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4 common mistakes made in dashboard design

Dashboards can be very useful to visualize your data in an effective and clear way. Although good dashboards should be straightforward and easy to interpret, the process of building them isn’t always a piece of cake. Poor design, unclear visualizations and bad understanding of the stakeholder needs are some of the main reasons many dashboards miss their purpose. In this blogpost we list some of the most common mistakes in dashboard design and state how you can avoid them.

Lack of user centricity

Every good dashboard starts with capturing the needs of the end user. Analysts and marketeers often immediately start building the dashboard without having a clear vision on the ‘why’ of the dashboard. They get caught in tunnel vision, strongly focus on the solution and neglect the needs of the end user. Due to the poor link between the solution and the end user this often leads to an ineffective and underused dashboard.

Try to captivate the wants and needs of the end users before you decide on technicalities like metrics, functionality and design. Make sure to understand what their goals are, which key performance indicators matter the most to them and what their exact intent with the dashboard is. Always keep these questions in mind throughout the whole process. After all the success of your dashboard will be decided by how relevant and usable the dashboard is for the end user.

Cramming too much information into the dashboard

Companies today have a lot of data available and want to get the most out of it. A fatal flaw here would be to include way too much metrics and visualizations into a dashboard, even unrelated and non-essential ones. This would create an overload of data and could ultimately lead to a cluttered dashboard failing to achieve its objective.

In order to avoid confusion and enable the users to generate useful insights you should focus on the key questions you’re trying to answer with the dashboard. Only visualize the metrics that are relevant, actionable and actually contribute to the solution. This way the users will be able to take decisions based on the dashboard without getting lost in the flood of data. A dashboards’ job is to democratize data and not to rebuild the reporting of your data sources.

Misusing or overusing colour

Everyone wants their dashboard to look fabulous and classy. Some colour or even a company theme could really liven up your dashboard. But watch out: the excessive or inappropriate use of colour could make your dashboard look unprofessional and distracts the attention from the core: the data itself.

Use colour in a way that is consistent, meaningful and so that it conveys a message instead of just throwing in colour to make your dashboard look good. And definitely stick to a limited colour palette. No one wants their dashboard to look like it has been puked out by a unicorn.

Also bear in mind that some colours have a certain connotation: saturated colours often indicate threats or opportunities and the colours green and red could be interpreted as, respectively, good and bad. Use them wisely!

Lack of structure

A clear structure is very important for a user-friendly dashboard. Users should be able to get key insights a glance, without a lot of cognitive effort. In some dashboards the graphs, charts and tables are thrown in wherever they fit, without thinking about their meaning or allowing for optimization of the available space.

Instead the position of every visualization should contribute to the whole, as if you’re trying to tell a comprehensive story with the dashboard. For example: important metrics that will be consulted regularly should be placed in the upper left corner, because people intuitively look there first. Also related metrics or metrics that need to be compared should be grouped together for better usability.

Tip: try to make a simple sketch or mock-up before you start building the dashboard. This will eventually save you some time and makes the actual dashboard building go a lot smoother.