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Designing and Building Great Dashboards - An Example

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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve published a series of articles called ‘Designing and Building Great Dashboards. The first post in the series introduced 6 Golden Rules of Dashboard design and in the second post in the series I discussed the use of good data visualizations. In this post I use the rules and tips from the previous posts in this series to create a dashboard.


The Brief

The CEO of currently receives a weekly management report that gives an insight into the performance of the business. The report includes details on website usage, customer engagement, financials and some operational data like project status reports. This pack is produced in excel and sent via email. This process takes 2 to 3 hours per week. My brief was to create a dashboard to replace this process. I also took this as an opportunity to streamline the report and include only the most relevant information.


Step 1 - Dashboard Design

Rule 1 - Who are you trying to impress

It’s clear the requirement has come from the CEO, but I arrange a quick meeting to understand if the dashboard will be used by anyone else in the company.

As well as the CEO, the CMO and the CFO attend the meeting. I’ve also get some useful insight that should help me address the other [Golden Rules of Dashboard Design](/blog/building-great-dashboards-6-golden-rules-to-successful-dashboard-design/).


Rule 2 - Select the right type of dashboard

The requirement is for an 'Executive Dashboard’ – showing high level KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). The curent excel report includes information that is not relevant for this audience (operational metrics) and so I take a  decision to remove this from the dashboard. If operational metrics are required, then I will recommend that another dashboard is created that focused exclusively on this sort of data.

See more focused example dashboards for Marketing, Sales, Support and Dev Ops

Rule 3 - Group data logically - Use space wisely

The executive dashboard has 2 main ‘groups of data’

1. Customer Acquisition and Engagement

2. Financials

I will ensure that these sets of data are grouped logically


Rule 4 - Make the data relevant to the audience

My audience for this dashboard is the executive team. The dashboard will present a company wide snap-shot of the Key Performance Indicators. If the audience had included department heads then the scope of the dashboard may have been different.


Rule 5 - Don’t clutter your dashboard - Present the most important metrics only

I’ve decided to strip back on some of the requirements that the executive team mentioned (purely because in my experience a fair few of the ideas were ‘nice to haves’ as opposed to ‘must haves’). I also make this decision to ensure the dashboard is not cluttered. I want to ensure that when the team see the dashboard they have a good ‘Birds eye’ view of their business. If any further analytics are required, then that is a separate requirement and will require another solution.


Rule 6 - How often does the data really need to be refreshed

The executive team meet on a weekly basis, so I know at the very least the data should be refreshed weekly. However I check with the technical team and they confirm that they could provide daily extracts from their CRM and financial systems - which is great.


Step 2 - Dashboard Build

I mock-up my first visual of the dashboard - This is based on quite a few scrappy drawings from my first meeting with the board. But I’m happy that this dashboard will meet their requirements.

I now need to decide on the most appropriate visualisations for each metric.


Website Statistics - Visitor Count

Visitor count lends itself perfectly to a number and secondary stat (or a sparkline) - At a glance we are able to see if the traffic is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I also think that ‘Time on Site’ would be a useful engagement metric and decide to add this to the dashboard.


Funnel Visualisation

Although the standard funnel visualisations look pretty, because they are not drawn to scale, they are not very useful, however, when drawn to scale it can be a powerful visualisation. I decide to see what it would look like when drawn to scale and include this in my design.


Happinex Index

By combining various engagement measures, WidgetsRUs have created an in-house measure of customers happiness. This is a fantastic idea and is crying out to be represented by another Sparkline.


Traffic - Volume and Source

Initially, the executive team wanted to display this as a series of Pie-Charts, one for each month. However after some discussion it was agreed that Pie-charts are not the best way of showing series of data and so we agreed to go with a standard (and often under-used) bar chart.


Financial Information

In my experience financial information is often displayed incorrectly. It’s either presented as a series of numbers (which makes comparison hard) or in some inappropriate visualisation (like a 3-D bar chart). The best visualisation I have ever seen for financials is the Bullet Graph (designed by Stephen Few - check out the bullet graph spec on Stephen’s Blog). I decide my dashboard will include a Bullet Graph.


The Finished Dashboard

Using Geckoboard I was able to build this dashboard in about 2 hours:

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