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A Quick Look at Dashboard Design Principles
Rule number 1: Keep it simple
Dashboard design expert Stephen Few has the mantra, “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.” A dashboard
that is cluttered with too many measures and too much eye candy can dilute the significant
information that you’re trying to present. How many times has someone told you that your reports look
busy? In essence, they’re saying that you have too much on the page or screen, making it hard to see
the actual data.
Here are few actions you can take to ensure a simpler and more effective dashboard design.
Don’t turn your dashboard into a data mart
Admit it. You include as much information in a report as possible, primarily to avoid being asked for
additional information. We all do it. But in the dashboard state of mind, you have to fight the urge to
force every piece of data available onto your dashboard.
Overwhelming users with too much data can cause them to lose sight of the primary goal of the
dashboard and focus on inconsequential data. The measures used on a dashboard should support
the initial purpose of that dashboard. Avoid the urge to fill white space for the sake of symmetry and
appearances. Don’t include nice-to-know data just because the data is available. If the data doesn’t
support the core purpose of the dashboard, leave it out.
Forget about the fancy formatting
The key to communicating effectively with your dashboard is to present your data as simply as
possible. There’s no need to wrap it in eye candy to make it more interesting. It’s okay to have a dashboard
with little to no color or formatting. You’ll find that the lack of fancy formatting only calls attention to
the actual data. Focus on the data and not shiny happy graphics.
To help drive this point home, we created the chart shown in Figure 1-4 (formatting and all). Excel
makes it easy to achieve these types of effects with its layout and style features. The problem is that
these effects subdue the very data we’re trying to present. Furthermore, if we include this chart on a
page with five to ten other charts with the same formatting, we get a dashboard that’s difficult to
look at — much less to read.
Figure 1-4: Fancy formatting can be overwhelming, overshadowing the very data you’re trying to present.
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