The Dos and DON’Ts of Dashboard Design


At Captain Dash, we pride ourselves in creating Dashboards that practical, simple and beautiful. Our goal is to hand the power of data in the palms of the user, a power that turns our clients into Superheroes of market analysis. Today, The Captain would like to share with you the guidelines we follow to be able to achieve elegance and relevance in design.





Elegance in Relevance –

Technology can be beautiful and simple as data can be passionate and sexy. With a large amount of data flying around it becomes very important to focus on what is relevant to the client. Any data that goes on a dashboard needs to serve a purpose. Alongside its purpose, how it is represented is equally important. Not all data needs visualizing and not all numbers need displaying. What and why we choose to display makes all the difference between a good and a bad dashboard.

Intuitive –

The users' path should be as they imagine: logical. The dashboard should be easy to learn to use and understand. The path towards the creation of an app should be defined as intuitive more than anything else. Users need guiding "secretly" through the interface. The click stream must be short and quick as though it is a game against clicks. Users do not want to read FAQs, guides or any other kind of instructions. They do not have time and have a tendency to ignore the dashboard if it does not come naturally to them.

Aesthetically Pleasing –

Each element on a dashboard has its place, its colour and behaviour. Adopting a "Less is more " approach helps to create a clean, minimalistic design. Not only do the colors used to represent graphics need to be considered in terms of harmony but also purpose. Nobody can stare too long at a bright, neon screen. White space should be used intelligently; its presence or lack thereof can be the distinction between something a client wants to interact with or not. The third aspect that is at play here is the positioning of the various elements on the dashboard screen.  The positioning of these elements should be based on the flow of the eye. Always place the most important element where the eye naturally goes first on the page and then progressing to the least important on the least likely to be viewed spot. A dashboard is like real estate – location matters.

Simplicity –

Simplicity in dashboard design is not only about visual minimalism but also about the simplicity of data collection and reporting. By this, we do not mean that the dashboard should lack information but that it should be easily updatable as well as understandable. Data processing is boring for a user and takes too much time. Nobody wants to see this operation on the screen. To strengthen the user experience, the content and functionalities of the product need to be organized and structured for a better comprehension and navigation in the interface.

Language –

No matter which language you use, the words on the screen hold value. Using words on a dashboard is done towards facilitating the understanding of the visual elements. Do not over use technical words that only you would understand because the dashboard has to finally be used by the client. The end goal is democratization of data and for that it needs to be understood by everyone.

Accessibility –

Today almost every professional is not just connected on various platforms but also on to various devices at any given time. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that the dashboard you create should be functional and accessible across various devices including desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones; along with being accessible over various versions of the devices. Another aspect of accessibility is that the dashboard should be easy to share and collaborate on for the client.




Repetitive Actions –

One of the most frustrating things for a client is to go over the same steps repeatedly to be able to achieve the result they want from the dashboard. Such a situation is unnecessary and can be avoided.  Make sure that all repetitions are taken care of by robots so that the application is fresh and interesting to use for the client.

Duplication  –

While we do have to keep in mind all the devices and versions our clients may be using to access their dashboard we have to be careful not to duplicate for said devices. Each device has a different usage and different navigational ability. One has to adapt the design to each of the device individually in order to achieve best functionality.

Clutter –

Another problem many dashboards have apart from too much attention on graphics is overdesigning. Putting too many things on the dashboard without attention to editing can create confusion and take away from the overall effectiveness of the product. Imagine a screen full of so many little objects that there is no real focal point; that is what we get when we do not edit out the non-essentials. Always remember a dashboard is not a report, it is an overview.

Attractiveness vs. Functionality –

When the attractiveness of a dashboard is mentioned people often go on overdrive envisioning crazy graphics and realistic displays. In all of this creative process they often forget the fact that at the end the dashboard is a tool and has to function like one. Through all the data representation, if the usability of a dashboard is compromised then all your efforts will be in vain and leave you with a very frustrated client. So, make sure to choose functionality of an element over the pizzazz it adds to a page.

Forgetting to Align –

There is nothing worse than a generalised dashboard that serves no real purpose to anyone in particular. Usually when we design dashboards for an organization we are not designing for just one person or manager. The problem lays in the fact that different people from different departments access the dashboard; does the dashboard give all of them what they need or not? Ultimately it is important to align the dashboard to the need of the principle departments it is going to serve. In order to accomplish that you need to talk to the people who will use said dashboard about their needs and goals, both individually and as a whole.

End user – 

The final piece of advice we have for you is to have fun but do not forget for whom the dashboard is created. It is very easy for a creator to forget that the dashboard is not meant to be used by him but by somebody else and must be designed to be user friendly and understandable for the end user and not just for the creator.


Stay tuned for more detailed posts on the various elements we have mentioned in this post. For anyone who wants to take a deep dive into the world of Dashboard design a must read is Stephen Few’s Information Dashboard Design.