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25 Dashboard Design Principles & Best Practices To Enhance Your Data Analysis

12 June, 2024
66 mins read

Dashboard Design Principles Blog By RIB Software

It’s often said that knowledge is equal to power. While it isn’t possible to apply this statement in a universal sense (and, in fact, it’s somewhat cliché), the notion highlights a crucial truth regarding today’s digital world: consumer values are continually evolving. Data has never been more readily accessible. Approaches to communication are changing, and success in today’s technology-driven world correlates directly to the quantity rather than the quality of one’s information — metrics relating to the company, the client, the competitor, and the market. But, IT departments no longer hold exclusive access to information. With BI dashboards, the knowledge is spread across the company, empowering every user to create their own interactive reports, utilizing data visualization, and spreading the knowledge with internal and external stakeholders.

The rise of innovative, interactive, data-driven dashboard tools has made creating effective dashboards swift, simple, and accessible to today’s forward-thinking businesses. However, while the tools are user-friendly and make creating stunning dashboards easier and faster, the dashboarding process still requires some level of understanding about design techniques and methods that will make them visually appealing, intuitive, and useful for decision-makers. Enter the world of dashboard design and its principles.

At this point, you have already tackled the biggest chunk of the work – collecting data, cleaning it, consolidating different data sources, and creating a mix of useful KPIs. Now, it’s time for the fun part. Unfortunately, you can’t play around with designs like the next Picasso. Certain best practices in dashboard design should be followed to display your data correctly, making it easy to analyze and actionable.

To help you on your journey to data-driven success, we’ll delve into 25 design principles that will ensure you develop the most comprehensive dashboard for your personal and business needs.

But before we get started, we’ll discuss the importance of working with a professional business intelligence dashboard and examine a few reasons why efficient dashboard design is critical for analytical success.

Let’s get started!

What Is A Business Intelligence Dashboard? 

A business intelligence dashboard is an analysis tool that displays critical business data in a central location. Armed with interactive data visualizations, BI dashboards enable companies to track their performance and optimize strategies to achieve their goals.

They are a tech-driven approach used to analyze and visualize data in an actionable way. Business intelligence dashboard design consolidates charts and graphs on a single screen, giving the reader a big picture of the situation it is assessing. BI dashboard tools don’t have a fixed, determined nature and adapt to the needs of the people building them by displaying the metrics relevant to their function, industry, or platform.

Construction Dashboard For Project Controlling
Construction Dashboard For Project Controlling

Such dashboards can have many different features, mainly a customizable interface, a certain level of interactivity, and the possibility of pulling data in real-time from multiple sources. By enabling the user to visualize otherwise complex and heavy raw data, they simplify the data processing for our brain and give readers an at-a-glance overview of past, current, and future performance.

What Are The Key Benefits Of A BI Dashboard?

The purpose of a BI dashboard is to help business users make better-informed decisions by letting them gather, consolidate, and analyze their data—and, of course, visualize it in a meaningful way. They aim to simplify a complex analysis of huge amounts of information to avoid missing any trend or pattern. Often enough, they are overlooked or unspotted in an infinite table of numbers and figures, and the potential of such data remains untapped.

BI dashboards organize data cohesively while alleviating any potential clutter that can arise when working with complex sets of information while applying advanced intelligence tools to your various strategies. Using highly visual representations and tools, you can produce graphs, charts, and other powerful visualization instruments that empower you to interpret the data and transform it into actionable insights that will benefit your company in many ways. To outline the unrivaled value of creating such a dashboard, here are the primary benefits of utilizing them:

Trend identification: They empower businesses across sectors to identify and analyze positive trends related to a wealth of business activities while isolating and correcting negative trends for improved organizational efficiency.

Increased efficiency: For the highest results, decision-making should always be based on the right data — and a business analytics dashboard will allow you to achieve this. They improve efficiency by providing relevant real-time insights, allowing you to make informed, accurate decisions that will catalyze your success.

100% accuracy: To take advantage of your competition, it is also crucial to have accurate data in planning, analysis, and reporting. This is achieved by real-time access, which can provide instant insight into how your business performs on an operational or strategic level. If all employees are informed at the right time and moment, guesswork is eliminated, creating substance for making informed decisions.

Interactive data visualization: As more data sources emerge, there is a strong need to compile a centralized point of access where it can be presented in a clean way, with instant insight. Traditional spreadsheets such as Excel have become so crammed that making a business decision can end up in indefinite scrolling and searching for the right information. Since humans process visual content much faster than written text, graphics are becoming the standard for modern presentations. And not just ordinary graphs and charts, but interactive reports, visualizing every step of a business process, predicting outcomes, and providing business users with instant, actionable insights.

Enhance communication: With interactive features, there is no need to rely on static reports or email communication. These powerful analytical solutions can be easily shared with colleagues, managers, clients, and any other relevant stakeholders to keep everyone informed and engaged with the latest developments. This will make communication more efficient while also enhancing collaboration and a data-driven culture in the business.

Accurate forecasting: Another great benefit is the ability to predict future outcomes. By analyzing historical and current data to find patterns and trends, predictive analytics technologies provide a glimpse into the future in several areas. Through this, you can get accurate forecasts in your dashboards about things like product demand and plan your production and strategies ahead.

Real-time insights: To make the smartest strategic decisions, you need the latest data available. BI dashboards do just that by providing real-time information as soon as it is available. There is no need to go through infinite databases and manually update everything. With just a few clicks, you get the latest results available for accurate decision-making.

