Tips for designing dashboards
|Publication date:||22 May 2020|
|Author:||Good Practice Team|
|Approver:||Best Practice and Impact Division|
|Who this is for:||Producers of statistics|
Dashboards can be a useful way to share statistics. However, they are not always the best tool to use. Poorly designed dashboards will make your data much harder to understand.
As government analysts, we need to ensure that all our outputs are consistent and of high quality. We have noticed a marked increase in the use of dashboards as a dissemination tool. The Good Practice Team are working on some detailed guidance for creating dashboards. To get involved in this work or to speak to other dashboard creators across government please join the dashboard Slack channel.
While we are working on more detailed guidance, we have put together some tips for you to consider before creating a dashboard.
Tip 1: Start with your users
Don’t default to a dashboard without considering user needs. Is a dashboard the correct tool to use? Ask yourself what your users need to know and what is the best way of sharing this information.
Do not try to put all your data into one dashboard in the hope that it meets everyone’s needs. Always have a user type in mind and work to build an appealing, suitable and usable product.
Ensure there is guidance and commentary to help users understand key messages and quality issues.
Tip 2: Consider your data
- What is the most important information?
- What is the best way of displaying this information?
- What other data or statistics are needed to help explain the story or provide context?
Don’t try to put too much into your dashboard – focus on the data that is needed.
Tip 3: Automate (if possible)
To be most effective, dashboards should be regularly updated. Try to reduce manual updates for your dashboard to reduce the chance of errors and to make them less resource intensive.
Ensuring the underlying data is appropriately and consistently formatted is essential – work with data suppliers to ensure continued supply.
Good practice example: Practical driving test bookings
Tip 4: Think about where the dashboard is going to be shared
Typically, dashboards are much harder to share across social media or news outlets. A well designed chart with a good title is much more likely to be embedded and shared than a dashboard.
If you do have a dashboard to share, ask yourself:
- Do you have an appropriate platform to share your dashboard?
- Are there any restrictions which may affect your design choices?
- Will the dashboard work across different devices and browsers?
- Have you checked loading times on your platform of choice? Users will become frustrated with dashboards which take too long to load.
Tip 5: Make sure the structure makes sense
Think about how users will interact with your dashboard. Put the headlines within the top part of the dashboard, trends in the middle, and granular details in the bottom.
A format with chart title, chart and short commentary allows for much more context to be given for your statistics. Dashboards can often lack a “So what?” element which is crucial for our users.
Try to group related data next to each other so that the information flows.
Try to focus on what the most important insights are.
Less is more – the human brain can only comprehend around seven images at one time. This is the maximum number of items you want in your dashboard.
Tell a story on one screen – try to avoid scroll bars on your dashboard and show all key points on one page.
Good practice example: UK Search and rescue helicopter statistics
Tip 6: Use best practice for data visualisation
Choose the right data visualisation for the data relationship you are trying to show.
Keep it simple! Too many charts, tables and widgets create visual clutter for your user. Your dashboard should provide the relevant information in about five seconds.
Remember to evaluate your choice of charts over time. A chart which was appropriate at one time, may not be when data is updated.
Do not use 3D charts. These make it difficult to compare the values of the different groupings.
Be consistent with chart scales on axes and chart dimension. This allows data to be compared.
Make sure your graphs and tables stand alone. They need to include clear titles, axis labelling, legends and context (e.g. year and coverage).
Don’t mix levels of precision and time. Make sure that time frames are well understood.
If you have slightly larger charts, think about whether you could add some helpful annotations to help tell the statistical story. Helpful titles could be used or a policy target or average line could be added. However, these are less feasible on a small thumbnail dashboard format.
Take a look at our Introduction to data visualisation guidance for more information on this area.
Tip 7: Choose colours carefully to ensure accessibility and impact
Colours are most effective when they are not overused. The brain is better at understanding differences when colour is limited.
You need to ensure your dashboards are accessible to all users. For example, consider those with colour blindness. Colour blindness affects the ability to distinguish between colours. This is a particular issue for reds and greens so try to avoid using greens and reds in the same display.
Make sure that your use of colour is consistent and logical. Use the same colour to mean the same thing in a series of graphs. Changing what colours represent in a sequence of graphs or tables makes it more difficult for your users.
Tip 8: Bring your data to life with added context
Without context or commentary, the user may misinterpret findings, Use simple descriptions and don’t assume too much knowledge about your topic area.
Good practice example: Understanding the UK economy
Tip 9: Don’t forget accessibility standards
Public sector bodies need to make sure content is as accessible as reasonably possible. Before designing a dashboard, read the accessibility guidelines from the Government Digital Service.
Tip 10: Remember to add supporting information
Dashboards without any supporting information or guidance are of limited use.
Your dashboard should have the following:
- the date published, and the date of the next update so that users know when to expect new data
- a clear, appropriate and searchable title
- the date the dashboard was last updated
- the time periods the data refer to
- links to definitions, guidance and methodology
- appropriate contextual information e.g. quality information
- links to other related information
- commentary or links to commentary
- contact details for the statistician
This guidance will be reviewed annually.