Data at Your Fingertips: How to Design a Dashboard

Data dashboards are a way to represent large amounts of data in a condensed and visual manner. A dashboard typically consists of widgets or reportlets. Each of widgets includes one or several KPIs, supplemented by graphs, small data tables, etc.

If you are supposed to prepare a concept for a dashboard, the first task is to find out the stakeholders’ requirements. Who are you building the dashboard for? What data do they need to see, what insights do they want to gain and how detailed should the information be? E.g.  the dashboard for the marketing department will substantially differ from the dashboard you are building for the CEO of the company.

Secondly, prepare a rough draft of the dashboard layout and the widgets it will have. Try not to include more than 10-12 widgets, otherwise your dashboard may become too cumbersome to view and understand. This is also where you define what KPIs the dashboard will show.

Rough draft of a dashboard.
Rough draft of a dashboard.

Thirdly, decide what time period will be included. The majority of dashboards will show only today’s or this week’s data. However, if the website has significant monthly or daily fluctuations in performance, you may want to include a more extended period of time. If stakeholders want to use the dashboard for performance monitoring, the data naturally has to be real-time or with a minimum time lag.

In the fourth place, consider how to represent the data you will gather. A widget may contain a number, a graph, a data table, or a combination of these. The graphical representations of numbers is the most visual way that allows to grasp the meaning of data within seconds. Choose the type of graphics wisely: a line graph will show the development of KPIs in time, the pie chart will show what percentage each segment or product contributed to the total and a bar chart is a good way to visualize and compare several dimensions. The picture below shows how different data may be visualized. In addition, you can use scattergrams, process visualizations, bubble diagrams, etc. In any case, make sure that your graphs are not cluttered and convey a meaningful story.

graphics on a dashboard
Examples of graphics.

numberIf you choose to use a data table in your widget, select only top 5 entries and do not include more than three  columns. In addition, do not be afraid to put a single number in your widget, in case this number is important.

The next decision is what technology you will use. The majority of modern analytics systems include a dashboard feature. If the feature is not sufficient for your requirements or is missing altogether, you may consider using specialized data visualization software (in fact, even Excel offers dashboard building). The best solutions will be those that allow for automatic export and processing of data, without much manual work. Ideally, you should be able to pull data from several sources – e.g. from the website itself, from the order processing system and from social media.

Also think how you will share the dashboard with stakeholders and if the system provides you with this option. Some will prefer viewing the real-time data, others will be satisfied with a weekly/monthly report in PDF format.

And finally, create a visual mock-up of your dashboard for the stakeholders before starting to implement your concept.

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Author: Elena

I acquired a BA degree in International Business with a specialization in Marketing from Nuremberg Technical School and a parallel degree from Leeds Metropolitan University. In 2013-2014, I worked in the field of performance and conversion optimization with an IT company and then was employed in content marketing. In 2016, I went back to working with Web Analytics and gained additional experience in project management. During this time, I received an Award of Achievement in Digital Analytics from the University of British Columbia (Canada). Currently, I am employed in Online Marketing. My areas of specialization include online marketing strategy, content creation, web analytics, conversion optimization and usability.

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