5 Top Tips For Visually Compelling Charts in a BI Dashboard

  • Ed Thompson, CTO
  • November 28, 2013

5-Top-Tips-For-Visually-Compelling-Charts-BI-DashboardNo matter how good the data that you collect, the way that you present it can make or break your BI Dashboard. So follow a few simple tips and make sure that you are ‘chart smart’.

The primary aim of a BI Dashboard is to present large volumes of data in an easy to read format. It is widely believed that a successful dashboard should be limited in size to a single page so that the user can view all the necessary information at a glance. And with such limited space available it becomes vital that you utilise it to its full potential – and charts can be an effective way to do this.

Charts not only allow you to present significant amounts of data in a smaller area, but they also allow you to highlight trends, relationships and outliers, in order to provide a much more in-depth understanding of the data.

The importance of charts should therefore never be underestimated when designing a BI Dashboard. All too often charts can go wrong and this can detract attention away from the data itself, leaving the dashboard looking confusing and unclear. By following a few simple tips you’ll be able to create charts that gain the attention that your data deserves.

Choose the right chart for the data in your BI Dashboard

‘A poorly chosen graph can completely obscure otherwise clear data’

Stephen Few – Information Dashboard Design, 2013

All too frequently, people choose a certain type of graph because they think it looks better, completely disregarding whether or not it is actually the right one to use in that situation.

The chart you should use relies heavily on what it is you are trying to portray from the data. Different charts have different qualities, and some are more conducive than others when it comes to displaying certain attributes such as size, time or composition.

Below are some tips from Andrew Abela on which charts maybe most appropriate for the visualisation you are trying to achieve on your BI Dashboard.

  • Relationships: Scatter Chart, Bubble Chart
  • Comparison: Table, Bar Chart, Column Chart, Line Chart 
  • Distribution: Scatter Chart, Line Histogram, Column Histogram
  • Composition: Stacked Column Chart, Pie Chart

Avoid cramming too much information in your BI Dashboard

With such limited space on offer, there is often the temptation to cram as much information as possible into every data visualisation. However this can lead to charts becoming messy and unclear, making it increasingly difficult to gain any real benefit from the data.

BI Dashboard Mistake: Too Much Information

When too much data is displayed in one chart, it takes the user much longer to interpret what is actually occurring, particularly when the data intersects at various points. You should therefore try to prioritise certain data sets and limit the number displayed in each visualisation. More isn’t always better! And you should never compromise the legibility of the data itself.

Make sure the data labels are legible in your BI Dashboard

When displaying significant amounts of information in one chart, data legends and labels become increasingly important as a way of differentiation between the various values.

Effective data labels will allow the user to determine values much more quickly, in line with the time-efficient ethos of the dashboard as a whole.

Make Your BI Dashboard Easy to Read

You should avoid putting the data labels at any kind of angle as this can often prove difficult to read for the user. If need be, you could even rotate the axes in order to compensate for cases where long labels are necessary.

When using charts such as line charts, where possible you should try and label each data set directly in order to ensure that it is as easy as possible for the user to infer its value. This is made easier when the chart is limited to a maximum of 3 or 4 data sets.

Limit Data Sets in a BI Dashboard

It is also important that the size and style of the labels is sufficient enough to make them prominent, without drawing focus away from the data itself.

Select the right increments in your chart for a BI Dashboard

The increments that you use in the charts can be extremely important, and can influence the way the information is displayed on your BI Dashboard.

Picking the right increments can determine how easy the information is to view and interpret.

Choose the Best Increments for your BI Dashboard

If the increments are too small then then the axis can become cluttered, making it difficult to read across and determine exact values. On the other hand, if the increments are too large then they will not be sufficient enough to gain any real value from the data.

The increments that you use can also heavily influence the scale of the charts and this can be particularly important when making comparisons across two different charts. It is important that the increments that you use do not create bias or misinterpret the actual trend of the data as this can be extremely confusing for the user.

Avoid using unnecessary visual effects in a chart for your BI Dashboard

When designing the charts for your BI Dashboard you should make sure that you do not fall into the trap of choosing style over substance. The numerous visual effects available in design software may make your charts look more visually appealing, but this can often go too far and distract the reader from the data itself.

These distracting effects may include the excessive or inappropriate use of colours, patterns, stylised fonts and the use of 3D charts to plot your information.

BI Dashboard Mistake: Choosing Style Over Substance

Rather than improving your BI Dashboard you may find that they actually make it more difficult to use.



To sum up, then, it is clearly important to avoid underestimating the importance of charts as a tool to visualise the data on your BI Dashboard. A well-designed chart can make all the difference between users seeing something, and not seeing it. But equally, by taking a few simple things into consideration, you can make sure you fully exploit the benefits of data visualisation and improve the overall performance of your BI Dashboard.

Follow these tips and make sure that YOU are ‘chart smart’.

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