BI guest blog series continues: 5 Things to Not Include On Your Dashboard

[Note from the editor:  This is the second in our series of BI-focused blog posts.  Thanks again to Bob Johansen for sharing his expertise as the head of the Deltek BI Affinity group.  If you want to learn more about Vision Performance Management, please register for a live demonstration/Q&A or register for this whitepaper.]

The internet is full of posts about recommendations on best practices. I thought it would be fun to post something about what not to do. In that vein, here are 5 recommendations about what not to include in your dashboards.

1)      Pie Charts – Leave them off. They have no business taking up valuable space on your dashboards. I know, I know, you love pie charts and you think I am crazy. Settle down. Let’s think about a pie chart for a second. First, it is big. Really big. It takes up way to much space for the limited info it tells you. Second, it is hard to get any accuracy. The slices are relative in size, but it is often hard to tell which one is bigger than another. Just add labels, you say? Then it takes up even more space and becomes harder to read. Third, pie charts are a snap shot in time. They don’t give you any ability to compare anything to a target or show a trend. Bottom line: A pie chart is a one trick pony that hogs the space on your dashboard. Trust me. Ditch the pie charts.

2)      Non-data Color – Reserve the color on the screen for showcasing your data. Use saturations of a single color instead of multiple colors and keep text simple and easy to read. Colorful backgrounds and red/yellow/green buttons may look pretty when you are designing the screen, but will get very distracting for your customer who has to look at it multiple times per day. Get rid of the glitz. You’ll be glad you did.

3)      3-D graphs – You think that adding a 3-D graph is so much better than the 2-D one. Think again. The 3-D graph can hide data points from being seen, take up more space than they should, and can be misleading because they are harder to read. 3-D may be better when watching movies on the big screen, but it is not better on your dashboard. What you really want is to let the data tell the story in a simple to understand way. Adding complicated graphs will not help.

4)      Scroll bars – You need to strive for keeping your data all on one screen. No scrolling allowed! Your most compelling data belongs in the top-left portion of the dashboard, with the less pertinent data working its way down toward the bottom right. Data that is off the screen, that you have to scroll to get to, will never be seen. Overwhelming your users with screen after screen of data visualizations is not going to make them happy. A dashboard should provide focus and your users should leave the screen, having seen the data, with a good understanding of what they must do about it. Flooding them with too much makes them counterproductive.

5)      Unnecessary support components – On your dashboards, the data is the star. Do your best to mute the non-data components as best you can. Dropdowns may be necessary for your users to move between dimensions, but keep them out of the way. They should not be competing for attention. Slicers, undo or reset buttons, legends, data labels. All these things distract the users and take away from the story the data is telling them. Try to design your dashboard so that these things can be easily found when they are needed, but disappear when not needed. Your users will appreciate it.

The dashboard has a primary function: to communicate data. Following these recommendations of what not to include will make your dashboards easier to read and better at communicating. A dashboard that is well designed will equip your users to analyze and see data trends and they will keep coming back over and over. After all, isn’t that the reason you created the dashboard in the first place?  Do you have any other items not in include in a dashboard? If so, please include them in the comments.

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About Bob Johansen

Bob is passionate about the use of Deltek Vision, coordinating the Vision Power User Group from 2008-2013, and currently leading the Deltek Business Intelligence Affinity Group. (To learn more about the Deltek BI Affinity Group email sweetbobbyj@gmail.com). He most recently served as Director of Information Analytics for LEO A DALY, responsible for the development of business intelligence strategy, and previously as financial manager for the southeast region and Vision System Manager. Bob holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from The Florida State University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Brenau University.
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