What is a Dashboard?

“A dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives, consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance.”

- Stephen Few

Much like automobile dashboards, which they get their names from, business dashboards aim at presenting to the viewer a concise, understandable at one glance overview of the key points required to efficiently monitor what is going on in their business.

With big data being the buzzword du jour it is little surprise that data, a lot of data, has found its way into all aspects of business today. Along with this overload of data has come a sense of feeling overwhelmed and thus, spending a lot of time trying to make sense of it so that it can be used to it’s full potential. A dashboard, when designed well, helps businesses to simplify this data and gives them the ability to focus their time on running the business instead of figuring out the data.

Dashboards can be used by businesses predominantly for three main purposes: to align and automate all the data to one point, to optimise the data and to align various departments towards the same goal.

Often gathering and displaying real time data, dashboards are visual and interactive, combining a range of text and graphics, with an emphasis on graphics. This emphasis on graphics is because it helps the dashboard to attain the goal of efficiently communicating information at a glance. The human brain registers and comprehends information faster and with more accuracy with the correct visuals than with text.

For a dashboard to provide a significant ROI for an organisation it has to be tailor made around the organisation’s specific needs and KPIs. Centring the dashboard on KPIs relevant to the organisation’s goal is what makes them powerful and helps them to align the various departments. It can thus function as an intuitive management tool that allows executives to ask questions and drill down into pertinent issues with ease and without wasting time.

Given that the objective is to save time and get an over view at one glance dashboards need to be able to fit on one screen without any kind of scrolling or page changing involved. Any of these two properties defeat the purpose of having a dashboard since the brain will forget the information that is not in front of it. The other aspect is that it should communicate effectively enough to be able to highlight any glaring issues for the viewer to focus in on at first glance. If further information is needed on the issue at hand the viewer can of course choose to explore it in depth.

dashboard example

Since the dashboard relies on visual media to provide precise information without taking up too much space the displays we choose are of utmost importance. Sure making a dashboard look like plane or car dashboard seems cool but if comprehension and quality of information is compromised then the dashboard is completely inutile. It is always better to use the most relevant form of display over something snazzy.

In summation, a dashboard is a way of presenting relevant information in a graphic manner and keeping this simple fact in mind helps us to design a functional, beautiful tool.