Dashboards and Data Viz | Tips & Tricks

One of our classic “mild” sessions was hosted by Jerry Stowe and Matt Gentry. As two of our top dashboard experts, and two guys who love to help new customers conceptualize their dashboard projects, they were the ideal presenters for this intro session.

So, how do we go about developing dashboards internally? What do we teach when we go on site to help clients create their dashboard portfolios? We borrow one of the best strategies from Hollywood, and we storyboard!

Essential Elements of the Storyboard

When you begin to plan your dashboard project, you want to think about the dashboard holistically, but also all of the individual charts and graphs. There are three key things to keep in mind:

Product: This is the meat of your dashboard. What metrics are important? What is being tracked?

Group: Who is this dashboard for? What is the audience?

Timeframe: Finally, what’s the span of time for the data that you’ll be tracking?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can begin with gathering the requirements for the dashboard. An excellent place to start is to focus group your audience, actually talk to the people who’ll be looking at the dashboard! Keep in mind, the viewer is not necessarily the person responsible for the data, the ones behind the scenes. You’ll want to communicate with those folks too, but if you have an idea of what your audience expects, you can better build the dashboard of their dreams. Ask the questions of what is important and why – why do we want to know? Who wants to know?

Key Insight: Limit your metrics as much as possible. You don’t want to overwhelm your audience!

Next, you’ll have to actually locate your data. Determine where the data is located, and that it actually exists! Does it live in an Excel spreadsheet? Databases? Do you need to create it? At this stage you don’t want to actually manipulate the data, but instead just make sure it’s accessible.

Key Insight: About historic data – you need to save it to see it! If you want to see a trend, you need to have tracked it. Much like planting trees, the best time to start saving your historic data is in the past.  The second best time is now!

Now the fun part begins: you get to go to the whiteboard! Draw out what you want to display (and don’t worry too much about your artistic skills). Matt and Jerry recommend starting with a four frame format, though you can easily add or remove more frames depending on the number of displayed metrics required. Literally drawing out the dashboard will lessen ambiguity and make the building stage far easier.

Storyboarding streamlines dashboard building (and keeps surprises to a minimum)! #dataviz Click To Tweet

Matt and Jerry actually live-built a dashboard right on stage! They mocked up the dashboard that we used to track registration progress for #iDashboards17. They began with the classic four frame format, and discussed the KPIs they wanted to track: Total attendees, new attendees, attendance by account manager, etc. Matt drew out the storyboard in MS Paint (!) while Jerry described the best chart types for each metric, and then they went straight into the dashboard builder. It was really fascinating to see a dynamic dashboard built from nearly nothing in just a few minutes.

They left us with a final key insight: Dashboard design is never really over! That’s why our team is always available for questions, visual audits, and advice. Stay tuned to the blog this week for more notes and insights from #iDashboards17.

Read next: The Ultimate Guide to Storyboarding

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Jennifer Horne Sr. Digital Marketing Coordinator @iDashboards

Jennifer Horne handles SEO, PPC, content and digital marketing for iDashboards. She has won multiple 30 Rock trivia competitions, makes a mean green curry, and loves living in Detroit.


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