Dashboard: Creating a Smart Assistant

Where to start with a dashboard and how to make the most of it

Erik Messaki
Mar 2 · 7 min read
Illustration: Outcrowd

This information will be useful to anyone looking to create or redesign a dashboard.

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No business can thrive without analytics, and for that you need a convenient tool. This is where the dashboard comes in — a useful panel for overseeing and streamlining your business.

Our clients commission dashboards for various tasks. We would like to clarify some key points which will also serve as a kind of FAQ. If you already have a dashboard, you can read this to see if it’s good enough. If you don’t, we’ll tell you how to create the best kind of dashboard.

What makes a good dashboard?

This isn’t a question you hear asked very often, which is a shame. The dashboard has some characteristic features that make it different from other digital products. A dashboard is an interface between an analytical engine and a user analyst. Its efficiency is not judged solely on the merits of its functionality and visuals. A good dashboard is a smart dashboard. It’s a logical extension of the human thinking process that doesn’t require any mental effort to be read.

A smart dashboard can interpret results and make recommendations. It displays the information that motivates action at the right moment.

Moneyboard

How to make your dashboard smart

It’s not enough to find good developers and designers and explaine the task to them. Like it or not, what your dashboard will look like depends largely on you. Only you can gather the information that will turn your dashboard’s cogs.

Without your help your dashboard will not be smart enough!

What can you do to help? Sit back, grab a pen and paper (or their digital equivalent), and gather your thoughts. You need to compartmentalize all the info and write down the salient points. The time you spend is a hidden investment that will bring visible dividends later on.

Gold.Time

1. Define your dashboard’s goals

The goals of your dashboards are not your goals or the goals of the dashboard’s future users. All this comes second.

First and foremost, a smart dashboard works toward the company’s goals.

Start with this thought, moving from the general to the particular and identifying the most immediate problems. A dashboard that solves insignificant or highly specific tasks is a dumb one. Using such a tool is like using a workout machine to build up one arm in the hopes of buffing up the whole body. Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Alas, this approach is very common. If you want to make the most of your dashboard, keep the essentials front and center in your mind. This way you’ll be sure to remember all the important features without being distracted by the secondary ones, losing yourself in the details, and building up one arm.

Illustration: Outcrowd

2. Identify your dashboard’s tasks

  • What business tasks do you need your dashboard to perform?
  • Which performance indicators are the most applicable?
  • What is the purpose of monitoring data?

Briefly write down the key points. This information will be used by the designers and developers to ensure the dashboard’s maximum functionality.

The specific type of tasks will help you identify the kind of dashboard you need:

3. Compartmentalize and prioritize your tasks

If you have a lot of tasks to perform, sort them out into categories and list them by priority. A good dashboard needs a clear hierarchy of goals and tasks. Make sure the designers understand these priorities — you don’t want them creating visuals based on general considerations. The more functions your dashboard has, the more important it is to have logical groupings and priorities.

Guide — Dashboard

4. Define your target audience

  • Who is the dashboard for?
  • Who will monitor the KPI and make decisions?
  • Who will have access to it?

Toolbars should be tailored toward specific users and only display the data they need to work with. Different user groups or different goals may require several kinds of toolbars. Segment your audience if it is diverse and has different objectives.

The designers and developers should know as much as possible about your users to be able to match their needs and minimize hassle while operating the dashboard.

“Will the dashboard be easy to use? Will it require additional instructions?”

Using your dashboard will be easy and enjoyable — as long as you provide the designers with sufficient info about your users and their tasks.

Birma

5. Identify data sources

Where will the dashboard get the data for each user group? (For instance, a cloud service, a LAN, or an API.) In some cases, you’ll need real-time data, while other cases will require data from reports compiled for certain periods of time. Make sure to note this if it’s important for you.

Make a list of the required data sources.

6. Make a draft layout

You don’t need to be an artist and you don’t have to use any image editing software (unless you find it easier, of course).

Use your notes to decide what metrics will be displayed on your dashboard. Don’t overload the layout, show only the essentials — the stuff that needs to be readily accessible. Remember the 5-second rule: will the user be able to see all the important things at a glance?

Drawing up a layout often gives you a new perspective on your tasks. It will also enable you to see the best ways of grouping data, as well as add or remove elements.

7. Think about the visuals

Metrics can be displayed as tables, widgets, graphs, diagrams, or 3D projections. What kind of visualization suits your needs best? For example, monthly income is best represented by simple numbers; a leaderboard is a good way of motivating your team, and a line chart is great for showing changing trends over a time period.

The best criteria for choosing visualization are simplicity, readability, and clarity.

Web Platform — R.E. Senior

Maybe you already have some ideas or you like the design of a particular dashboard. Provide links to the examples you like, note the features you find useful. Good designers will always respect your vision and your wishes. Keep in mind, however, that any effective visualization must be tailored to the needs of the audience. The only way to ensure positive user experience is to be audience-oriented. That’s why the least effective dashboards are those that were copied off the competitors or made using templates.

8. Think about adaptability

Decide whether your dashboard needs an extended desktop version and a stripped-down mobile version. This depends on your tasks and your audience. A warehouse manager, for example, will mostly use a mobile phone, and they only need access to the operational KPI and metrics. But in-depth analysis will require indicators displayed on a big screen. Dashboards on mobile devices are better for keeping up with operational data. Strategic and analytical reports will need a desktop version.

Dashboard — CleanMac

Redesigning, improving UI/UX

Maybe you already have a dashboard and want to redesign it due to changes in business processes or the need to add or adjust some features. Before hiring designers, try to find out what difficulties your users face when using the dashboard and whether they have any qualms. The more info you can provide to the designers, the better your chances of getting a functional, convenient, and easy-to-use tool.

Illustration: Outcrowd

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The preparations we have described are not there to make the designers’ work easier. They’re necessary to ensure you get exactly what you need to perform the tasks you need.

We are always happy when our clients know exactly what they need. But if you are unsure about something or only have a vague idea, it’s also not a problem either. We can work it out through discussion and cooperation. Nevertheless, your ideas, your vision, and all the information you have gathered are an invaluable contribution to the project and a guarantee that your dashboard will be smart, useful, and convenient.

Outcrowd

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