Freedom & flexibility: Expanding on our previous points, the centralized and completely portable nature of a business intelligence dashboard means that it’s possible to access and analyze invaluable insights from a multitude of devices 24/7, wherever you may be in the world. This level of freedom and flexibility translates to increased productivity and enhanced business intelligence consistently—one of the key ingredients of success.

The Importance Of Dashboard UI & UX Design

As mentioned, dashboards are invaluable tools for presenting key information that helps businesses and organizations of all sizes make informed decisions and tweak their strategies to ensure their goals are being met. Now, it all sounds great on paper, but a successful dashboarding process requires more than just collecting and visualizing data. The process needs to be thought out carefully, with users’ needs at the center of it. That is where design best practices come into the picture.

Following dashboard design principles will enhance the power of these analytical tools by providing centralized access to critical insights in an intuitive yet interactive way. Let’s look at some key benefits of optimized design.

  • To keep audiences engaged: As you’ll learn later in this post, careful dashboarding design will set the perfect environment to keep audiences engaged with the analytical process making it more efficient at the same time. Nobody wants to look at a collection of static numbers and stats on a screen, so by telling a complete data story in a way that is interactive and personalized to your audience, you will keep every user engaged with the data, which will lay the foundation for successful decision-making and overall organizational success.
  • To convey information correctly: Displaying numbers on a static report or an infinite Excel sheet full of tables and formulas can become very confusing, especially for non-technical employees who can interpret the numbers incorrectly and build wrong strategies. Well-designed dashboards eliminate these burdens by providing an accessible and comprehensible view of critical business data in a way that anyone can understand. This way, users can extract valuable insights and make informed decisions without the risk of error or misinterpretation.
  • To identify patterns and trends: Making informed decisions is arguably the biggest benefit you can gain from working with a well-designed dashboard. By analyzing different graphs and charts with the help of interactive filters and a comprehensible layout, you’ll be able to identify trends and patterns in your data that can later be used to inform your most critical strategies and propel your business forward. In time, an optimized dashboard can present a huge competitive advantage for your company as the full potential hiding behind your data will be uncovered.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the 25 design principles to achieve dashboarding success!

How To Design A Dashboard: 25 Best Practices To Empower Your Business

Top 25 Dashboard Design Best Practices
Top 25 Dashboard Design Best Practices

These 25 definitive dashboard design best practices will bestow you with all of the knowledge required to create striking, results-driven dashboards on a sustainable basis.

Great dashboards are clear, interactive, and user-friendly. They communicate information at a glance through efficient data visualizations that will enable users to extract actionable insights, identify trends and patterns, and find improvement opportunities through a friendly online data analysis process. Keeping these needs in mind, the basis for an efficient dashboard UX design should be to prioritize the most relevant data, think about usability, and be guided by core business goals.

Here, we’ll go over these analytic design guidelines to ensure you don’t miss out on any vital steps!

1. Consider your audience

When it comes to dashboard best practices in design, your audience is one of the most crucial factors you must consider. You need to know who will use them and for what purpose in order to create the greatest analytical tool for them.

To do so successfully, you should put yourself in your audience’s shoes. The context and device on which users will regularly access their dashboards will have direct consequences on the style in which the information is displayed. Will the dashboard be viewed on the go, in silence at the office desk or will it be displayed as a presentation in front of a large audience?

Additionally, if you make the charts look too complex, the users will spend even more time on data analysis than they would without the dashboard. Data analysis displayed on a dashboard should provide additional value. For example, a user shouldn’t have to do some more calculations on their own to get the information they were looking for, because everything they need will be clearly displayed on the charts. Always try to put yourself in the audience’s position.

That said, you should never lose sight of the purpose of designing a dashboard. You do it because you want to present data in a clear and approachable manner that facilitates the decision-making process with a specific audience in mind. If the audience is more traditional, we suggest you adhere to a less ‘fancy’ design and find something that would resonate better. You can easily get all the necessary information by directly asking the person who will use the dashboard.

Keep in mind: what data will the user be looking for? What information would help him/her to better understand the current situation? If you have two relative values, why not add a ratio to show either an evolution or a proportion, to make it even clearer? A key point is also to add the possibility for the user to compare your number with a previous period. You can’t expect all users to remember what the results for last year’s sales were, or last quarter’s retention rate. Adding an evolution ratio and a trend indicator will add much value to your KPIs, whether logistics KPIs or procurement and make the audience like you.

2. Determine your goals

The next dashboard UI design principle establishes a direct relationship between the user’s needs and the purpose of the dashboard, which is to establish your ultimate goals. Indeed, knowing who your readers will be will help you focus on specific aspects of the data that are relevant to them, to their needs, which matches their expectations and technical skills. To do so, you can schedule phone or face-to-face interviews with different stakeholders to consolidate their reporting requirements.

Whether you are creating a client report or an internal report, each one will serve a purpose and answer key questions through the data. Here, it is key to consider that not all the data available will be useful for the analysis process and that getting this part of the process wrong can render your further efforts meaningless.

To get this step right, you need to carefully consider what metrics and data sets will bring value to the goals that you want to be measured or achieved with this dashboard. Answering questions like; What exactly needs to be measured? Who will measure it? What is the time interval to be measured? Might point you in the right direction. The data analysis questions you’ll ask will provide a framework and allow you to focus on specific aspects of your performance – and that’s when the KPIs come in. Pick the ones that translate your company’s status better and measure your process’s evolution towards your goals. More on that in the following point!

3. Choose relevant KPIs

Selecting the right key performance indicators (KPIs) for your business needs is a must for a truly effective dashboard design. Once you’ve determined your ultimate goals and considered your target audience, you will be able to select the best KPIs to feature in your dashboard.

Your KPIs will help to shape the direction of your dashboards, which will display visual representations of relevant insights based on specific business areas.

