Dashboards and Data Viz

*Three talents are highly recommended: Data, Design and Business.

The qualifications for being able to build a dashboard vary; depending on how deep visual KPIs are going to penetrate your business. I’ve seen a variety of students with varying talents learn iDashboards. The most successful students have knowledge in three areas: Data, Design and Business. Can you answer these questions?

Understand Data: How is your company managing data today? Is the data in a database or Excel? Do you know how to access that data?

Dashboards are about the visual presentation of data, therefore knowing something about data is necessary if you plan to help build dashboards. Data has many different formats, locations and summarized levels. Choosing the right combination is easy if you know how to answer these questions. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask technical resources questions about data. Their insight may save you time as you move forward.

Design: Do you understand what visual options are available within a dashboard? Do pink and olive-green look good together? Should a bar chart show all 5,000 employee details at once?

Static reports have been around since the introduction of mainframes. Columns and rows of data are awesome if you don’t want dashboards to visualize KPIs. Branch out. Use a Speedometer Chart, a Pie Chart, and maybe even a drilldown Image Gallery Chart. Sometimes you’ll feel that a chart can’t relay ‘as much’ information as a report. But to the contrary if nobody is looking at the details in a report, is there any value for a report?

Have fun with the visual options, but remember other coworkers are going to have to look at your color combinations. Look around your office, your car or your home and get some ideas on what colors naturally complement each other. Generally speaking, pink and olive-green do not look good together. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask others for help selecting creative chart types or matching colors.

Read next: Painting by Numbers: Designing Your Data Picture

Business: Should you build a dashboard showing the number of times you brew a pot of caffeinated vs. decaffeinated coffee each day? Should you just build something so your boss can see a dashboard? On the sales chart, should we pick a target of $2M so our actual of $3M looks really good?

It’s hard to stay focused on building KPIs that are useful. You might personally track coffee usage, which is great, but it may not rank very highly on the type of metrics which will benefit your company. KPIs are constructed of specific components (see blog “Roadmap to Successful Storyboarding“)and knowing each component will greatly help define the business purpose of each chart. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask management what they want to see.

Comments are welcome on this topic. Do you think anybody can build a dashboard?

Ken Rose – Technical Consultant, iDashboards


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