Dashboards and Data Viz

The process of storyboarding a dashboard can be quite daunting when you begin. The design possibilities are endless, and a formal set of guidelines doesn’t exist for creating a logical, information rich dashboard. So, where to begin?

Well, you’ve collected the dashboard project stakeholders into a room and you’re now staring at a blank whiteboard. The following is a loose sequence of steps to get you moving in the right direction:

1. Agree upon the purpose and audience of the dashboard. This will help guide you as you determine which metrics to display in the dashboard.
2. Draw a four frame dashboard on the whiteboard (each frame will display a chart). Even though you may add or subtract frames as you proceed through the design process, having something visual to look at removes much of the ambiguity of the design process ahead.
3. Identify a metric that will be displayed in the dashboard. To ensure you communicate all the necessary information about the metric to the dashboard audience, determine the “Product, Group and Timeframe” for the metric. For example, if you would like to show the current month’s average sales versus the same month last year for each Sales Manager and each Account Manager in their team, use the “P, G, T” format below to ensure you capture all the information.

P – Average Sale Value ($)
G – By Sales Manager, then by Account Manager
T – Current Month vs. Same Month Previous Year
Note the “then by” in the Group category. This indicates a drilldown in the chart.
4. Repeat Step 3 for each metric you would like displayed in the dashboard. As a rule of thumb, shoot for four to six metrics in a dashboard. However, some dashboards may only show one metric, others may show 10 or more.
5. For each metric you identified, determine the chart type that would best display the data. Draw a mock-up of the chart in the dashboard you have created on the whiteboard. For the metric discussed in Step 3, a column chart would be a good choice.
6. The final design step is to determine the colors to be used in the dashboards. Often it is a good idea to call upon your web designers to assist with this step. It is also common to agree upon a color theme during the storyboarding process, but to make final color decisions during the actual dashboard building process.

Storyboarding a dashboard is much like painting a picture – the more you do it, the better you become. After gaining some experience, you will see opportunities and pitfalls during the storyboard process versus discovering them during the dashboard build process. You will also discover your own design style over time, and find that storyboarding can be quite easy and enjoyable once you get the hang of it.

Trip Dixon, iDashboards


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