliar places mean that car dashboards have to be clear and uncomplicated. This is not the place for clever, interactive graphics. Car dashboards have data that is large enough to be seen, and simple enough to be understood. But as with many things that seem simple, their elegance hides some clear thinking.

So here’s eight simple, but not necessarily easy, lessons from car dashboards:
  1. Clarify the goal. A different goal will result in a different dashboard.
  2. Identify the biggest risks to reaching the goal.
  3. Identify the single more important metric to help you reach the goal (or avoid a mistake).
  4. Identify other important metrics that will mitigate risks, or communicate progress.
  5. Remove unnecessary metrics.
  6. Communicate information simply and clearly, giving prominence to the most important metric.
  7. Be disciplined in designing the dashboard around these decisions. If the design comes out differently, back up to check each decision.
  8. Do the first things first; don’t start designing graphics before understanding the goal and important metrics.
Business goals are more varied than driving goals, and so don’t benefit from the "one size fits all" dashboard design. And as with driving, the potential to get distracted is constant, making the dashboard a vital tool. Business dashboards should be as well thought out, and effective, as dashboards in cars. After all, none of us want to run out of petrol before we reach the goal.