Storytelling is a powerful practice for any business, regardless of industry or sector, so use it to your advantage. A compelling narrative using interactive KPIs will capture your audience’s attention and break down your findings in an inspirational and digestible way. This approach will result in increased success across the board.

One example comes from the retail industry:

Total Volume Of Sales KPI Template
Total Volume Of Sales KPI Template

This KPI shows the total volume of sales and the average basket size during a period. The metric is extremely crucial for retailers to identify when the demand for their products or services is higher and/or lower. That way it is much easier to recognize areas that aren’t performing well and adjust accordingly (create promotions, A/B testing, discounts, etc.).

4. Tell a story with your data

Following the workflow for effective dashboard design UX comes the moment to start building your data storytelling.

To put it simply, dashboard storytelling is the process of presenting data in a visual manner that will depict the whole narrative of the data analysis process in order to efficiently understand business strategies and goals. In other words, efficient storytelling will help you communicate your message as clearly as possible.

This is a fundamental step as an effective data story will close the gap between more technical users and the ones that have no closeness to analytics. As Forbes states in one of their articles: “Storytellers use data-driven narratives to enlighten those team members for whom data analysis is unavailable, inaccessible or simply not the best use of their time”.

A good practice for efficient data storytelling is to design your dashboard beforehand. Planning what charts you will include based on your audience and goals will help you be more focused when you actually start building your dashboard. This way you avoid putting a mix of visualizations and seeing if they make sense together but instead generate useful reports considering the level of understanding of users and the final objectives.

5. Provide context

In order to properly analyze the role of data within a specific dashboard, everyone from the CEO to a first-year product salesperson needs to understand the notion of context. Data analyses and visual representations lacking context will be limited in their utility and ROI. It is normal for data points to generate more questions than answers. However, observers should be fully informed, nonetheless. For example, suppose a dashboard monitors product marketing effectiveness, and one of the data points is included in total sales. In that case, this data point will be useless without knowing the measurement time frame. Is it this week? This month? This quarter? This fiscal year? Absent time-specific context, it is next to impossible to know the intended significance of the data.

A second but equally important part of the context is timeliness. Selected KPIs must be up to date to reflect current trends and challenges. If not, there is almost no point in any analysis. Data arriving at the party out of date creates a margin of analysis error that is a slippery slope. Data rooted in past circumstances is bound to create “fact-based” decisions that are no longer representative of current business environments. While the expectation isn’t (and shouldn’t be) minute-by-minute updates, data metrics should put you in the best possible position to make informed decisions. For that to happen, data points should remain relatively current.

In the end, the goal should be to always try to provide maximum information to make the full picture clear; even if some of it seems obvious to you, your audience might find it perplexing. Name all the axes and measurement units and add titles to all charts. Remember to provide comparison values. The rule of thumb here is to use the most common comparisons, such as a comparison against a set target, against a preceding period, or against a projected value. This is an effective design tip that you should always consider.

6. Select the right type of dashboard

Another tip to consider is to be aware of the type of dashboard that you want to build based on its analytical purpose. As mentioned in previous points, each dashboard should be designed for a particular user group to assist recipients in the business decision-making process. Information is valuable only when it is directly actionable. The receiving user must be able to employ the information in his own business strategies and goals. As a designer who uses only the best dashboard design principles, make sure you can identify the critical information, and separate it from the inessential one to enhance users’ productivity.

For reference, here are the 5 primary types of dashboards for each main branch business-based activity:

  • Strategic: The strategic one aggregates crucial organizational health indicators and helps C-suite executives identify opportunities for organizational expansion. It details an organization’s general health not for the purposes of a complete analysis but to provoke future thought and further independent analysis. The analyses are not overly complex and typically include more general data aggregations compared to other solutions.
  • Analytical: The analytical type is engineered to provide detailed analyses pertaining to trends (the what, the why, the how). Analytical solutions emphasize measuring data variables in relation to time (week, month, year, etc.). An example would be to conduct an analysis of supply chain management and product sales over a designated period to determine what trends, mutually dependent factors, and potential strategic consequences exist (if any). A great analogy for analytical dashboards would be that of a general medical practitioner. They may not be an expert in a specific medical field but can effectively monitor the body’s overall health by comparing current symptoms to what would be an ideal state of health. This is exactly the role of analytical dashboards. As they consider a multitude of different measurables for aligning goals with performance, they tend to be complex and highly focused.
  • Operational: Where analytical dashboards monitor the overall health of an organization, the operational ones focus on KPIs. They will vary depending on the industry and audience (sales, marketing, finance, etc.), but they will always monitor the real-time operations of an organization or entity. Rather than analyze the general health of an organization (or “body”), operational dashboards will specialize in monitoring the functionality (and deviations) of various KPIs (or “organs”) that exist within an entity. As they provide real-time information, they tend to contain less complex data.
  • Tactical: A reporting tool typically used for mid-level management, a tactical dashboard is incredibly analytical and drills down deep into several key areas of a company’s internal processes. It offers a great deal of insight into weekly trends and metrics and is pivotal in improving internal communication and formulating mid to long-term strategies across departments from procurement and finance to human resources. The image below is an example of a tactical dashboard for the IT department:

IT Project Management Tactical Dashboard
IT Project Management Tactical Dashboard

7. Use the right type of chart

We can’t stress enough the importance of choosing the right types of graphs and charts. You can destroy your efforts with a missing or incorrect chart type. It’s relevant to understand what kind of information you want to convey and choose a data visualization suited to the task.

