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Designing Dashboards

Dashboards were an early entry into executive information systems [EIS]. Compared to web-based EIS today, they may appear rather static, but the reality is that whilst the user interface may remain unchanged, the back end technology is highly dynamic.

With so many dashboard development tools available, designing a dashboard is a relatively simple matter. However, there are a few key design elements that not only enhance the appearance of the dashboard, but also its effectiveness.

The aim is to increase both the visibility of the information being presented and the memorability of the measure.


  1. Make all data relevant to the role and business unit.
  2. Use different graphic formats for each major KPI group
  3. Provide levels of granularity using drilldowns
  4. Locate interdependant functions side by side - this allows for instant recognition if the increased performance in one metric is at the expense of another.
  5. Use a plain background, patterns and bold colors are distracting and reduce visibility and memorability of portlet graphics.
  6. Keep portlet icons and charts simple and cleanDashboard Icons
  7. Pie Charts can be difficult to visually compare the sizes of pie slices - bar charts are much clearer.
  8. Order values by size, from large to small or vice versa. Ranking adds significant visual value.
  9. Provide text labels to graphical representations where appropriate
  10. Use colors known to associate with day to day functions - red [danger], green [good], orange [alert], yellow [caution].
  11. Limit colors and consider what the dashboard would look if it was photocopied or printed in black and white
  12. Ensure all dashboards use the same colors and icons in the same way - this provides for cohesion of information presentation across the company.
  13. Avoid getting too cutsey in design - the aim is to quickly disseminate information with clarity and memorability - and please, avoid using a car dash design.
  14. Avoid over-crowding - leave plenty of space around each portlet. It is better to create a second dashboard than to provide one crowded, confusing one.
  15. Deliniate rows of data using blue:white - this avoids mistakes in horizontal eye movement. If the table is able to be manipulated, add shading using Conditional Formatting - this keeps the desired shading without any effort. This is achieved by using a =ROW()=EVEN(ROW()) formula as a conditional format across the entire table.
  16. Put the most critical information upper left - its where the eyes naturally fall first.
  17. Provide contextual help - using question marks to open popup windows to explain KPI's

NEXT: Dashboard Development Tools

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