Beginner Design Tips

When I started as a consultant, I was confident in my technical skills but dashboard design was not something that came naturally to me.  To help me practice, Luke Stanke pretended to be the manager at Superstore and requested a Customer Overview dashboard. I’ll be honest, the first few drafts were not that great, but eventually, we ended up with something valuable. Here are the top 5 design tips I learned working with him:

  1. Add more space
  2. Add more space
  3. Add more space
  4. Find Lines
  5. Add instructions

#1-3 Add More Space

Why does adding more space take up three spots on my list? Because it’s a simple change that makes a big difference in your user’s experience.  Space allows for items to breathe, helps clarify what’s important, and strikes a balance between elements on the page. A good data visualization increases the speed at which concepts are translated to viewers, so it is important to help guide your users by identifying what ideas are related. 

Let’s look at some examples:

Which one of these feels better?

The second one, right?  The first example might not feel too terrible but the second one definitely has a more polished feel.  

Adding more space also allows for each graph to be its own thought.

In the first example, the different pieces of content feel like one giant amalgamation.

But with a little extra space, each idea can speak for itself.  We can still tell they are related because they are in close proximity to each other. 

When adding space, start with an uncomfortably large amount of space.  Then slowly adjust down until it feels right.  Pretend like you’re at the eye doctor choosing between option 1 and option 2.

#4 Find Lines

Most of us would love for end users to match our meticulous attention to detail and concern for composition when using our dashboards.  But in reality, our work is often consumed in glances and quick overviews.  With this in mind, it is important to provide structure and clear paths that guide users on how to proceed through our curated content. 

Let’s look at some examples: 

Which feels better?

The second one, right? Let’s look at why.

In this first example, a reader’s eyes would move across 10 different points in order to interpret the title and KPIs. 

Whereas in the second example, there is one hard line to follow all the way from the title to KPIs.

Look for built-in lines on your dashboard.  Use axes on graphs or the extra spacing from tips 1-3 to help guide a reader through the content.

Pro Tip: Floating Rulers

Sometimes adding the same number of padding on different dashboard elements does not mean they line up. Use a floating blank dashboard element with a border to help measure space and line up content.

#5 Add Instructions

The success of a dashboard is heavily dependent on the end-user.  Your dashboard can have all the latest bells and whistles, but if the user doesn’t understand how to consume or interact with the content, the information will fall flat.

Let’s look at this example:

Clearly the red exclamation point means something significant. But what does it mean? And what is an end-user supposed to do with it?

Here, an explanation icon has been added…but how does an end-user interact with it? Do they hover and a tooltip will pop up? Are they supposed to click on it?

With a few more words, a clear path is set and explains to the end-user how to interact with the content.

A good dashboard allows a user to interact with the data to discover insights and actions that are important to them.  Don’t hide the prize behind ambiguous labels, unclear instructions, or too many “self-discovery clicks”.

Good dashboard design is like any other skill set: It can be intimidating and confusing at first.  But with an understanding of the why’s behind the guidelines and a little practice, you can take your dashboards from good to great! 

Want to see the full final product?
Here’s a link: Customer Overview Dashboard

Have any comments or questions? Feel free to reach out on Twitter: @Data_Katrina

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