The human brain digests visual information more efficiently than pure text. This means that when you’re working with your dashboard data, you should display it in a way that resonates with your audience on a deeper, more meaningful level. In doing so, you will ensure your data is transformed into actionable insights that ultimately drive the business forward.

Dashboard-centric charts and visualizations fall into four primary categories that are related to the aim of the visualization: relationship, distribution, composition, and comparison. It is important to understand the aim of the metric before picking the chart type that you want. Here, we will talk about a few of the most common types and their aims:

Line charts are great for displaying patterns of change across a continuum. They are compact, clear, and precise, and the format is common and familiar to most people, so they can easily be analyzed.

Choose bar charts if you want to quickly compare items in the same category, such as page views by country. Again, such charts are easy to understand, clear, and compact.

Pie charts aren’t the perfect choice. They rank low in precision because users find it difficult to accurately compare the sizes of the pie slices. Although such charts can be instantly scanned and users will notice the biggest slice immediately, there can be a problem in terms of scale, resulting in the smallest slices being so small that they cannot even be displayed. A good practice when using pie charts is to only do it with a couple of slices, this way, you make sure that the information is easy to understand and will bring value to your dashboard.

Sparklines usually don’t have a scale, which means that users will not be able to notice individual values. However, they work well when you have a lot of metrics, and you want to show only the trends. They are rapidly scannable and very compact.

It’s also not that easy to decipher scatterplots as they are an advanced type of visualization for more knowledgeable users. They aim to find the correlation between two variables. When the data is distributed on the chart, the results show the correlation to be positive, negative, or nonexistent.

Gauge charts are valuable visualizations to provide context. The advantage of these charts lies in the fact that they are easy to interpret as they use various colors to represent different values of the same metric. They are usually used in situations where the expected value is already known, this way the different stakeholders that use the dashboard can understand where they stand just by looking at the gauge chart. For example, to monitor the sales target or sales growth.

Most experts agree that bubble charts are not suitable for dashboards. They require too much mental effort from users, even when reading simple information in a context. Due to their lack of precision and clarity, bubble charts are not very common, and users are not familiar with them.

As mentioned, depending on what you want to communicate or show, there is a chart type to suit your goals. Placing your aims into one of the 4 primary categories above will help you make an informed decision on the chart type. Here is a graphic that will serve as a resume and guide to help you pick the right chart type depending on what you want to show:

Types Of Graphs & Charts Overview
Types Of Graphs & Charts Overview

8. Don’t place all the information on the same page

The next in our rundown of dashboard design tips is a question of information. This most golden of dashboard design principles refers to both precision and the right audience targeting. While an “easy on the eyes” design scheme may appear tempting, effective communication should always be your number one priority.

It is a major fallacy to assume that what you think is a more visually appealing dashboard will communicate more effectively with your audience. Communication is a science, and BI dashboard design should reflect quick, concise, and clear fact-based communications. One of the unfortunate tendencies of data professionals in the digital age is the self-defeating habit of overburdening audiences with clutter. This is why you should follow the 5-second rule, which states that your dashboard should provide the relevant information in about five seconds.

While its forms vary, the inherent nature of clutter will likely always remain the same… it will occupy cognitive space within the mind of the audience, and yet simultaneously fail to have any substantive or beneficial impact. Not only will clutter fail to impact an audience positively, but it will also create the appearance that data is more complex than its true nature. Therefore, to avoid clutter, you must identify clutter. A great guide to identifying the characteristics and forms of clutter is the Gestalt Principles of Visual Perception. The Gestalt school of Psychology defined these six principles (discussed below) as the main principles outlining basic human interaction and order creation within the context of visual (i.e., data) stimulation. Let’s briefly look at each principle.

Proximity: The principle of proximity dictates that we will likely group elements together based on their location or “proximity.” This principle allows for the manipulation of perception through well-placed and cleanly grouped data.

Similarity: The principle of similarity dictates that we will likely group comparable elements together. This means that from the audience’s visual perspective, similar colors, shapes, and fonts are expected to be grouped together. When applied to client communications, this principle can assist with the removal of unnecessary data elements.

Closure: The principle of closure refers to our propensity to “close the gap” and create complete elements. This concept applies even when portions of shapes and figures are missing.

Enclosure: The principle of enclosure dictates that if elements are controlled by a visual border or shading, we will tend to see the objects and elements as unique groups. This principle can be employed as a foundation for graphical data presentation, like prior principles.

Continuity: The principle of continuity dictates that if separate linear elements are positioned within one another, we tend to integrate all the parts of the elements. Individual lines will then be viewed less as separate and more as a continuation of one central element.

Connection: The principle of connection dictates that our visual pairings are often strongest when there is an actual linear tie. That is, rather than associating elements via color, shape, or spacing, we will use a direct lineal connection to establish the foundation for our visual relationship with data.

9. Choose your layout carefully

Dashboard best practices in design concern more than just good metrics and well-thought-out charts. The next step is the placement of charts on a dashboard. If your dashboard is visually organized, users will easily find the information they need. Poor layout forces users to think more before they grasp the point, and nobody likes to look for data in a jungle of charts and numbers. The general rule is that the crucial information should be displayed first – at the top of the screen, in the upper left–hand corner. There is some scientific wisdom behind this placement – most cultures read their written language from left to right and top to bottom, which means that people intuitively look at the upper-left part of a page first, no matter if you’re developing an enterprise dashboard design or a smaller-scaled within the department – the rule is the same.

Let’s look at the elements of a well-ordered dashboard, engineered for visual success.

