In this data-driven era, data visualization is indispensable in business operations. The most predominant means to visualize data is the application of various dashboards. The dashboard design has naturally become an important point that cannot be ignored.

Many people are not very confident in designing an effective dashboard. In this article, I would like to share with you some useful dashboard design tips, practical dashboard templates, and detailed dashboard designing steps in easy-to-use dashboard software.



1. What is a Dashboard

Evolved from dashboards in a car or an airplane, dashboards in business operations provide an at-a-glance view of the essential business information on a single screen for the business owners.

A well-designed dashboard always intuitively displays visualized data and timely information, which, to a great extent, improves the efficiency of business analysis, helping the users to make informed and timely decisions.



2. Dashboard Design Tips

Designing an effective dashboard is not as difficult as how you think. Here are some dashboard design tips for you to make your dashboard more professional and powerful.



2.1 Keep Your Audience in Mind

The first and one of the most important suggestions for you is to know who your target audience is. The users influence the content, the type, and the style of your dashboard.

Users in different positions require different levels of information. For example, a business manager in a region needs business performance in his region, while an executive manager pays more attention to the company’s entire operation status, just like the dashboard below.



Sales dashboard showing the company's entire operation status
Sales dashboard by FineReport

Knowing the readers of the dashboard also allows you to better design the dashboard from their perspective, such as displaying the metrics they are most concerned about in the most obvious area of your dashboard to improve the user experience.

Therefore, always taking the audience into consideration is what you should never forget in the process of developing a user-friendly dashboard.



2.2 Select the Proper Type of Your Dashboard

In order to serve different purposes, dashboards have various types, mainly categorized into three most common types: strategical dashboards, operational dashboards, and analytical dashboards. So you’d better first familiarize yourself with the functions of different types of business dashboards and then determine which one best serves your purpose. Here I want to use dashboard examples made by FineReport to explain their differences.



Operational dashboards:

Operational dashboards are created for short-term purposes, displaying timely information and monitoring operations in a short time scale. An operational dashboard always contains real-time data so that the managers can make timely reactions to solve urgent problems. In the following dashboard, the detailed information about the Overspeed cars keeps updating.



Intelligent transportation monitoring system
Intelligent transportation monitoring system by FineReport


Strategic dashboards:

Strategic dashboards are tools applied to support long-term strategies, often used by senior managers, such as the chief executives of a company. The strategic dashboard doesn’t require timely data. Instead, the visual display of historical information is more important. The managers are enabled to measure the overall performance of their previous strategies and appropriately adjust long-term plans to ensure that the company is developing in a correct and healthy direction.

Income analysis
Income analysis by FineReport


Analytical dashboards:

Analytical dashboards involve a large volume of information through the function of components linkage, data drilling, and filtering. As the name suggests, this kind of dashboard helps the managers to analyze information. It not only displays surface issues but also supports an in-depth investigation of the causes.

Drillable in the brackets means that it supports drilling to more detailed information.



Profit center
Profit center by FineReport


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2.3 Utilize Suitable Charts

Charts are absolutely indispensable parts in the process of data visualization.

You’d better choose a suitable chart depending on your purpose instead of randomly using one. Let’s learn about the application scenarios of some main types of charts.



Column Charts:

Column charts are widely used to make comparisons among classified data.

The difference between the data is intuitively reflected by the different heights of the columns in this kind of chart.

Column chart
Column chart by FineReport


Line Charts:

Line Charts are suitable for displaying the changes in the data over a certain period of time. The line clearly reflects the increase and decrease of the data, showing the developing trend. Sometimes, the line charts can be combined with the column charts.



Line chart
Line chart by FineReport


Pie Charts:

When you need to present the relationship between the parts and the whole, a pie chart is better than a column chart or a line chart. The proportion of each part is clearly shown with the pie slices in different sizes.



Pie chart
Pie chart by FineReport


Scatter Plot:

A scatter plot is created when you are looking for the correlations between two variables, for example, the relationship between a human’s height and weight. A scatter plot requires a large amount of statistical data to achieve the goal of obviously showing the trends.



Scatter plot
Scatter plot by FineReport


Maps:

Maps can be used to reflect the distribution of data in the whole city or country. The comparison of the performance of different regions can be displayed through the different shades of color. What’s more, the maps in FineReport also supports components linkage. In other words, you can separately view the performance in different regions through components linkage and data drilling.



Map
Map by FineReport

Due to the space limitations, I just introduced several commonly used charts. You can find more types of charts in Top 16 Types of Chart in Data Visualization.



2.4 Only Display Necessary Dashboard Metrics

As we mentioned above, a dashboard is displayed on a single screen. You are expected to show the most important and needed metrics in a limited space, so you need to give up displaying some detailed information. Therefore, you must be clear about which metrics are essential in the dashboard you are going to design. For instance, a marketing metrics dashboard always contains cost per acquisition, cost per lead, and lead-to-customer conversion rate.



2.5 Don’t Forget the Context

Even though you cannot display too much information in a single dashboard, you’d better reserve some space for necessary context.

Isolated information is not friendly for the users to measure the performance of the business operation. Therefore, it is better to contain the context in the process of dashboard design. For example, if the user wants to know whether the company’s business has improved this year, you should also show the data in the same period last year in order to ease his comparison process.



