Designing Dashboard

Ming Tong
4 min readSep 3, 2021

It is not just a fancy layout

When you google “dashboard design”, it will come up with a lot of beautiful “ready to use” dashboard UI with overwhelming animation, but is it what your user needs and wants for a dashboard?

I had worked on a few projects about dashboard and data visualization and would like to share some thoughts to create a meaningful dashboard.

1. Understanding your data

No matter you are working on a banking app or a smart building dashboard, you have to understand the following:

  • How the data are generated?
  • Why the data are generated?
  • How important is the data to your user?

Let’s say a smart building product can contain different data set: environment data, energy consumption data, and usage of different floors or even room. We have to understand the relationship between those data. For example, The more people use that floor in a smart building, the more energy may be consumed. Then you may come up with a new feature that can help to allocate the usage of the building and to optimize the use of energy!

Understanding the data can help you to make a better design decision on the dashboard.

You can also think about what insights could provide to your user from the data. Prepare the questions before you talk to them. Figure out what is important to them.

2. Different users want to see different data

Your boss may only care about the daily active user (DAU), while the marketing director always wants to know the engagement rate of the event, and the product designer would like to understand the user behavior for an app.

So which data should you show? Talk to your user! Understand what they want to see. Figure out which data is useful to them. During our early interview with users, we list out all kinds of data points and ask them to priorities it.

Define who is the primary user and secondary user, and what data they want!

Let’s say we have a desk-booking platform for a library. The library manager would like to know the utilization rate of the desk, while the people who go to the library only want to know whether they can find a seat or not.

The primary user of the dashboard would be the library manager, he could make changes based on the utilization rate. eg: Set up some programs to encourage people to use the library at the non-busiest hour.

The secondary user of the dashboard would be the library’s user, they could figure out how many seats are available from the dashboard, or another live interface.

3. Defining the structure to present the data

Time to think about how you tell a simple story with the user’s data!

Keep the story simple, tell the right things to the user.

High-Level Overview: Normally, it should be the landing page of the dashboard. It always shows a high-level view of the data.

Trends: It shows the past pattern of the data, which can let users trace what happened.

Details: It may show a specific event triggered, or let the users compare the data to other data in the dashboard.

If you show every single detail on the same page, your user will get lost and they cannot find what they want.

4. The data visualization

How do we present the data by visual? It is a very complex task, using the wrong chart or diagram could confuse your users, guide them to a totally different place. I am not going to talk about the details but I want to point out one thing. Please do not design an overwhelming animation on the dashboard.

Keep it simple, don’t be too fancy

The animation may look cool for the first time, but your user will almost use it every day. They just want to find their data!

5. People want Insights

“The dashboard is clear and good, we can see our data, but it is just numbers. So what next ?”

If you and your teams ever designed a dashboard, I am sure that you already heard something similar from one of your the client.

So how do we provide insights? You could mention the fact from the data, or you can study the data and provide suggestions to the user.

For example, a digital wallet app can tell how much did the user spend last month. Or it can tell the users how much he spent on the specific categories, like food, in the last month. which one is better?

Having meaningful insights can provide a better experience to the user.

But insight is tricky! It takes time to figure out what is useful to the user. You need to measure the response from the insights or talk to your user to understand them.

I hope my sharing is useful to you. Thanks for reading.

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Ming Tong
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Design professional from Hong Kong. Focused on Product & UX Design