Consistent Alignment: Ideal data alignment for dashboarding purposes is likely to be determined on a case-by-case basis. A good default rule is to have your most informative data positioned in the upper left (the upper left corner of the page is likely a leading candidate for informative text). Knowing what to place and where is as important as knowing what not to place. Therefore, a second general rule is to avoid ALL temptation to put diagonal elements and fill patterns. Diagonal data elements, especially those linear in nature, add little benefit while significantly reducing alignment efficiency.

White Space: Does white space equal wasted space? No! More is not always better. White space is a design term used to reference space within a presentation not allocated to any specific element. It is a space void of all images, colors, texts, data, and other visible page elements. You should be keen to take advantage of the proven benefits of both “active” and “passive” white space (i.e., intentional, and unintentional). Benefits include enhanced design and balance, enhanced readability, the appearance of sophistication and prioritized data elements.

Use of Contrast: Contrast should be viewed as closely related to white space. Both originate from the same family tree, but each one brings its own unique properties and features. You can, and should, experiment with contrast and white space together. When combined, they have the potential to create an incredible one-two visual punch. Often, the contrast will be applied via a data color scheme change. This change, likely to be focused on a “point of emphasis” element, is intended to draw the viewer’s attention to a specific and important data detail. Simple color and design variations will enhance the information gathering process and allow for an efficient, focused, and comfortable data experience. More on the color aspect of design later in the post!

10. Prioritize simplicity

One of the best practices for dashboard design focuses on simplicity. Nowadays, we can play with a lot of options in chart creation and it’s tempting to use them all at once. However, try to use those frills sparingly. Frames, backgrounds, effects, gridlines… Yes, these options might be useful sometimes, but only when there is a reason for applying them.

Moreover, be careful with your labels or legends and pay attention to the font, size, and color. They shouldn’t hide your chart but also be big enough to be readable. Don’t waste space on useless decorations, like a lot of pictures. Take the Data-Ink ratio concept introduced by Edward Tufte as a guide.

Tufte explains data-ink as the “non-erasable ink used for the presentation of data. If data-ink is removed from the image, the graphic will lose its content. Non-Data-Ink is accordingly the ink that does not transport the information, but it is used for scales, labels, and edges.” The data-ink ratio is the proportion of ink used to present the relevant data compared to the total amount of ink in the graph. The goal here is to keep the less relevant information (non-data-ink) out of your dashboards as much as possible as they distract from the main intention of the visuals.

Additionally, applying shadows can be quite an effect since it highlights some areas of the dashboard and gives more depth. Since the point is to keep it simple, don’t overdo it and use it when you really need it. Designing a dashboard should be a well-thought process, but the end-user should see a simple data story with the main points highlighted and the points should be immediately clear. If this is not respected, more questions will arise about the dashboard itself rather than discussing the points that you’re trying to make and the story you’re trying to present. This leads us to our next point.

11. Round your numbers

Continuing with simplicity, rounding the numbers should also be one of the priorities since you don’t want your audience to be flooded with numerous decimal places. Yes, you want to present details but, sometimes, too many details give the wrong impression. If you want to present your conversion rate with 5 more decimal places, it makes sense to round the number and avoid too many number-specific factors. Or, if you want to present your revenue, you don’t need to do so by going into cents. 850K looks simpler and more visually effective than $850 010, 25. Especially if you want to implement executive dashboard best practices, where strategic information doesn’t need to represent every operational detail of a certain number.

The latter may exaggerate minor elements, in this case, cents, which, for an effective data story, isn’t necessary in your dashboard design process.

12. Be careful with colors – choose a few and stick to them

Without a shadow of a doubt, this is one of the most important of all dashboard design best practices. This point may seem incongruous with what we have said, but there are options to personalize and customize your creations to your preferences.

The interactive nature of data dashboards means that you can ditch PowerPoint-style presentations from the 1990s. The modern dashboard is minimalist and clean, and a flat design is trendy nowadays.

Now, when it comes to color, you can choose to stay true to your company identity (same colors, logo, fonts) or go for a totally different color palette. The critical thing here is to stay consistent and not use too many different colors – an essential consideration when learning how to design a dashboard.

You can choose two to three colors, and then play with gradients. A common mistake is using highly saturated colors too frequently. Intense colors can instantly draw users’ attention to a certain piece of data, but if a dashboard contains only highly saturated colors, users may feel overwhelmed and lost – they wouldn’t know what to look at first. It’s always better to tone most colors down. Dashboard design best practices always stress consistency when it comes to your choice of colors.

You should use the same color for matching items across all charts. Doing so will minimize the mental effort required from a user’s perspective, making dashboards more comprehensible as a result. Moreover, if you’re looking to display items in a sequence or a group, you shouldn’t aim for random colors: if a relationship between categories exists (e.g., lead progression, grade levels, etc.), you should use the same color for all items, graduating the saturation for easy identification.

Thanks to this, your users will only have to note that higher-intensity colors symbolize variable displays of a particular quality, item, or element, which is far easier than memorizing multiple sets of random colors. Again, creating a dashboard that users can understand is your main aim here.

Manufacturing Production Dashboard Template
Manufacturing Production Dashboard Template

In the example above, manufacturing analytics are presented in a neat production dashboard, where a ‘dark’ theme is chosen after careful consideration of a few colors.

Our final suggestion concerning colors is to be mindful when using “traffic light” colors. For most people, red means “stop” or “bad” and the green represents “good” or “go.” This distinction can prove very useful when designing dashboards – but only when you use these colors accordingly.

13. Don’t go over the top with real-time data

Next on our list of good dashboard design tips refers to insight: don’t overuse real-time data. In some cases, information displayed in too much detail only serves to lead to distraction. Unless you’re tracking some live results, most dashboards don’t require to be updated continually. Real-time data serves to paint a picture of a general situation or a trend. Most project management dashboards must only be updated periodically – on a weekly, daily, or hourly basis. After all, it is the right data that counts the most.

