10 Undeniable Reasons to Hate your Business Dashboard

  • Ed Thompson, CTO
  • January 28, 2014

Business Dashboard 10 Undeniable-Reasons to Hate ThemBusiness Dashboards are on the up and up, like them or loathe them. But there are at least 10 obvious errors to avoid when putting them together.

1. Too much information

One of the most frequent downfalls of Business Dashboards is that they simply contain too much data. This can lead to the Dashboard becoming cluttered and confusing as the user is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information presented. A Dashboard is supposed to provide an at-a-glance representation of data and therefore it is vital users can locate the information they need quickly – without the hassle of sifting through excessive amounts of often unnecessary statistics.

Best practice Dashboards are generally restricted in size to a single page to allow users to view all the information without having to scroll down or switch between multiple Dashboards. With such a limited amount of space, there is often the temptation to overpopulate the page with data and Visualizations.

2. Poor choice of metrics

A poor choice of metrics can cause a significant deterioration in the value of a Business Dashboard. A Dashboard is not designed to present every single statistic about the business; it is purely concerned with the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that are most important at that time, and for that particular user.

The definition of a “perfect metric” is completely subjective as it depends entirely on the requirements of the individual user and this is where the difficulty lies. As a basic framework, it is important to look at some of the characteristics that are essential for a metric to be effective.

Four of the major characteristics are that the metric must be actionable, transparent, accessible and recognisable.

3. Untimely data

No matter how good the metrics are, they will have very little value if they are not timely. Users can often become frustrated by how infrequently their Dashboards are updated because this impacts the speed with which they can respond to any changes. The update frequency is largely affected by the length of time it takes to process the data and this is where Business Intelligence software can help. Business Intelligence tools can automate the extraction and processing of data, making it much quicker and easier than manual data entry. Matillion customers typically have their Dashboards updated every 24 hours but in some cases this can be as frequent as every three hours.

4. Poor structure

A poor structure can cause confusion for the user as it becomes unclear what order, if any, the data is in and whether there are any links between particular data sets. Joe McKendrick argues that dashboards should, “prioritize the information … like the news, with headlines and stories that people … need to make decisions or take action”. This could save a lot of time as it would immediately be clear what information is most important or most recent.

Stephen Few writes that, “Dashboard content must be organized in a way that reflects the nature of the information and that supports efficient and meaningful monitoring”. (Stephen Few, Information Dashboard Design, 2013). In order to promote this meaningful monitoring, it is important to define what exactly the data is trying to say and to choose a structure that is conducive to this message.

5. Bad Data Visualizations

“A poorly chosen graph can completely obscure otherwise clear data,” writes Stephen Few, in Information Dashboard Design, 2013.

Choices made surrounding the use of Data Visualizations can often make or break a Business Dashboard. When developing a Business Dashboard, it is easy to be drawn in by the endless amount of flashy Visualizations that are on offer. This can lead to there being a greater focus on style than substance. The primary aim of a Visualization is to present information and, only after this is ensured, should you concentrate on making it look more visually appealing.

When using charts, it is important to pick the right type and then consider further aspects such as size, increments, labels and the amount of data on each individual chart.

6. Inappropriate use of colour

When it comes to Data Visualization, colour can often be one of the most powerful tools at your disposal – and it is therefore critical that you get this aspect of design right when designing a Business Dashboard.

Unfortunately, the excessive or inappropriate use of colour is one of the main things users hate about Dashboards. Like flashy Visualizations, colour can detract attention away from the information itself and be confusing for users. The choice of colour can be particularly problematic in cases where users suffer from colour-blindness and struggle to differentiate between certain colours or shades.

7. Excessive use of visual effects

The excessive use of visual effects such as 3D objects, borders, shadows and weightings can also draw focus away from important data ¬– and they are often completely unnecessary. In cases where these effects are used, they should be used in moderation and should be consistent throughout the Dashboard as a whole.

8. Illegible text

With such a strong focus placed on the visuals contained on a Business Dashboard, it is easy to neglect the importance of any text that may be present. This could include titles, heading and data labels that are important to explain and describe what the Visualizations are presenting.

This text can often be illegible due to factors such as size, font and colour. In general Dashboards should avoid using any over-stylised typefaces and should make sure that they are not difficult to read.

9. Limited functionality

Functionality is key when it comes to the user experience of a Business Dashboard. While too many features may overcomplicate the process, it is important that the information is actionable. This may include the ability to save and export key information and produce reports based around these findings with ease. Further features may include conditional formatting and alerts to draw attention towards to important developments in the data.

10. Ability to access to various devices

Innovations in technology over recent years have completely changed the way in which information can be viewed, with technology such as smartphones and tablets making it easier than ever to access data anywhere in the world. It is therefore important that Business Dashboards can be accessed across multiple devices without their quality being diminished.

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