Dashboards are a nonprofit’s best friend because they can be powerful tools in communicating your organization’s important measurement data at a glance. If a dashboard fails to tell you what need in glance, then you’ve wasted all that data collection time. What if you married with the power of a dashboard with visual design?
Maybe you are scratching your head and thinking, but I’m not a visual designer. (I’m not either) The challenge of good dashboard design is that you have squeeze a lot of information into a small amount of real estate and present a display that is easily understood. That’s not an easy task.
But what if we used design thinking to make our dashboards more effective. That’s what attracted me to this book Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few. It has been around for a while, and it was actually fun to read – as well as having beautiful visual design.
There is a chapter that offers a few principles of good dashboard design that are useful to set up your next dashboard. These are also good for designing reports.
(1) No Scrolling
If you can see everything at once, it is most powerful! Try avoid fragmenting your data by having to scroll. This requires some discipline to think long and hard about what data is most useful to gain an understanding. A nonprofit recently shared their social media metrics spreadsheet with me and it was 150 rows of data that require constant scrolling. If you can see the snapshot and learn, it is useless.
(2) Give Context
One piece of data out of context on the screen can be meaningless. KD Paine says that data without a context is trivia. So think about a series of data that tells the story. What do you need to compare the data to? Do you need to a monthly trend? Can you do it with color coding to indicate whether the number has gone up or down and whether that is a good thing or not. Supply the right context for key metrics and that will make the difference between numbers that sit on the screen and those that enlighten and inspire action.
(3) Don’t Give Too Details
Dashboards should have high level information to support the viewer’s need for a quick overview. Too many data points or data points that are too precise slows down our processing.
(4) Choose the Right Measure
Stare at your charts and graphs and numbers. Is it the right measure. Always think carefully about the message that most directly support the viewer’s needs and then select the measure that support the message. Gene Zelazny offers this simple framework:
-Step A: Determine your message
-Step B: Identify the comparison. There are five kinds – component, item, time series, frequency distribution or correlation.
-Step C: Select the right chart.
(5) Choose the Right Display
You can show data as a table of numbers or you can present a bar chart, pie chart, or series graph. Decide which one makes your vivid point. Another problem is not labeling the charts so you have no idea what is being compared and how. If you’re looking for some expert guidance in selecting the right chart, “The Say It With Charts Toolkit” by Gene Zelazny is available on google books.
(6) Meaningless Color Coding, Variety, or Decorate Elements
I love color coding. But color coding to for sake of using different colors is meaningless. Use color codes to help the viewer better understand the data. Consistency – in this case – is not the hobgoblin of small minds. Using the same chart or a consistent and meaningful color scheme allows people to use the same perceptual strategy for interpreting the data which saves time, energy, and cognitive overload.
Avoid adding meaningless decoration. It is distracting and does not add to understanding the data.
(7) Highlight Important Data
When you look at a dashboard or graph, your eyes should be drawn to the information that is most important. If you find something important to highlight, make sure it stands out. Point to it with an arrow or highlight it in yellow.
What are some ways that you have designed your organization’s social media dashboard to be useful for decision-making at a glance?