A Dozen Ways to Improve Dashboard Design (1-4)

By: Eric Parker

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Eric lives in Seattle and has been teaching Tableau and Alteryx for 5 years. He's helped thousands of students solve their most pressing problems. If you have a question, feel free to reach out to him directly via email.

Dashboard design is difficult. You have a hundred different options for every element of design (colors, fonts, chart types). If you aren’t a natural Bob Ross, it might not feel that fun either. Here are a dozen simple ways to improve the look and feel of your dashboards.

Let’s use this dashboard as our starting point:

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1. Lead with Questions

Every dashboard you build is a product with a purpose. Each dashboard is designed to solve a problem. Your dashboards are more likely to get used if the title is a question (as opposed to a statement).

Consider the following example.

Passive:

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Active:

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Did you notice the subtle but significant difference? The question in the second dashboard drives you to answer the “why” question by searching for the drivers of change (red data points).

Back to our university space use analysis. Let’s imagine that the main problem we are trying to solve is how to allocate space effectively between each department. In that case, we might want the title to read something like this:

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2. Reduce Clutter

Any time I can reduce clutter on my dashboard, I do. I define clutter as anything redundant or anything that isn’t leading to easier interpretation of the data.

Here are a few examples:

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●        Too much information with labels on the bar chart.

●        Meaningless axis titles (what does “Area” actually mean?).

●        Unhelpful size legend.

Here are a few updates:

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3. Include Instructions

It’s easy to build something and feel like users should naturally understand how it works. Even with the best designed user interface in the world, new products still have a learning curve. Remember the first time you tried to type on a computer keyboard?

This is something this example already has. There is a subtitle to the first worksheet that says “Click to View on Campus”. Including instructions as subtitles is a great way to help the end user navigate the actions available on the dashboard.


4. Limit the number of Colors

Too many colors confuse end users. You don’t want users continually cross-referencing a color legend to understand the data. I generally recommend no more than 5 distinct colors on a single dashboard. This dashboard is right on the cusp with 5 colors.

However, the five colors here don’t help answer our question, “How much space does each department use.” They just show type of space use by color. Not particularly helpful.

Check out our new problem however if we try to color each chart by department:

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Way too many colors to be helpful. Here’s an alternative approach that could help change how this whole dashboard works:

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A department is now selected through a dropdown and the color in the dashboard corresponds to the selected department. It’s now much easier to gauge how much space each department uses of a specific type or even a specific building.

Check out the next blog post for steps 5-8.

Want to learn more dashboarding design tips? Check out our newest workshop; Tableau Dashboarding: From Mystery to Mastery.