Professionals everywhere now rely on dashboards to get more detailed information on their clients, marketing campaigns, target demographics, and more. While you're designing or developing a dashboard, you'll need to think carefully about how it's going to be used, as well as what you can do to differentiate yourself from the competition. You need to create a dashboard that's simultaneously informative, easy to use, and functional in a way that makes life easier or more rewarding for your target demographics, but most dashboards end up flawed in some vital way that prevents their efficient use.
So what can you do to gauge your dashboard's efficiency, and what can you do to correct the problem?
Why Most Dashboards Fail
These are the most common failure points of modern dashboards:
1. Overall design
The overall design and layout of your dashboard can make an enormous difference in how people use it, and how it's perceived. The colors you choose, the fonts you use, and the placement of your graphs and charts will make an immediate impression on people, and either lend itself to better understanding or make it harder to decipher the information you're offering. The easiest way to improve your approach here is to look at some of the best examples of dashboard design already in existence for inspiration. You shouldn't copy anything you see, but you can learn from the techniques they use to create your own design.
Intuitively, it's easy to think that the more features your dashboard has, the better, but the opposite may actually be true. Features are generally a good thing; it gives your user more control and more power, and makes your product seem more valuable. However, if there are too many options to choose from, your users may feel overwhelmed, and find themselves unable or unwilling to use any of those options.
In a similar vein, some dashboards fail because they aren't intuitive. All the necessary functionality is there, but it's hidden or included in such a way that the average person needs to jump through hoops in order to find them or use them properly. As a rule of thumb, if your users have to watch hours of tutorial videos to learn how to use your product effectively, it's time to go back to the drawing board.
4. Data integrity
You won't have much direct control over the data your customers are going to put into their dashboard, but you can give them more tools to control the integrity of their own data. This is important, because while data visualization is generally a good thing, it can also lead to incorrect assumptions when it's based on bad data. Having controls, like automatically detecting potential duplicate entries, can make life much easier for your users--and ensure they get more accurate takeaways.
5. Loss of detail
Data visualization dashboards can also be structured in a way that leads to the loss or de-emphasis of key data points. It's possible to do this by trying to cram too much on one page; If your users are overwhelmed with possibilities, they won't know what to focus on, and they won't be able to zero in on the one graph with the potential to lead them to a smarter decision. Try to orchestrate your pages to funnel users' attentions to what's most important.
6. Replicability and automation
The ideal dashboard would have at least some features that automate the creation and publication of specific reports, or replicate previous actions to reduce workloads in the future. Developing automation features may be tricky, depending on your level of experience, but they can elevate your dashboard to the next level.
7. Lack of differentiation
Finally, some dashboards fail simply because they aren't offering anything better, or even anything different, than what's already available. If someone can get what you're offering for cheaper, or through a business they're already used to working with, why would they choose to switch to your product? Take a look at your key competition, and list at least three ways your solution is different in terms of design, features, pricing, or branding; if you can't, it's time to revisit your approach.
Toward a Minimum Viable Product
Your dashboard isn't going to be perfect the day you bring it to market--no matter how much time or thought you put into it. There are some things you simply won't learn until it gets into the hands of a live audience, and of course, new features and innovations will always emerge to force improvements. Instead of trying to perfect your dashboard, focus on creating a minimum viable product, and commit to ongoing tweaks and improvements from there. That way, you can get something into the hands of your customers and test it in a live environment. Users will inevitably illuminate issues you can't detect in isolation.
The Testing Process
Most of your improvements will come during the testing process, but how you test your dashboard matters. Keep the following in mind:
1. QA is best done by professionals
It's tempting to do QA testing yourself, or within your existing team, but it's always better to leave QA to people who do QA testing for a living. It's their job to try to break your products, and they've broken dozens of platforms before yours, so it's truly the ultimate test of integrity.
2. Work with the right demographics
If your dashboard is going to be used by doctors, test your product with doctors. If it's for college students, test your product with college students. It may take some extra time to find the right testing population, but the results will be worth it.
3. Get a random sample
Merely contacting the most convenient users won't give you an accurate picture of how people are using your product. Instead, strive to get a truly random sample.
Creating a dashboard that's both functional and user-friendly is a challenge, but understanding the common fault points of typical dashboards and working with your target demographics to polish your product can guide you toward success. Don't be discouraged when you find some imperfections that need ironed out; it's a normal part of the process, and what distinguishes ordinary dashboards from extraordinary ones.