Moreover, you can implement smart alarms so that the dashboard itself notifies you if any business anomalies occur. That way, your refresh interval, and intelligent alarms will work together, making them one of the dashboard design guidelines that will ensure you save countless working hours.

This point might be confusing as we told you earlier that data should be up to date. Don’t panic yet. We understand that this might cause confusion. The truth is, when talking about successful dashboard design balance is key. The data contained in your dashboards should be a mix of historical and current data that provide a complete picture of performance. How old the historical data is will depend on the goal of your analysis. The end goal is to always use what brings value!

14. Be consistent with labeling and data formatting

Number 14 on our list of tips on how to design a dashboard is focused on clarity and consistency. Above all else, in terms of functionality, the main aim of a data dashboard is to gain the ability to extract important insights at a swift glance. It’s critical to make sure that your labeling and formatting are consistent across KPIs, tools, and metrics. If you’re formatting or labeling for related metrics or KPIs is wildly different, it will cause confusion, slow down your data analysis activities, and increase your chances of making mistakes. Being 100% consistent across the board is paramount to designing dashboards that work.

We will go into more detail with white labeling and embedding in some other points, but here, it’s important to keep in mind that the dashboard design methodology should be detailed and well-prepared to generate the most effective visuals. That includes clear formatting and labeling.

15. Use interactive elements

Any comprehensive dashboard worth its salt will allow you to dig deep into certain trends, metrics, or insights with ease. When considering what makes a good dashboard, including interactive elements in your design is crucial. Let’s explore some examples of interactive filters below:

Click-to-filter: This feature enables users to utilize the dimensions of the charts and graphs within a dashboard as a temporary filter value. In practice, which means that this filter will apply data to the whole dashboard just by clicking on a specific place of interest, like in the example below:

Click To Filter Example
Click To Filter Example

 This example shows how we filtered data just for Australia, for October.

Drill downs: A drill down filter allows you to visualize lower levels of hierarchical data all in one chart. For example, say you have a bar chart displaying your customers by country. With a drill down filter, you can click on a country and the entire chart will automatically adapt to show you the number of customers by the city of that specific country. You can even go further by clicking on a specific city, and so on. The value of drill downs lies in the fact that you don’t need to overcrowd your dashboards to get a more detailed view; you can do everything in a single chart.

Drill through: Like a drill down, a drill through filter allows you to visualize additional, more detailed views about a specific KPI. The difference is that a drill through will show you the additional data in a pop-up instead of the same chart. For example, if you have a chart displaying the total revenue and you click on it, a drill through can break the revenue into different areas so you can understand exactly where it is coming from without having to jump to another report.

Time interval widget: Looking at data over time is another crucial element to consider when designing a dashboard. This widget will enable you to do just that. It’s a neat feature that allows you to enhance individual time scales on various charts, meaning you can easily look at your data across days, weeks, months, or years, as in the following example:

Time To Interval Widget Example
Time To Interval Widget Example

These elements are of utmost importance in dashboard design since they help to keep them free of too many elements, while interactivity enables them to have all the data needed.

16. Additionally, use animation options

Animation options can be one element that gives an additional neat visual impression. You select the appearance of the specific element on the dashboard and assign an animation option. The result is a simple, yet effective automated movement based on the desired speed (for example, slow, medium, or fast) and types such as linear, swing, ease-in, or ease-out.

Moreover, modern dashboard features include this option since it gives you an additional option to catch the viewer’s attention. In essence, when you open a tab or refresh, the animation will trigger and start. Simple.

It is important to mention that although animations can bring added value to your dashboards, you should use them sparingly. Remember what we discussed in this list’s previous point: simplicity is key!

17. Double up your margins

One of the most subtle yet essential tips is balance. White space—also called negative space—is the area of blankness between elements featured on a dashboard design.

Users aren’t typically aware of the pivotal role that space plays in visual composition, but designers pay a great deal of attention to it because when metrics, stats, and insights are unbalanced, they are difficult to digest. You should always double the margins surrounding the main elements of your dashboard to ensure each is framed with a balanced area of white space, making the information easier to absorb.

18. Optimize for multiple devices

With remote work becoming the new norm after the pandemic, the digital solutions used by businesses to manage their daily operations must adapt to the different screens and devices that employees use aside from desktops (such as tablets or mobiles). By offering remote access to your most important insights, you can answer critical business questions on the go without a special office meeting. Benefits such as swift decision-making and instant access ensure everyone can view the data on the fly.

Here, it makes sense to remember that the dashboard layout is different from on the desktop. A mobile dashboard has a smaller screen, so the placement of the elements will differ. Additionally, the level of analysis compared to the desktop version will not be as deep since this kind of dashboard needs to focus on the most critical visuals that fit the screen, oftentimes high-level. That said, you should focus on designing special mobile-dedicated dashboards, as this is a user-friendly approach that will make the life of whoever uses the report way easier.

To create such a design, we suggest you trim all the surplus that is not relevant and test it across devices. Additionally, keep in mind that the dashboard design process should also include the ‘bigger fingers’ element. Not everyone has smaller hands, and buttons should be well-optimized for all hands’ shapes and sizes. Moreover, and we can’t stress this enough, keep only the most important metrics and information on the screen so that they’re easily scannable and immediately visible.

19. Consider the use in terms of exports vs. digital

In the process of dashboard designing, you also must think about exports. You can use the dashboard itself and share it, but if you plan on regularly using exports, consider optimizing towards printing bounds, fewer colors, and different types of line styles to make sure everything is readable even on a black-and-white printout. Hence, when you plan your data dashboard design, you also need to look into future uses and how to optimize towards different exporting options or simply share the dashboard itself with all its features and options.

