6 Mistakes While Designing a Dashboard

Jan 14th, 2019


Dashboards are an integral part of enterprise applications. An organization runs on a sea of data and it is imperative to have an intuitive enterprise app that can gather and organize such data.

When you look deeper into an organization, you’ll realize that what’s more important than data is the information it is conveyed. A dashboard becomes valuable when this “information” is presented easily and quickly to the users.

So, when you design such an important element, keep some of the following tips in mind to avoid common mistakes.

1. Getting the Navigational models wrong

The underlying approach behind designing navigational menus is often misunderstood. It’s common to find people using a single menu to contain all the navigation. This makes the menu difficult to use. Instead, Global navigation, which includes tools, resources, profile, logout, etc, can be placed on top.

To the left side, you can place your dashboard navigation which includes views, types of data, etc. These are the menus that are frequently used by users. It demands quick and easy access. You can have breadcrumbs including deeper-drill-downs within a content flow. This will empower users to take quicker navigational actions.

2. Not matching the user’s mental model

What the user believes about the system constitutes to their mental model. User’s actions on the dashboard depend on what they already know about it. For good user experience, you must incorporate their existing beliefs while designing the product.

For example, users have a certain mental model of expecting & finding contents within a collapsed dashboard menu. So, when you’re categorizing these menus, align with their mental model to group them together. If you don’t account for their mental model, you’ll end up frustrating these users.

How do you get the mental model right?

Conduct extensive user research to understand and categorize menus and other elements in the dashboard. Contextual inquiry and card sorting processes can be made use of at this stage.

3. Failing to match the right data visualizations for the data

Different types of data demand different types of visualizations. Some are comparative, relative and transactional. If you don’t fully understand the data and it’s subsequent information, you’ll end up using the wrong visualizations. Histograms, line graphs, pie charts, scatterplot, and streamgraph are some of the commonly used visualizations. They cannot be used for all types of data.

For example, pie charts would be terrible for plotting a website’s traffic data. So, before choosing the type of visualization, have a concrete understanding of the information that’s conveyed through the data.

4. Static content on a dashboard serves no purpose

Dashboard is the place where users go for dynamic content. Static content on the dashboard serves no purpose. If the data doesn’t get updated frequently, there is no incentive for the users to come back to the application. If they can predict the contents of an application, there is no scope for re-engagement.

Dynamic content should be placed at the heart of the app. They require attention & therefore your visual design should be aligned to highlighting it.

5. Avoid excess padding and white spaces

Static websites are made attractive using plenty of whitespaces. Sufficient padding and margin can give your site a modern appeal.

However, for dashboards, your focus should be on enabling users to navigate around and complete tasks in the most efficient manner. It is frustrating for them when they are compelled to scroll around a lot for completing regular functions. Global interactions such as sort, search and filter should be easily accessible. If there is a mantra for this, it is “compact design”

6. Not designing for different user roles

Enterprise apps are used by users in different roles and positions. It is imperative to design your dashboard keeping every single user role in mind. Extensive user research must be conducted to understand their needs and context of use. This is much more important than understanding the data alone.

Dashboard can have different views for different users. Understanding what’s important for each of them is critical in providing a good user experience for everyone. Also, an enterprise application can be used by people outside of the enterprise. In that case, you have to communicate with all those stakeholders to better understand their requirements.

These are some of the common mistakes while designing a dashboard. Keep these in mind to avoid them and provide a seamless user experience.

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