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Dashboard Design for Non-Designers: How to Design Like a Pro

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If you’re not a designer by profession, it’s easy to shy away from design of any kind. But when it comes to building dashboards, anyone can design a dashboard that’s beautiful and effective with just a few helpful tips.

We asked our designers to share how they approach dashboard layout, colors, display, and more. Here are their recommendations to help you avoid common dashboard design mistakes and design like a pro.

Sketch it out

When working out the best dashboard design, it can be quicker to try ideas and iterate by starting lo-fi, especially if you’re engaging your team to help you.

Sketch out data visualizations on post-its and stick them to a large sheet of paper to visualize a rough mock up of the dashboard layout. You don’t need to be an artist to draw a bar chart with a fat Sharpie! One of our customers described these as Ghetto-Boards to us recently.

Once you’re happy with the general design, you can easily create a dashboard to display each of the key metrics you want to visualize.

If you want to get serious about designing, try running a Design Studio session with your team - a simple, five step process for brainstorming and refining new designs.

Design for context

Wallboards aren’t viewed up close. They need to be understood with a glance from the other side of a busy office. Focus on a few key metrics and use the simplest visualization appropriate for each. (Reference our data visualization guide for more specifics on the most common visualizations for dashboard design.)

If historical trends aren’t relevant, don’t bother with a line chart, just choose a number visualization. Within a dashboard display, provide just enough context for the metrics through grouping/chunking and titles/labeling.

Test with real users (viewers) on real devices (TVs)

The best way to iterate and improve your dashboard design is to get it off your laptop and onto a TV. This will enable you to understand the design in its true context.

Once your dashboard is displayed on a TV, ask people in your office to answer questions you want the dashboard to help them answer. For example, you might ask your sales team “Which part of the sales pipeline needs more attention today?” Or for your support team, “Are we within range for our average response time?”

example-dashboard-office

Don’t ask them what they think about the design. Give them a task that will really test if it works. If they say “what does this widget mean?” ask them “what do you think it means?” (To learn more about user testing, read Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.)

The best dashboard designs continually evolve as your business grows. Keep testing and improving your dashboard so it’s relevant and useful for your team right now.

Create visual hierarchy

Not all metrics are created equal. Most dashboards have a couple of core stats and a few supporting stats. Highlight the important ones using:

  • Scale - big things look more important
  • Distance - a widget that breaks the grid or stands alone from the others (even a little bit) will draw attention
  • Differentiation - a number widget will stand out in a sea of line charts

example-sales-dashboard Example dashboard with sample data showing visual hierarchy

Avoid ornamentation

Remove any visual element that doesn’t convey meaning from your dashboard display. Our custom theming features allow you to tweak the style of your dashboard to suit your brand, but limiting the number of colors, visual effects, and font styles to the bare minimum will ensure your stats are communicated most effectively and digested quickly.

When it comes to dashboard colors, using a few distinct colors (such as blue, red, or green) as visual indicators can make it easier for cognitive processing. But too much color or too many different colors often detracts from the key metrics that are displayed and makes it difficult to understand them.

Want some more dashboard design inspiration?

We’ve put together an array of example dashboards to give you ideas for creating your own. (You can view all of the live dashboards here.)

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