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How to overcome common mistakes in dashboard design

Though facilities leaders today track more metrics than ever before, many teams are struggling to translate reams of data into valuable information that inform key operational decisions. To help organize and present data, more facilities units are creating dashboards to extract insights from data and drive improvements.

To address the most common design mistakes, explore EAB’s recommendations for an effective data-sharing layout. Check your dashboard design against our recommendations and read on to find out what elements consistently make for effective dashboards.

1. Help your audience understand what they’re looking at

The first dashboard design mistake is a failure to provide context for your data. This often occurs when dashboards rely too heavily on raw data. Presenting a variable like the volume of work orders completed annually is not especially useful; your user needs context to understand if it is too high, too low, or near your target. Alternatively, use relative indicators: metrics that include two or more inputs, like the percentage of all work orders categorized as emergency, instead of just the total number of emergency work orders.

Also include historic trends, which direction the number should be going, and any performance targets. This helps your audience understand if the number represents good, bad, or neutral performance and what adjustments might need to be made as a result.

2. Be judicious with your metrics

Another common mistake is an overload of information. Dashboards work best when they are as simple as possible and focus on key metrics that can be explained visually—something that can be read with a quick look, much like the dashboard in your car.

A dashboard with 30 to 40 metrics will confuse your users and make it hard for them to decide where to focus their attention. Likewise, if too many of your metrics need to be explained with blocks of text instead of just a visual, this also prevents quick comprehension and decreases the dashboard’s usefulness.

When building your dashboard, limit the page count to three pages or less. Instead of excessive text, include impactful visual elements like directional arrows and color coding.

3. Keep visualizations simple

The third mistake is relying on overly complicated visuals. Avoid an excess of visual elements, like multiple targets and trend lines on a single metric or complicated color schemes. This will help your audience understand data at a glance.

Key elements for maximum dashboard impact

How can you synthesize this information to make a well-designed dashboard? Good dashboards have a few things in common. In general, impactful dashboards…

  • …are concise. They are limited to three pages or less. If your dashboard has interactive options, you can create customization inputs for users display other types of data if needed.
  • …have accessible data visualizations. Visualizations should simplify data that is hard to understand in its raw form. Effective visualizations often include bar charts, pie graphs, and trend line graphs.
  • …put metrics in context. They include information like trends over time, performance targets, and action triggers. Visual elements are clearly labeled. Definitions are provided when necessary.
  • …have directionality. They use arrows or icons to show metric trends or goal direction.
  • …are color-coded. They use different colors to indicate progress. A binary color scheme (e.g., red and green) is the easiest way to track direction, but a multi-colored scheme can allow for more complex visualizations. (Just make be careful that it isn’t too complex.)
  • …use a consistent time frame. While your time frames may differ depending on the metric (e.g., monthly work order completion rates and annual customer satisfaction scores), make certain that you clearly indicate the time frame for collecting and analyzing data on each metric.
  • …are mapped to strategic goals. Whenever possible, your dashboard should connect your facilities metrics to broader goals. This way, all users understand the purpose of the data. Some dashboards even list the staff member accountable for each metric on the dashboard.