2.6 Logical Layout

A logical layout helps the readers grasp the most important information at a glance. In the process of dashboard design, you cannot only ignore the organization of the layout.

On the one hand, you’d better limit the number of components in your dashboard. Too many components will distract your readers from the essential information.

On the other hand, you need to carefully arrange the components in your dashboard according to our common reading habits. We are accustomed to reading a page from the left to right and from top to bottom. Therefore, the most important information is recommended to be put on the left top of the dashboard. You can also enlarge the widget that displays the most crucial information.



Logical layout
Logical layout by FineReport

In addition, don’t forget to pay attention to the details in your dashboard design. For example, the margin of each component should be neither too narrow nor too wide. And the blankness between every two components should be balanced and consistent.



2.7 Beautify Your Dashboard

It is more pleasing to understand a dashboard with appropriate visual design than to read a simple and boring dashboard without any decoration. Therefore, you need to consider color collocation, number size, and component formats in your dashboard design.



An aesthetically pleasing dashboard requires coordinated colors. Therefore, it is not recommended to use too many different colors in your dashboard, especially the colors with high saturation. If you need several colors to distinguish different data, you can choose some colors and their gradients to ensure the simplicity and cleanliness of your dashboard.



The size of the words and the numbers can be adjusted according to their importance so that the users can focus on the most crucial information at a glance.



2.8 Utilize Dynamic Effect

Dynamic charts do not simply refer to charts that can move. Actually, they are defined as charts with excellent interactivity. In other words, when the users put the mouse in the corresponding position or click there, the specific value will be displayed. Similarly, the linkage between different charts is also a kind of dynamic effect.



Utilizing dynamic effects in your dashboard design not only can attract more attention but also is a way to present more information without losing the simplicity of the dashboard. But remember to avoid using excessive dynamic effects so as not to dazzle the viewers.



Sales leaderboard showing dynamic effects
Dynamic effect


2.9 Preview Before Publishing

There is one more crucial tip before the publishing of your dashboard. You definitely don’t want to see any errors in the dashboard. Therefore, constantly previewing the display effect will allow you to discover the weak points and improve the details of the dashboard. When you are previewing the dashboard, pay more attention to some details, such as the font size and color, the proportion of the dynamic effects, the word spelling, the numbers, etc.



2.10 Collect Users’ Feedback

Although you take the audience into consideration during the dashboard design, you are probably not the ultimate user. Therefore, regular request for users’ feedback is beneficial for you to evolve your dashboard.

For example, after you finish designing a financial dashboard for your manager, even though the dashboard is perfectly satisfactory in your eye, remember to ask your manager about user experience and receive some suggestions to optimize your dashboard. More importantly, the advice is also of great benefit for you to cope with the continuous change, improving your dashboard design.



3. How to Design a Dashboard

Now that you have known enough techniques for a successful dashboard design, it is time to learn how to design a dashboard quickly and easily? Generally speaking, these data dashboards are made by some professional visualization tools, such as JS, FineReport, and Tableau. The one I am more familiar with is FineReport, a professional and easy-to-use dashboard design software. Therefore, I would like to show you the steps I use FineReport to design a dashboard.



Import Relevant Data

When you start using the software, I believe that you have finished relevant indicators selection and data preparation. The next step is to import your data. In FineReport, you can either import through a prepared Excel document or connect your database to the software and then import data. FineReport supports connections to a variety of databases.





Create a New Template

After the data is imported, you can create a preliminary dashboard. If you want to design a dashboard with a high degree of freedom, you can create a new template. If you feel a little troublesome designing it by yourself, you can also choose a variety of built-in templates provided by FineReport.



Create a new template


Design the Layout

The next step is selecting the proper charts and tables and putting them in the new template through a simple drag and drop operation.



Drag and drop operation


Then you can arrange the layout according to the tip we mentioned above. When you adjust the size of one component, the other components will automatically adjust to fit the canvas.



Adjust components


Beautify Your Dashboard

Then you can modify the dashboard by adding some interactive and dynamic effects, such as components linkage and data drilling.

Component linkage of dashboard

In the end, an effective and beautiful dashboard is successfully designed.



4. Dashboard Templates

As we mentioned above, there are some built-in dashboard templates in FineReport. Here are some of them.



Covid-19 Dashboard

Covid-19 global
Covid-19 Dashboard by FineReport


Financial Dashboard Example

Financial KPI dashboard by FineReport
Financial KPI dashboard by FineReport


Sales Dashboard Template

Sales analysis
Sales dashboard by FineReport


HR Metrics Dashboard

HR metrics dashboard
HR metrics dashboard by FineReport


All of these dashboard samples are pre-built into the dashboard software. You can find more free dashboard examples, various charts and reports on the decision-making platform of FineReport. The website is https://endemo.finereport.com/webroot/decision/login?origin=1ad75359-c0e6-4476-b3b8-cbe77cefd74a



Decision-making platform
Decision-making platform in Finereport


5. Conclusion

Dashboard design won’t be a troublesome and tiring process as long as you keep these tips and steps in mind. A well-designed dashboard can lead to a positive influence on the decision-making process. I hope some dashboard tool can help you to better design your dashboard. FineReport is free for personal use. You can trust it.





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