Posted by Peder Enhorning
November 25, 2015
Data visualization is an extremely effective way of highlighting and identifying outliers and trends. Data discovery is easy when dashboards are created to reveal new insights. But sometimes the dashboard designer focuses on aesthetics and creates something that doesn’t provide answers to our questions.
When you visualize data by designing a dashboard, you start with a blank canvass. Often, developers lose their way by designing to form rather than function. If the dashboard is to enlighten about business performance, it needs to answer the most commonly asked questions that the end-users have about the business. That means it needs to focus on the one or two metrics or measures that provide answers to your end-users. While the look of the dashboard is important, first and foremost it must deliver new insight.
The AD3 methodology consists of three phases, broken down into several steps. The overall process is illustrated in the above graphic. Repetition of AD3 leads to targeted, highly functional dashboards that meet end-users’ needs. The process involves the following:
1.1. Identify Audience: Determine the primary end-user audience for the dashboard. Consider their level of experience with dashboards and how they will interact with them. If they are novice or will receive little or no training, the dashboard needs to reflect that simplicity. If they will use the dashboard for exploratory interaction, it can be far more complex. The same rules apply for how frequently end-users will access the dashboard. If they will rarely or infrequently use the dashboard, they will not gain as much familiarity with the interactive elements, so a simpler design is called for.
1.2. Main Question: Identify the central question your dashboard answers. This step is generally executed in a KPI Karta® workshop but you may have other ways of identifying effective Key Performance Indicators. It’s important that answers to business questions are obvious in the dashboard, and that they are driven by business goals and objectives.
1.3. Theme: This is the main interactive concept you will use to answer questions. If you are dealing with housing prices, you may want to map dollar amounts geographically to show how different regions are performing. If you want to visualize unemployment figures, a time-chart or horizon chart may be the best option.
2.1. Primary View(s): Dashboards can often become too complex and cluttered. Limit your design to the one or two primary views that visually address your main question for the specific audience and align with the theme that has been selected (e.g., maps for geography, lines or bars for time-series, etc.).
2.2. Supporting Views: Consider what views you can create to help support the primary view(s). Add contributory views that support, refine, or add context to the primary view(s).
2.3. Layout: Ensure that you lay out the primary view(s) in the most prominent position, often the top left of the dashboard. Then place the supporting views around the primary view in a logical way that lends meaning to the primary view and the intended usage of the supporting views.
3.1. Interact Elements: Set up interactions between primary and supporting views in a logical, progressively detailed sequence. Consider a guided analytics approach to your dashboard functionality. Design dashboards that lead the user through iterative steps to gain additional detail as they explore the data.
3.2. Perfect Look & Feel: Finalize alignments; fine tune color, fonts, font consistency; ensure adherence to visual standards.
Consider these steps the next time you are asked to create a new dashboard and let us know what your results are.
If you need help identifying effective key performance indicators, download this article which details a foolproof 5 step methodology to craft KPIs that quickly convey how well a business activity is performing and how successful an overall strategy is.
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