These tools do more than just display data; they help in quickly reading, analyzing, and making informed decisions, which is critically important for both developers and businesses.
A well-designed dashboard can become a key element in forecasting trends and anticipating outcomes, impacting the efficiency and motivation of the team.
Hello! My name is Lisa, and I have worked as a product designer in large IT companies and small startups. Among my experience was the creation of internal products that help monitor metrics and the state of service operations. Thanks to this, I have accumulated significant experience in dashboard development, and today I want to share this experience with you.
Today, I want to inspire you to create useful and effective dashboards by sharing my approach and emphasizing the importance of UI design in this process.
The sense of dashboard
I want to start with three fundamental principles that should guide the creation of dashboards. These are precisely what you, as a product manager or product designer, should advocate for:
One of the less obvious but critically important tasks in dashboard creation is the ability to tell a story with data. Visualization should not only display numbers but also convey context, show cause-and-effect relationships, and identify trends. This requires a deep understanding of how data correlates with real business processes and user behavior. Dashboard developers should aim not only to present data but also to explain it, creating an intuitive and engaging narrative structure.
Often in the dashboard development process, you may encounter the issue of “expectation overload” — when users want to see too many features and data. It’s important to be able to manage these expectations, explaining limitations and focusing on the most important aspects that truly add value. This might require communication and persuasion skills, as well as the ability to objectively assess priorities and the impact of various features on the final product.
Technical and organizational obstacles often become a serious challenge. For instance, integrating data from various sources can be a complex task due to format incompatibilities or API limitations. In such cases, it’s crucial to closely collaborate with developers to find solutions that ensure smooth integration and reliable system performance. It’s also important to consider organizational aspects, such as training the team to use the new dashboard and implementing it into work processes.
Every successful dashboard begins with a clear understanding of its goals and audience. At my current job, before starting the development of a dashboard, we conduct an analysis of the objectives it needs to achieve and the audience it is intended for. This could be, for example, monitoring key performance indicators for executives or providing technical data for the development team.
To illustrate, in one of our projects, the goal was to create a dashboard for monitoring server operations. The audience consisted of technical specialists who required detailed, real-time information about the system’s status. The goals and audience defined the structure and design of the dashboard, making it maximally informative and user-friendly for the end users.
Moreover, an effective dashboard helps reduce risks for the company by providing quick access to critically important information. For instance, thanks to the instant display of server downtime data, the team can quickly respond to issues, minimizing downtime and potential losses.
Equally important is the impact of the dashboard on the team’s motivation and awareness. When the team sees a dashboard tailored specifically for them with up-to-date metrics every day, it enhances their engagement and provides a clear understanding of the current state of the project. This creates a sense of control and confidence in the decisions being made, which in turn contributes to an overall increase in work efficiency.
Before beginning the design of a dashboard, it’s critically important to understand who the primary users will be and what tasks they will be addressing. In my practice, this starts with a deep dive into the world of the end-users — developers, project managers, data analysts, and so on. I conduct interviews, analyze workflows, and gather feedback to understand their daily tasks and challenges.
For example, developers might need real-time system performance monitoring, while project managers may require an overview of task completion timelines and resources. By identifying these key usage scenarios, I can ensure that the dashboard will not only be functional but also maximally useful for specific users.
Next, I link the functionality of the dashboard to the overall business goals of the company. It’s not just about presenting data; it’s about how these data can help achieve specific objectives. For instance, if a business goal is to increase efficiency, then the dashboard should highlight metrics that track progress and identify bottlenecks.
In one of the projects, the goal was to improve customer service quality. For this, we developed a dashboard that displayed key indicators in real-time related to the processing of customer inquiries, allowing the team to respond promptly to issues and improve service quality.
Thus, understanding both user needs and business goals not only displays data but actively contributes to achieving the organization’s ultimate goals.
When we start defining the key functions and priorities of a dashboard, it’s important to find a balance between what users want and what is truly needed to achieve business goals. In my experience, I begin by creating a list of features that could be useful and then prioritize them based on their impact on users and business objectives. For instance, for a dashboard designed for monitoring application performance, key features might include displaying system response time, code errors, and server load levels.
This is not just about having “nice-to-have” features; it’s about creating a “must-have” list that is guided by strategic goals and the real needs of the user.
In developing a dashboard, I always think about how it will fit into the broader context of the product.
- 👾How will it interact with other features?
- 📎 How will it help the user better understand and use the product as a whole?
For example, if a dashboard is designed for a CRM system, it should not only provide data but also simplify interactions with customers and improve processes for working with them.
In this way, we make the dashboard a valuable addition, not just an isolated tool.
Design. Prototyping. Iterations.
I start with basic sketches that allow for a quick assessment of ideas and structure. These sketches are more than just drawings; they help me and my team visualize the dashboard concept and initiate a dialogue about how it should function.
Once the concept is approved, I move on to creating more detailed prototypes. I develop prototypes that not only resemble the final product but also give an insight into user interaction. This is a critically important step as it allows for testing with real users and gathering feedback that will influence subsequent design iterations.
When designing the dashboard interface, my main goal is to create an intuitive and effective user experience. Here are a few key principles I always keep in mind:
🎧 Clarity and Noise Reduction
It’s important that users can quickly understand what is displayed on the dashboard. I aim to avoid information overload, focusing on key metrics and data necessary for the specific audience.
🧭 Consistency and Predictability
I use consistent design elements and layouts so that users can intuitively understand how to interact with the dashboard. This includes uniformity in colors, fonts, and layouts.