Additionally, by assigning viewer roles to users, you can specify the number of features you openly allow, including the number of filters, and all the bits and details of specific permissions. That way, you have full control over your digital presentation and the amount of analysis you want to share. In this digital case, you don’t need to consider print, but it would help if you ever wanted to create one.

20. Keep graphical integrity

It might seem like an obvious point, but it is worth mentioning as it is one of the most important dashboard design trends. Graphical integrity basically refers to keeping the truth about the data. This means being objective about the values and not making them look a certain way that will benefit the analysis.

Just like with the data-ink ratio that we discussed above; this principle is also attributed to Edward Tufte. With this theory, Tufte mentioned a few principles that should be followed to ensure graphical integrity. Among some of them, he states that the visual representation of the data should “be directly proportional to the numerical quantities represented.” This means you shouldn’t get too creative with your graph design as it can lead to misrepresentation and, consequently, misinterpretation of the data.

The image below is an example from LinkedIn that shows exactly how ignoring this principle can affect the way others perceive the data. The scale in this chart is completely misleading, as the comparison between 10k and 529k is not visually accurate. The graphic representation of your data should never help misinterpret or lie; the data should speak for itself.

Tufte Graphical Integrity Example
Tufte Graphical Integrity Example

This is only one of the 6 principles implemented by Tufte. We recommend that you look at them in detail, as they are very useful for keeping your objective in the design process.

21. White label and embed if you need to

Another critical point when considering your design workflow is the opportunity to white label and embed the dashboard into your own application or intranet. With white-label business intelligence, you can consider using your own company’s logos, color styles, and overall brand visual identity elements and completely adjust the dashboard as if it were your own product. This is not only great for usability purposes but will also help keep audiences engaged and motivated with the dashboard, as the colors and overall design will feel familiar.

An embedded dashboard will look like your own product, as mentioned, but the biggest pro is that you won’t need to invest in developing software of your own, but simply take over a product, and use it as your own. Embedded business intelligence ensures that access to the analytical processes and data manipulation is completely done within their existing systems and applications. Many users prefer this option, so when you consider what kind of dashboard features you want to implement in your design, embedding and white labeling are 2 more options you need to consider.

22. Avoid common data visualization mistakes

Data visualization has evolved from simple static presentations to modern interactive software that takes visual perception to the next level. It also enabled average business users and advanced analysts to create stunning visuals that tell a clear data story to any potential audience profile, from beginners in a field to seasoned analysts and strategists.

But positive development has also brought some negative side effects such as making mistakes that you can see in various media. Data visualization is not just about creating visuals for the sake of it, but it needs to be clear and communicated effectively. That said, avoid these common mistakes:

  • Incorrect calculations: The numbers should add up to a total (100%). For example, if you conduct a survey and people have the option to choose more than one answer, you will probably need some other form of visuals than a pie chart since the numbers won’t add up, and the viewers might get confused.
  • The wrong choice of visualizations: We have mentioned how important it is to choose the right type of chart and dashboard, so if you want to present a relationship between the data, a scatter plot might be the greatest solution.
  • Too much data: Another point you need to keep in mind, and we have discussed in detail, is don’t put too much data on a single chart because, one, the viewer will not recognize the point, and two, the dashboard will look overcrowded which will make it way less engaging for users.

Besides, you can also familiarize yourself with general design mistakes that you can avoid if you follow the rules of simplicity and color theory, no matter if you need to create an executive dashboard design or an operational one.

23. Consider using a template

As you’ve learned throughout this post, the design and generation process is no longer a task reserved for professional analysts or designers. On the contrary, the self-service nature of modern dashboard builders enables anyone in the business to generate stunning dashboards with just a few clicks.

Whether it’s choosing the wrong visualization or displaying the data in a way that doesn’t tell an accurate story, some of the best practices we mentioned in this list still feel intimidating for some users. If you are one of those people, then we suggest using a professional dashboard template for your analytical efforts.

For example, the template below tracks critical performance KPIs for 4 social media channels. This is a great template for businesses and agencies that need to replicate the same dashboards for multiple clients. Templates like this one are white labeled, which means colors, font, and the overall look of the dashboard can be optimized depending on your needs.

Social Media Dashboard Template
Social Media Dashboard Template

From a design perspective, this is a valuable template as it provides an interactive layout that is easy to understand. For instance, in the “to target” section, negative values are displayed in red, and positive ones in green. This makes it possible to extract conclusions from the data in seconds, one of the most important tips we discussed in this post.

24. Perform dashboard A/B testing

As we reached the end of this list of dashboard design tips, we couldn’t leave out an important practice: A/B testing.

A/B testing is a widely used technique in digital marketing to test different strategies, advertisements, products, or interfaces and see which one is most successful based on specific goals. In dashboard design, A/B testing refers to the process of generating two or more dashboards with multiple variations in layout, visuals, filters, and more and analyzing which one performs better based on user engagement, satisfaction, interactions, and other elements.

An important piece of advice when it comes to A/B testing is to define some goals from the get-go. For example, you can do an A/B test to improve the way users navigate through the data and generate variations of the same dashboard, including different filters and interactivity options to analyze which approach makes navigation more efficient. To do so in the most successful way, it is important to keep users in the dark about the test. This way, you avoid biases and make sure the results are accurate.

