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How to Build a Dashboard That Resonates

How to Build a Data Dashboard That Resonates | NickSight Blog

Do you find yourself frustrated because your data dashboard is not resonating with key business stakeholders? Don’t fret — you’re not alone. Many dashboard architects feel this way day in and day out. In this post, you’ll be given tips to help close that gap between a highly functional data dashboard and one that makes it clear to your audience what action to take from it.

Break the cycle of ad hoc reactive requests from users mid-build by engaging with them as early as possible for a more cohesive and effective result

You’re juggling a lot — between mitigating for data quality issues and building reports to trying to understand why data dashboard users are either asking so many questions or not enough. It’s wearing and, at the very least, can make you feel like your data dashboard is missing the mark.

If you find yourself here more often than not, it’s time to take a different approach to your building process.

A leading reason where many processes are broken is that there is a disconnect between you — the data dashboard architect — and the end-user. Many times the end-user presents issues that could have been totally avoided if they were engaged with before the data dashboard was built.

Include any and all data dashboard users early in the journey of creating the dashboard. Doing so has proven to eliminate frustrating risks altogether, yet it’s overlooked by so many.

You can easily avoid these and many other unnecessary risks such as changing goals and objectives, which cause the data architect to have to restructure the entire build — if the end-user is engaged with early and often throughout the building process.

And while not all user input will be integrated into a final data dashboard, most of the value comes from the interaction between the architect and the end-user by simply fostering a human-to-human relationship.

The relationship you build with the end-user is a relationship to craft carefully. If done well, over time the end-user or users can shift from being a critic to an advocate and even a champion of your work.  

It’s no doubt a tough cycle to break and it certainly requires you to take a step back to objectively look at your build process from the beginning to the end, but once it’s done, you’ll see a favorable return not to mention less work for you in the long run.

[RELATED ARTICLE: Why Are My Data Visualizations Ineffective?]


Not engaging users early and often adds the following risks:

User needs are not met

This leads to the user asking handfuls of questions when they actually see the dashboard, which results in frustration for both you and the user and a lot of tangential back and forth. Overall, not a great experience for anyone involved.

Users feel disconnected

Look at this from a customer service or experience perceptive. Say, for example, you’re under contract with a home builder who is working to build you and your family a brand new home.What if the builders only involved you in the process when they were handing you over the keys or when it’s time to conduct an inspection? You walk into your new home with a set of expectations of what it should look like and none of those needs were met, resulting in unmet expectations. You’d be very upset and tell everyone in your life about their less than impressive work. The builders would need to then have to go back to the drawing board to meet the buyer’s needs.The same is true for dashboard building. Communication with users throughout the process is the secret sauce to having a well-built dashboard that functions and meets the needs of the end-user.

Trust is eroded and lost trust is hard to earn back

Like in any relationship, trust is the cornerstone of its longevity. For business relationships, the emphasis on trust is perhaps a bit more important due to the fact that the user is entrusting you, the dashboard architect, to help them meet their goals and grow their career. If this trust is lost, it’s nearly impossible to rebuild and to earn back. Having an open line of communication coupled with honest level-setting conversations can keep the trust between the two of you healthy. Do everything in your power to keep end-user trust protected throughout the process. Avoid any and all instances where that trust could be at risk.

Word gets back to your boss and any potential promotion gets placed on the backburner

Let’s go back to our home building example. The unsatisfied home buyers are so unhappy they go directly to the builder’s boss and the company’s upper management. The buyers call the builders out by name and list in detail what went awry. Any good standing and potential pay raise or promotion the builders were poised for is now at risk.Again, the same is true for you as the data architect. If the user feels so compelled by a dashboard that doesn’t meet their needs, your boss is likely to hear about it from the user directly, which should go without saying — reflects poorly on you. Not only would any potential promotion fall the wayside, but your work could potentially be viewed differently and respect for it would be tarnished.

Conversely, engaging users right early and often does several things:

Dashboards fail to resonate with users because their questions and needs are not being answered or met. Without talking to them often it can be difficult to know what those needs are.

Improve and iterate on your building process by mapping their questions to your charts and continuously refine the visuals to the company’s objectives. At the end of the day, an end-user will find it less cumbersome if you ask clarifying questions throughout the process than after the data dashboard is released.

Get your free step-by-step dashboard workflow and process map

Follow this process and ensure alignment and business value every time

This is the process used with the Global Fortune 100 on actual real-world analytics engagements. It ensures alignment with stakeholders, user and the business that produces actionable insight and bahavioral change.

How to Extend Your UX Skills to Analytics UX

I’m sure everyone has heard the excitement over analytics and how sexy data science is as a career path. Though there is rarely mantion of analytics UX. Analytics is often thought of as highly technical and difficult to get into. That’s not untrue but there are still very high value opportunities that don’t require a background in stats or database design, i.e. analytics UX. Enter the Dashboard Consultant. For the UI/UX Designer, becoming a Dashboard Consultant can follow a well-defined path, as it is a path I have traveled myself and I am going to share my learnings from that journey here and what I think is an optimal path having the experience to reflect upon.

