This is how I build dashboards that all my users love

An impressive and artful analytics dashboard is elaborately developed, proudly presented, and widely announced … and hardly ever used. Maybe a link or screenshot of the dashboard is regularly e-mailed to the responsible managers. But that’s it.

Marc Schweickhardt is our data and analytics specialist, a lecturer on this subject at the Furtwangen University of Applied Sciences, and our batman with the utility belt for dashboards and reporting.

Marc Schweickhardt

Reading duration: 4 minutes

Why does a dashboard need to be understandable and usable?

A good, well-thought-out dashboard, however, deserves a better life. As an analytics consultant, I look after many customers and ask myself one question time and time again: How can I make a dashboard so that people will really want to use it? Here are some insider tips for those facing the same challenge.

Tip 1: The dashboard must match the user

When developing a concept, always remember who the target group for the dashboard is. A developer needs other measurements than an Adwords expert, an editorial team, or the boss. In addition, each target group has different technical skills. Does my target group need explanations? Or do its members understand the difference between users, visits, and page views? In case of doubt, it’s better to explain too much. Because your goal should always be to make things easy to understand. If the user has too much respect for the board or problems understanding it, they won’t use it.

Tip 2: Have the courage to leave gaps – recognise the real heroes of your dashboard

Dashboards are often packed with metrics because everything is considered important. Every gap is filled, every single view of the data is turned into charts – and the overview only gets worse. Of course, everyone is proud of their work and wants to show how brilliant they are. But it doesn’t help if the result is a dashboard is incomprehensible to users – especially if those users don’t otherwise deal with data so intensively. See Tip 1!

That’s why: My dashboard should only contain metrics that are relevant for my audience (because they represent what is expected or what is new). In addition, my audience should be able to interpret these metrics at a glance. Data that can lead to practical derivatives are perceived as (more) valuable.

Tip 3: Check it like Beckham

The reader or user of the Analytics Dashboard must trust the data. They present the data to the management or to partners, for example, and rely that they are accurate. The data are the basis for other important decisions. They must be 100 percent valid. If there are discrepancies, the user will quickly lose confidence. The result: The dashboard will not be used. Therefore, I recommend that before the first use, the data must be thoroughly validated – and again after use. Nothing is harder to recover than trust.

Tip 4: The eye measures too

One look – full overview. A good dashboard is characterised by the fact that it shows quickly and easily whether all relevant measured values align or whether problems exist. A well-structured design with clearly recognisable areas and color-coded accents is just as important for usability as good titles and explanations.

Time is short, stress is high – that is true almost everywhere. Let’s make things as easy as possible for readers and users.

The champagne bottle is now empty – but is the dashboard integrated into everyday life?

Tip 5: Great power is followed by great responsibility

In general, the following applies: The dashboard belongs to everyone, and everyone is responsible for ensuring that it works for the organisation, that it continues to develop, and that it makes sense. That’s why we designed it so that everyone can handle it – and that’s why everyone should feel responsible for it. Nevertheless, my recommendation is to define one key person who collects everyone’s wishes and requirements and actively drives this joint development.

Tip 6: Derive takeaways

Collecting numbers for the sake of collecting them is not enough, but it’s still done far too often. As indicated above, data only help when they can be understood and used. Therefore, each dashboard should be designed to meet the needs of its users and answer the question: What do I learn from the data? Exactly what should I do differently next week, next month, etc. to improve my performance? If the dashboard can do this, the last two tips are suddenly extremely easy.

Tip 7: Joyful reunion

After arriving at the office in the morning, the user’s first glance should be at the data. This applies not only to us analytics cracks, but also to editors, distributors, CFOs, CDOs, and anyone who works on a digital surface with the users. An e-mail alert, which most dashboards can automatically send, helps give users an early warning of potential downwards or upwards outliers. Otherwise, the dashboard should be the home page. Real-time data is suitable for public screens in the office. Visibility matters. And just for your information, there are also mobile dashboards.

Tip 8: Integration in daily life

To make the dashboard relevant, it must become a permanent part of everyday life and above all, of the meeting landscape. Integration in editorial meetings, team conferences... There need to be spaces where the dashboard is used to assess performance, derive takeaways, and formulate assignments. It is not about presenting numbers, but about deriving real to-dos.

Tool landscape dashboards: Which is the right tool?

I don't dare give a real tip here. There are many providers on the market: expensive and complex tools such as Tableau or Power BI, or simple and inexpensive tools such as Google Data Studio, but also dashboards that are integrated in the analytics tool. In the end, your own needs decide which tool is the right one.

Do you have questions about this or need support on best practices? We are happy to help:

Do you have questions about this or need support on best practices? We are happy to help:

Nancy Forner
Marketing & Communications
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