Business Intelligence Dashboard Design: Best Practices

When creating a dashboard design, you need to take into account many crucial points, needs, and aspects. With the help of some BI dashboard best practices, you can assure your design represents data in an easy to read manner.




However, nowadays, Business Intelligence dashboards should go far beyond just tools that show clear information. They have to visualize complicated metrics, statistics or real-time data.

At the same time, they need to provide a customizable, intuitive interface, a feature to share information with others and to offer a reliable basis for effective decision making.

On this page:

  • Business intelligence best practices for dashboard design
  • Infographic in PDF.

1. Your dashboard should answer business questions. Make this your number one priority.

People all over the world use Business Intelligence dashboards to find out answers to some important business questions. This is the main reason why they need BI software solutions.

Whatever it is a general information about a strategic performance of a company or specific indicators and metrics, your dashboard must provide critical data and information.

From the first to the last step in the dashboard design creation, you must be thinking about how helpful is the dashboard in answering business questions.

2. Choose the type of dashboard

There are three most common types of dashboard design. Each serves a particular purpose.

  • Operational dashboards – they are used to monitor specific business processes that repeatedly change and focus on tracking the performance of key KPIs.
  • Strategic dashboards – collect key business health indicators and are used mostly by executives and C-level managers who aim to find new opportunities for business growth. The data provided by strategic dashboard updates on a less frequent basis than operational dashboards.
  • Analytical dashboard – it is a reporting tool used to deliver detailed data analyses that allow users to uncover trends, predict outcomes, and gain valuable insights.

Commonly, different user groups have different needs of dashboard type. So, you might need to consider creating two separate dashboards.

More on how to choose the right type of dashboard, you can read here: Choosing the right type of dashboard for your business.

3. Choose the right metrics

It is clear that you cannot include all metrics in your dashboard. But, you need to pick those metrics that matter the most.

When it comes to BI dashboard best practices, choosing the right metrics is crucial for creating an effective dashboard. The metrics should be relevant to the business needs and job.

To determine metrics, consider things such as:

  • What are the core business goals?
  • Can you design metrics that contribute to those goals?
  • What do the users need to learn from the data?
  • Define the most important metrics first, then identify the underlying metrics.
  • The most important metrics should be placed near the top.

4. Create it visual

Visualizations are what turns dashboards to wonderful ways for monitoring business metrics. Text-based tables are not easy to read and understand. You know that a picture worth a thousand words.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to use multiple visualizations just because you want. Choose the best types of graphs and charts to display the information more clearly.

Also, think about the use of colors, lines, shapes, shading, and etc. Best practices also include avoiding things like overly cute widgets, complicated graph types that are not commonly seen.

Using popular graph types such line graphs, scatter plot, bar graphs, and box plots is a very good idea because almost everyone knows how to use and read them.

More on the topic you can read on the Geckoboard dashboard series where are listed the best uses for different visualizations.

5. Build it interactive

Interactive dashboards have a great power. And creating such solutions is one of the key BI dashboard best practices.

The days of static presentations and boring reports are gone. Nowadays, there are many robust interactive dashboards able to engage end-users with a broad range of technical tools that help you discover valuable insight on the fly.




So, make interactive dashboards that allow the viewers to customize it according to their needs. Users should be able to easily see the big picture on the dashboard and then should be able to drill down seamlessly into some important details.

Some of the best interactive dashboard features to consider are:

  • Click-to-filter to dissect data.
  • Time interval widget to increase particular time scales on various charts.
  • A chart zoom feature.
  • Show or hide charts – this is a great feature to combine and visualize numerous datasets in a few simple clicks.

More on how to create interactive dashboards you can read on the datapine.com post: “Move Beyond Excel, PowerPoint And Static Business Reporting with Powerful Interactive Dashboards“.

6. Include data context

Your design must be so clear that everyone from the C-level manager to a junior salesperson to understand the meaning of context. This is one of the vital BI dashboard best practices that allow the design to serve multiple business people.

How does providing data context work?

Example:

For, example let’s say your dashboard has a table that displays quarter-to-date sales of a product in 5 countries.

However, typically, these tables do not help users to know whether those values are good or bad. In addition, dashboard viewers need to know what determines good or bad. Do they have a sales target to compare to?

Let’s suppose that there is a predefined sales target. If the information is not on the dashboard, the user needs to go search a report that lists sales targets and then does some math calculations to find out how close sales are from that goal.

What a waste of time! That change dramatically the purpose of the dashboard.

This is where data context come to resolve the situation.

You can include in the dashboard spark-lines that give historical context or to include a chart (as an alternative to the table).

Moreover, the chart could be enriched by including a tooltip that shows the variance percentage value, the QTD target, and QTD sales. This provides great additional context without messing up the visualization.

7. Provide an easy web-based access

We are living in the most advanced digital age. Here, an easy web-based access is a must. Now, everyone is online.

Web-based dashboards reach a wider audience, give users the ability to share data, insights and to collaborate seamlessly. You achieve a real-time and productive collaboration around the data.

Software products that offer web-based sharing and collaboration of data insights align with the constant need for flexibility in today’s business world.

Providing an easy web-based access is one of those BI dashboard best practices without which you cannot go.

8. Don’t forget alerts and exceptions

It might look trivial but alerts still play a crucial role in creating an effective dashboard design.

The users should be able to set-up alert notifications that will automatically be sent via email as soon as a particular event occurs.

Then the users can react immediately to the event and stay on track for their goals.

Alerts can make dashboards an extremely useful tool for monitoring business metrics across a vast range of variables.

9. Make the complex simple and easy to use

The truth is that making complex things simple is one of the hardest to realize BI dashboard best practices. However, it is crucial.

Data can be very complicated. We are loaded with information. In addition, lots of data that changes constantly and require answering different analytical questions.

Take all this complexity and make it easy to understand and use. Don’t clutter your dashboard design. Focus on simplicity, concise and effective design.

Unfortunately, many Business Intelligence dashboard designs provide an interface with heavy data, full of shapes, charts, numbers, texts, and colors. Remember, the user needs some breathing space.

Here are some tips to help you avoid cluttering:

  • Use white space between objects or widgets. White spaces draw invisible lines that make it easier for the eye to read the dashboard.
  • Don’t use complicated visualizations and gauge-like graphics just because you can. Avoid graph types that are not commonly seen.
  • Say no to too many colors. A good rule is to try using no more than three colors.
  • Don’t use decorations that add nothing to the data. Don’t include elements that just sitting there and looking pretty.
  • Group the relevant elements.

10. Experiment and get feedback

Last but not least on our list of BI dashboard best practices is experimenting with different styles and formats.

Sometimes, experiments are the best way to figure out what is best. You can experiment with graphs, colors, icons, and etc.




Go to colleagues outside of your organization or department to gain their feedback.

Find the answer to questions such as: “Is this chart easy to understand?”, “What type of decisions can people make based on the data visualizations on your dashboard?”

Conclusion

Dashboards should be effective and powerful visualizational tools that allow users to see important business data clearly.

Modern Business Intelligence dashboard designs are real-time interactive solutions that help organizations make the right decisions.

Creating designs with the above BI dashboard best practices allows you to unfold the full potential that BI software solutions can provide. A few design changes can make a great difference in clarity and usefulness.

Download the following infographic in PDF 

BI Dashboard Best Practices - Infographic

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