Later on, you need to analyze the way users interacted with the different variations and extract conclusions from the process. You might need to perform a couple of tests before you can reach the perfect dashboard. But, given that designing a dashboard involves so many steps and considerations being able to test different approaches can make the overall dashboarding process way more efficient with huge rewards for users, especially in a business context where employees are using dashboards for their daily operations.

25. Never stop evolving

Last but certainly not least, in our collection of tips for effective dashboards – the ability to tweak and evolve your designs in response to not only the results of your A/B testing but also the changes around the organization will ensure ongoing analytical success.

When generating reports with a dashboard designer, asking for feedback is essential. By requesting regular input from your team and asking the right questions, you’ll improve the layout, functionality, look, feel, and balance of KPIs to ensure optimum value. Asking for feedback regularly will ensure that both you and the customer (or team) are on the same page. As we mentioned many times, your audience is your number one consideration, and you need to know how to adjust the visuals to generate value.

For example, if you need to present an HR dashboard, it makes sense to ask the team, executives, or relevant stakeholders for feedback on the dashboard, whether it’s focused on employee performance, recruiting, or talent management. That way, you can be sure to respect the best practices for dashboard design and deliver outstanding visuals.

The digital world is ever-evolving. Change is constant, and the principles of effective dashboards are dictated by a willingness to improve and enhance your design efforts continuously. Failure to do so will only hinder your efforts’ success.

So, never stop evolving.

Top 3 BI Dashboard Design Examples

To conclude this insightful guide on dashboard design tips, let’s examine three examples of how the points we discussed are applied!

1. Construction Project Dashboard

Our first example is a project dashboard generated with our professional construction analytics software. It offers a 360-degree view of a project’s progress from a schedule and cost perspective, which allows decision-makers to be informed about the project’s status. Let’s explore it in detail below.

Construction Dashboard For Project Controlling
Construction Dashboard For Project Controlling

In this case, the template is designed using a time filter that allows you to see a specific project period. This allows you to understand what happened when and extract conclusions. The design of the dashboard was made thinking about the hierarchy of the information. We first see details about the project, like the name and the project status, and then we get some relevant metrics, followed by more detailed charts that put the initial metrics into context.

A template like this one can be a great way to boost construction productivity by spotting issues in the project and addressing them promptly. It also provides great insights for construction cost control strategies, as it gives a breakdown of costs by area and other cost metrics.

2. Financial KPI Dashboard

One of the best BI dashboard examples for those who need a general financial overview of a company or department, our template serves up a wealth of KPIs based on improving processes and eliminating processing inefficiencies.

Financial KPI Dashboard Example
Financial KPI Dashboard Example

This financial dashboard sample breaks down several financial processes into digestible segments. As a result, you can gain deep insight into your working capital, cash conversion cycle, and vendor payment error rate. This mix of invaluable insights offers all key ingredients for developing seamless processes that help you save on unnecessary costs while greatly boosting productivity.

From a design perspective, this template’s color palette uses different shades of blue to keep everything consistent. A visually appealing margin separates each chart, and the information is organized to tell a story.

3. Procurement Supplier Dashboard

Procurement is another department that can greatly benefit from professional dashboards. Our template below provides a 360-degree view of all relevant supplier performance, overall spending, and compliance aspects. With these insights, the procurement manager can ensure that all supplier relationships and contracts run smoothly.

Procurement KPI Dashboard
Procurement KPI Dashboard

At the top of the example, we get a summary of supplier stats, including the total number of suppliers and the percentage that are contracted and unlisted. Some of the contracted suppliers can then be classified as gold, silver, or bronze, depending on their value to the company. Gold ones, for example, offer exciting discounts and reasonable terms of agreement. Paired to that, we get a 5-year cost breakdown showing that the department saved €96,000.

The lower portion of the procurement dashboard provides a breakdown of suppliers by category and the average procurement cycle time. Monitoring your cycle time and dividing suppliers by short, medium, and long can help you choose which suppliers to contact based on the time you have to complete the project.

While this template has many colors, which could make it look more confusing to some people, the main KPIs are all represented using the same three colors, which makes it way more consistent to the eye. Supplier categories are also represented using many colors, but they are all in the same tone, which prevents any of them from popping up over the others.

Key Takeaways For Successful Dashboard Designs

So, what makes a good dashboard? An effective design should be striking yet visually balanced, savvy yet straightforward, accessible, user-friendly, and tailored to your goals and your audience. All of the above dashboard design tips form a water-tight process that will help you produce visualizations that will exponentially enhance your data analysis efforts. Moreover, dashboard design should be the cherry on top of your business intelligence (BI) skills.

Every dashboard you create should exist for a focused user group with the specific aim of helping users tap into business decision-making processes and transform digital insights into positive strategic actions.

Information is only valuable when it is directly actionable.  Based on this principle, it’s critical that the end-user can employ the information served up by a dashboard to enhance their personal goals, roles, and activities within the business.

By only using the most balanced dashboard design principles, you’ll ensure that everyone within your organization can easily identify key information, accelerating your business’s growth, development, and evolution. That means a bigger audience, a greater reach, and more profits – the key ingredients of a successful business. So, if you’re wondering how many steps are recommended to follow in creating an effective dashboard? The answer lies within this article. Stick to these 25 steps; your dashboards will impress your audience and make your data analysis life much easier.

At RIB Software, we are committed to delivering the best high-quality solutions to help companies in the building sector achieve excellence. Our specialized construction analytics software, RIB BI+, offers an intuitive dashboard designer that will allow you to put all the practices you learned here into practice with just a few clicks. If you are ready to visualize your construction data in real-time and use it for agile decision-making, book a demo today!

RIB BI+ Screenshot (Analyzer)
RIB BI+ ▷ The Best Construction Analytics & Dashboards