A dashboard used to mean an array of physical instruments, arranged in front of an operator of some form of machine.

The requirement for dashboards has evolved over time and they are now commonly used digitally by companies as a part of their internal reporting process.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="800"]A digital dashboard in Microsoft’s Power BI software A digital dashboard in Microsoft’s Power BI software[/caption]

As digital dashboards have become more widespread, they have strayed further and further from the purpose and design principles of those original, physical dashboards. It is time to go back to basics. But what are the basics?

In the words of the master of dashboard design, Stephen Few:

As 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.

1. Single page

If your dashboard runs over a page, then it is no longer a dashboard but a report. Just as a driver of a car would not have to flick between dashboards just to check his speed, neither should readers of dashboards have to flick between pages to figure out what actions need to be taken.

2. Make every pixel count

In the design of a dashboard, less is always more. Question every pixel of ink on your dashboard and maximise the data/ink ratio wherever possible.

3. Inform only to take action

Dashboards should only exist to inform their users as to whether action needs to be taken, or not. Information that would not directly lead to action, no matter its status, should not be on a dashboard. This point should help achieve the first two points.

Yes, these are simple. Yet so many dashboard designs fail to meet these three criteria. Join us, and say “no” to bad dashboard design.