What is a Dashboard Consultant?

A blend between UI/UX, business acumen and aspects of analytics such as data visualization and surface knowledge of data structures and databases are the basic ingredients. All of which can be learned in a matter of weeks to have a basic competence, though mastery will take years. The primary focus is mapping data to business value for the end users and stakeholders. Giving them access to actionable outcomes that either positively changes behavior and/or enables direct action to be taken to improve business outcomes. The closer those outcomes come to increasing profits the better. The role of the Dashboard Consultant is fundamentally to narrow the gap between data and profit through a user interface.

What Skills Do I Need for Analytics UX?

I’m assuming you already have UI/UX Design nailed and that covers a lot as it typically extends over to business acumen. However, a major word of caution here and a lesson I had to painfully learn. Analytics can be highly political and heated. Being overly evangelical about users and UX principles can and often do inflame already volatile situations. My approach is now pragmatic and firmly based in years of experience in application of UX to analytics. For more junior UXers I advise subtly over enthusiasm as you build up your business experience.

The skills you should already have and that will be used (not exhaustive):

  • UX research, interviews, personas
  • Journey mapping
  • Wire-framing and concept design
  • Consulting expertise

All that being said, the main new skills, with an hours estimate to get a basic competence if taught by a pro, that need to be added are:

  • Data visualization best practices – 16 hours
  • Chart selection process (big part of analytics UX) – 20 hours
  • Basic, very basic, knowledge of database structures – 16 hours
  • Facilitation expertise to run the occasional workshop – 16 hours theory with 8 hours of practical application
  • UI capability knowledge of the popular dashboarding tools like QlikView, Qlik Sense, Tableau, Power BI. This is not as hard as it may sound. – 4 hours per tool
  • Optional expertise in developing in one or more of the tools – highly variable

You will note that technical tools of dashboard development are left till last and this is intentional as there are many a person that can develop dashboards, there are very few that can design them well enough to have significant business value and impact. So, if you do have the aptitude to pick up some dashboard development expertise, then well and good. It is not vital. The value is in producing the design that wins. This will be in contrast to much of the prevailing advice out there and I only speak from my own experience as a dashboard consultant, which rarely involves me developing the dashboard. If development is needed I may do it myself, usually not worth my time, or I hand the work over to other contractors or, as is usually the case, the client has their own developers already.

What’s Next?

Be sure to check out the basics of dashboard UI design.

This has been a cursory view of what is needed and there is obviously a lot of detail behind the steps above. If people are interested, I’d be happy to write more on analytics UX and go into some more background of my own journey as well as resources and materials that would constitute the 80-hour investment for such a career upgrade. Interest can be expressed as likes, comments, resharing, tweets @nicksight, etc!

Enterprise Dashboard Layout: Keeping it Simple

There are many ways to approach dashboard layout and design, but I have found value in starting with a fixed layout that enables a basic narrative for rapidly identifying if action is needed and then providing the necessary journey to understand what action is needed. The layout can then be adjusted as necessary.

The Simple Approach to Dashboard Layout

Overall layout has four areas that can largely be standardized across platforms to start making consistent user experiences irrespective if created in Tableau, Qlikview, Qlik Sense, Power BI, etc:

  • Navigation
  • Filters
  • KPIs – should I act?
  • Charts – what action should I take?

Dashboard Layout Introduction-04

How to Tell a Basic Story Through the Dashboard Layout

Let’s take a look at the ideal flow of the generic enterprise dashboard template. Opening the dashboard should land us the on home/summary tab for a specific user/persona. The journey begins by selecting the navigation tabs. From there the user scans the KPIs to get a pulse of the state of the business. Should there be any call to action needed then one of these summary charts will make it easily identifiable, typically by color. More focused exploration can happen on the other tabs of the dashboard, accessible via the navigation tabs.

Dashboard Layout Introduction-05

Should a call to action be needed, but it is not clear exactly what, then the user is visually directed to one or more of the four detailed charts either by color association and/or comments.

Dashboard Layout Introduction-01


In this example we can see the projected revenue for the week is below target. This is indicated by the kpi being orange in color. Scanning to the main dashboard area for more orange lands us on the inventory chart and we can see the stock count is only 200 but we project to sell 5,000 units.

Dashboard Layout Introduction-02

Since we have tied an action to each chart then we know to call a specific number and find out what is happening with the inventory. Do we need to ship more units or is it simply a case of the inventory count being innacurate. Either way, an action is required.

Dashboard Layout Introduction-03

With this rather simple layout of a dashboard you can see how a basic narrative can lead to powerful change. However, it may look simple in the design, but making it simple requires a lot of ground work.

In the next article we will look at the process that can get you there. Be sure to visit the Insight Burger post to see how important design thinking and the UX process is to dashboard design.

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