April 16, 2024
Eleven rules to follow to design the perfect Dashboard

Eleven rules to follow to design the perfect Dashboard

Table of contents

Dashboards are an essential tool for visualising complex data and making informed decisions.

Whether you're designing a dashboard for your business, client or personal project, there are certain must-haves that can make or break its effectiveness.

In this post, we'll explore eleven essential elements you should consider when designing the perfect dashboard.

1. Clear Objectives

Prior to initiating the design process, gaining a precise grasp of the dashboard's goals is a must.

This might involve engaging in research to pinpoint the exact objectives and requirements of the ideal audience or customer.

  • What specific information will be showcased?
  • Who constitutes the target demographic?
  • What kind of decisions will they be making with the information provided?

A detailed comprehension of these aims is essential to steer the design direction and guarantee the dashboard's success. This approach is backed by metrics indicating that a well-defined user understanding can enhance dashboard usability by up to 70%, as it aligns design features with user expectations (Source: Nielsen Norman Group).

2. User-Centered Design

Designing a dashboard requires a deep dive into the user's world, encompassing their needs, preferences and objectives.

It's important to evaluate the user's familiarity with the data presented, their favorite interaction methods and the circumstances under which they'll engage with the dashboard.

This user-focused approach can lead to the creation of a dashboard that is both intuitive and user-friendly.

For instance, a study by the Nielsen Norman Group highlights that dashboards tailored to the user's level of expertise: offering simplified views for beginners and detailed data for experts can increase usability by up to 60%.

Moreover, incorporating preferences such as customisable widgets or dark mode can enhance user satisfaction significantly.

User testing emerges as a crucial step in this process, providing a direct way to priceless feedback.

By observing real users interact with the dashboard, designers can pinpoint areas for improvement.

Salesforce's iterative design process is a prime example; by conducting extensive user testing, they achieved a 37% increase in user engagement with their analytics dashboard, underscoring the power of user-centered design and feedback in creating  digital tools.


3. Data Visualization

The essence of a dashboard lies in its ability to visualize data compellingly and clearly. Selecting the appropriate visualization format, be it bar charts for comparative analysis, line charts for trends over time or pie charts for proportional distributions, it is essential for conveying the intended message.

Clarity and accuracy in representation are important, emphasizing the need to remove superficial elements that might obscure the data.

Interactive elements in visualizations can significantly enhance user engagement and comprehension.

For instance, incorporating drill-down charts or heat maps enables users to dig deeper into the specifics, facilitating a more nuanced understanding of the data.

According to research by Tableau, interactive dashboards can increase user interaction by up to 50%, as they provide a more engaging and exploratory data experience.

Moreover, Harvard Business Review cites that well-designed data visualizations can improve decision-making speed by up to 17%. This is achieved by presenting complex data in an accessible format, allowing users to grasp trends, patterns and outliers more quickly.


4. Information Hierarchy

Creating a dashboard demands meticulous organization of information according to a clear and logical hierarchy.

Priority should be given to displaying critical information prominently, thereby enabling users to quickly filter the most vital data.

This approach facilitates faster and more informed decision-making. Secondary or less critical information should be arranged in a way that supports the primary data without overwhelming the user.

Incorporating strategies such as data grouping or categorization can enhance the navigability and consistency of the dashboard.

For instance, a study by Nielsen Norman Group shows that users can find information up to 30% faster on well-structured websites, which applies similarly to dashboards.

This effectiveness is due to the intuitive presentation and organization of information, allowing users to follow a logical flow to locate the data they need.

Furthermore, Microsoft's research into dashboard usability underscores the value of a hierarchical structure, noting an improvement in user task completion times by up to 24% when information is well-organized.

By adopting these principles of information hierarchy and organization, dashboards can become powerful tools that not only display data but also enhance user efficiency and decision-making capabilities.

5. Consistency

Achieving a coherent and impactful dashboard design hangs on maintaining consistency across various elements including color schemes, typography and layout.

This uniformity not only created a professional and unified appearance but also enhances user navigation, enabling easier location and interpretation of information.

For example, research by the Interaction Design Foundation indicates that a consistent design can improve user navigation speed by up to 22%, as familiarity with the design language reduces cognitive load and decision-making time. Consistency in visual elements such as color and typography contributes to a seamless user experience, reinforcing brand identity and trust.

Yet, the value of customization cannot be understated. It's essential to find a harmonious balance that allows for personalization within a consistent framework.

Adobe's findings suggest that dashboards offering personalization options see a 34% increase in user engagement, underlining the importance of accommodating individual user preferences while maintaining overall design coherence.


6. Customization

Empowering users with the capability to personalize their dashboard according to their unique preferences significantly enhances its utility.

This personalization can range from rearranging widgets and modifying color schemes to adjusting the details of displayed data.

Such customization allows users to adapt the dashboard to meet their individual requirements, thereby elevating their overall user experience.