💠 Interactivity and Feedback
The dashboard should be informative as well as interactive. I include elements such as filters and dropdown menus that allow users to customize data display according to their preferences.
🍟 Accessibility and User-Friendliness
I believe that design should be accessible to all users. This includes considering people with different abilities and preferences, as well as ensuring that the dashboard is user-friendly on various devices.
Data Visualization and Information Architecture
One of the key aspects of creating effective dashboards is the proper selection of data visualization methods. Each data type requires its own approach to presentation to ensure the information is understandable and easily digestible.
For example, line charts are ideal for time series as they clearly illustrate the dynamics of changes. Bar or pie charts work well for comparing values across categories. Heat maps can be useful in visualizing complex datasets, allowing for quick identification of patterns and anomalies.
It’s important to remember that visualization should be not only informative but also appealing. I use colors and shapes to make data more accessible and comprehensible, while avoiding overloading with visual information.
Additionally, I focus on grouping related data and ensuring a consistent flow of information, which aids users in easily navigating and finding the data they need. For instance, in a dashboard designed for sales analysis, I might group data related to customer demographics, sales figures, and product performance in distinct but interconnected sections. This way, a sales manager can quickly locate specific insights, such as the best-selling products in a particular demographic segment.
Another example is a financial dashboard where I categorize data into revenue, expenses, and profit margins. By doing so, financial analysts can effortlessly switch between different financial aspects without losing track of the overall financial health of the company. These thoughtful groupings and layouts not only improve the usability of the dashboard but also enhance the decision-making process by presenting a coherent narrative of the data.
Testing and Iteration
To identify usability issues and understand how well the dashboard meets users’ needs and expectations, we showcase our developments to real users. Based on the feedback collected, the process of iterations begins. The key is to be open to changes and ready to adapt the design in response to the data received. Iterations can affect both minor details of the interface and larger aspects of structure and functionality.
In one of our recent projects on creating a dashboard for server performance monitoring, user testing became a pivotal moment. After the initial development of the dashboard, we conducted a series of tests with our development team, who were the primary users of the product.
During these sessions, I observed how they interacted with the dashboard, noting any difficulties or misunderstandings. A key issue was that the developers had trouble interpreting the performance time series. The charts were overloaded with data, making it difficult to quickly analyze the situation.
Based on this initial testing, we began the process of iterative improvements. Our first step was to simplify the charts by highlighting the most critical metrics and reducing visual clutter. We also added the ability to filter data by time intervals, allowing developers to focus more easily on specific periods.
After implementing these changes, we conducted a second round of testing, this time with a broader group of users, including project managers. The feedback was significantly more positive: the charts became clearer, and the data filtering feature was particularly appreciated for its usefulness.
The next key stage is the integration of the dashboard into the overall product. In my project of creating a dashboard for server monitoring, one of the main tasks was to ensure its seamless integration with the existing system. This required close collaboration with the development team to ensure that the dashboard accurately collects and displays data in real-time.
We utilized APIs to connect the dashboard to various data sources, ensuring high performance and reliability. Work was also done to optimize data loading so that the dashboard could respond quickly to user queries, even when processing large volumes of information.
It’s crucial that the dashboard not only meets current needs but can also adapt to future changes and expansions of the system. To this end, we developed a modular architecture that allows for the easy addition of new features and the integration of additional data sources. Ensuring continuous support and updates for the dashboard was also an important part of the process, guaranteeing its stability and the relevance of its data.
Creating dashboards is an integral part of product design. They not only provide valuable information for decision-making but also significantly enhance user convenience and efficiency. My experience has shown that a well-designed dashboard can have a substantial impact on business, improving processes and aiding in the achievement of goals.
Tips and Tricks for Product Designers
- Start by figuring out what your users and business really need. It’s like being a detective, but instead of solving crimes, you’re solving design puzzles.
- Regularly test the dashboard with real users. Be ready to iterate based on the feedback
- Aim for simplicity in data visualization. Avoid information overload and focus on the key metrics.
- Develop dashboards with future scaling and potential data or process changes in mind.
Alternative Ways to Create Dashboards: No-Code and Low-Code Solutions
In the modern world of product design, there is an increasing number of tools that allow for dashboard creation without deep programming knowledge. These no-code and low-code platforms offer convenient means for quick and efficient dashboard development, making them accessible not just for professional developers but also for business analysts, marketers, and other specialists.
- Grafana is a powerful platform for creating interactive dashboards, particularly valuable for monitoring and analyzing time-series data. Ideal for real-time system monitoring, network analysis, and IoT applications, Grafana supports multiple data sources, including Prometheus, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and many others. This tool is highly flexible in visualization customization, allowing for detailed and adjustable dashboards. However, it may require deeper technical knowledge for setup and use compared to other no-code/low-code solutions.
- Tableau is one of the most popular platforms for data visualization. It offers robust tools for creating a variety of dashboards with the ability to connect to different data sources.
- Microsoft Power BI makes it easy to integrate data from various sources and create interactive dashboards. It is ideal for integration with other Microsoft products, such as Excel and Azure.
- Google Data Studio is a free solution from Google that allows for creating customizable dashboards. Particularly well-suited for working with data from Google Analytics, Google Ads, and other Google services.
- Looker: This tool provides flexible options for dashboard creation and business analytics. It enables not just data visualization but also in-depth analysis.
Using no-code and low-code platforms has its advantages, including development speed, ease of use, and flexibility in design alteration. However, one should consider their limitations in terms of customization and integration with some complex systems. Therefore, it’s important to assess the needs of the project and choose a tool that best meets these requirements.