Understanding best practices and defining design principles
At Infinitec Solutions, a Software-as-a-Service provider focusing on B2B2SME, we work with dashboards every day. This happens because the white label solution offered by the company, empowers banks and insurers to offer their SME customers a fully-digital CFO-as-a-service-cockpit-solution. This means they need to have a real time view on their finances, analyse and predict cash flows and have the opportunity to open a bank account with just one click or apply fully digital for an investment loan.
What does a dashboard mean to us?
For us the dashboard is the most important component of the product and the element we strive to improve every day. But before we even started talking about design principles and process, we needed to understand what is the general purpose of a dashboard and what does it mean to us. Here are 3 main must-have purposes of a dashboard:
1. Single point of access for disparate data
Instead of opening various applications, interfaces, or online databases, the user needs only to open the dashboard. A dashboard is internally linked to multiple relevant data sources and continues to update of any change in real time.
2. Broad overview with drill down capabilities
A dashboard is a dynamic collection of charts, text, and graphical elements — and this combination is both vertical as well as horizontal. Charts are stacked on top of another, allowing users to zero-in on a specific data point and further inspect it for deeper insights.
3. Easier, faster, comprehensive data
An information dashboard takes the best of several worlds — numbers, charts, text segments, colours, and images — and places them intelligently for quick consumption and lasting impressions. A dashboard takes readable numbers and transforms them into viewable images.
What are the dashboard design best practices?
After understanding the generic purpose, we further needed to define generic design principles that we could then apply to all our dashboards without being to restrictive, mainly since there are many typologies out there. Here are 4 key dashboard design principles that are generally considered a best practice:
1. Provide relevant info in about 5 sec
Your dashboard should be able to answer your most frequently asked business questions at a glance
2. Display information in a logical layout
Display the most significant insights on the top, trends in the middle, and granular details in the bottom.
3. Have only 5–9 visualisations
More than that just translates into clutter and visual noise that distracts the user from the intended purpose.
4. Use the right data visualisation
Select the appropriate type of data visualisation according to which type of info you are trying to rely
How may we approach the design process?
Once armed with understanding the purpose and defining the principles we were ready to start designing. We had established a base, for playing “the dashboard game”, we understood the rules and now we had to build our own. The design process we use goes through the following 3 main steps:
STEP 1. Start with the user
Even the most complex information dashboards are inspired by a single idea, a simple point of origin — what is the user trying to achieve?
- Is the user trying to just monitor KPIs, across the organisation over an indefinite period?
- Is the user looking at highlights and standout events from a specific period, trying to identify the cause of an already clear observation?
- Is the user looking for trends to enable strategic decision-making?
STEP 2. Establish relevant KPIs
Once understood what the user is trying to achieve, we need to figure out what metrics can we deliver that will be meaningful to that particular user. These depend on the industry and the nature of the users business.
For example here are some common KPIs from the world of finance: Accounts Payable Turnover, Accounts Receivable Turnover, Accounts Receivable Turnover, Quick Ratio, Current Ratio, Debt-to- Equity Ratio, Working Capital, Finance Error Report, Budget Variance
STEP 3. Choose effective data viz. methods
Once we know what information we are presenting and who we are presenting it to, we can start figuring out the how, which in other words is the best way to display the data:
- first we need to start with the function (the trend, pattern or vital piece of information you’re imparting at a glance) in other words “This is what I need to say; let’s find the best possible way of saying it”
- then the user (how they navigate and interact with the data)
- and only then how to make it as clean and beautiful as possible