Evidence from a study by Forrester Research highlights that platforms offering customization options can see up to a 56% increase in user satisfaction.

This uplift is attributed to the users' ability to create a more relevant and efficient working environment, leading to a positive impact on their productivity and engagement.

Nonetheless, it's essential to balance these customization features carefully.

Offering too many options or complex controls can inadvertently complicate the user experience, potentially hindering usability rather than enhancing it.

According to UX Magazine, optimal customization features should be intuitive, adding value without overwhelming users with choices or diluting the core functionality of the dashboard.

7. Responsiveness

In today's mobile-centric world, designing dashboards that adapt seamlessly to various screen sizes is not just beneficial, it's essential.

A responsive dashboard guarantees accessibility and usability across devices, ensuring users can effortlessly access vital information anytime, anywhere.

Statistics from a Google report underscore the importance of responsive design, revealing that 61% of users are unlikely to return to a site if it's not mobile-friendly, with 40% visiting a competitor's site instead. This highlights the critical need for dashboards to perform flawlessly across all devices to retain user engagement and satisfaction.

Adopting a mobile-first design strategy can further enhance this adaptability.

By initially focusing on the constraints and capabilities of mobile devices, designers can create dashboards that provide an optimal user experience on smaller screens.

This approach not only meets the immediate needs of mobile users but also simplifies scaling up the design for larger screens, as noted by Smashing Magazine, which reports a significant improvement in the efficiency of the design process when starting with mobile considerations.


8. Real-time Data

Dashboards equipped with the capability to display real-time data empower users with the most current information, significantly enhancing their decision-making process.

Using live charts or widgets that refresh automatically ensures that data remains fresh and relevant.

According to a study by Aberdeen Group, organizations that use real-time analytics enjoy a 26% improvement in decision-making speed.

This demonstrates the value of immediate data access in responding to rapidly changing conditions or opportunities.

However, it's crucial to balance the dynamism of real-time data with accuracy and reliability.

Ensuring the data's integrity is paramount to avoid misinformed decisions based on erroneous information. Furthermore, a streamlined approach to displaying real-time data is advisable to prevent information overload, which can detract from the dashboard's usability and effectiveness.

Research from the Nielsen Norman Group suggests that an optimal amount of data visualisation leads to a 55% increase in user efficiency, underscoring the importance of a balanced, thoughtful design.

9. Alerts and Notifications

Incorporating alerts and notifications into dashboards is an effective strategy for keeping users apprised of significant data changes or updates.

Options range from email and text notifications to visual cues directly on the dashboard, offering flexibility in how information is communicated.

A report from McKinsey & Company highlights the efficacy of well-designed alerts in improving operational response times by up to 20%.

This underscores the importance of timely and relevant notifications in enabling users to act swiftly on critical data insights.


10. Accessibility

Prioritising accessibility in dashboard design is essential to guarantee that every user, irrespective of their abilities, can effectively access and engage with the platform. Incorporating features like compatibility with screen readers, high-contrast modes, and keyboard navigation options are critical steps toward creating an inclusive user experience.

Research underscores the importance of accessibility:

A study by the Web Accessibility Initiative found that implementing accessible design features can lead to a 50% improvement in usability for users with disabilities.

This not only enhances the experience for users with specific needs but also improves overall user satisfaction by making the dashboard more navigable and intuitive for all users.

Conducting thorough accessibility testing is a proactive approach to identifying and addressing potential barriers that might hinder the usability of the dashboard for people with disabilities.

According to a case study by Microsoft, such testing can lead to discovering unforeseen issues, which once resolved, can increase user engagement by up to 30%.

BTW: we've helped one our clients to design an app for browser accessibility that you can find here:

Accessi + Browser Accessibility Plugin

11. Testing and Iteration

A essential phase in dashboard development is the cycle of testing and iteration.

Engaging in user testing is instrumental in pinpointing areas needing refinement, such as interfaces that users find bewildering or overly complex.

Iteration facilitates ongoing enhancement, guaranteeing the dashboard's effectiveness is maintained as user needs and technologies evolve.

Highlighting the significance of this approach, a study by the Nielsen Norman Group reveals that iterative design can enhance user satisfaction by up to 60%.

This process involves making incremental changes based on user feedback, which leads to a more intuitive and user-friendly interface.

Moreover, employing A/B testing to evaluate different design variations offers a data-driven method to evaluate the most impactful design choices.

For example, Google's use of A/B testing has been pivotal in achieving improvements in user engagement, sometimes seeing uplifts in user interaction by up to 20% with minor design modifications.

In conclusion, designing an effective dashboard requires careful consideration of the user's needs, clear objectives and a focus on data visualisation and hierarchy.
By incorporating these eleven rules, you can create a dashboard that is intuitive, user-friendly and effective.

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About the author
Dragos has been working in design for more than a decade, helping companies of all sizes develop intuitive digital products that are successful in capturing user's heart and attention, while achieving business' goals.