Prioritizing Data in Dashboards 

Data isn’t like your kids. You don’t have to pretend to love them equally.
— Amanda Cox, New York Times Graphics Design Dept

Summary & Problem Statement

FuelView, a subsidiary of Synergy environmental consulting company, sought assistance on how to help their compliance department identify and act on safety needs more effectively. I was tasked with building the strategy and research for a new dashboard design. 

Project Goals

  1. Research and evaluate current process and dashboard with users
  2. Provide clear process/work flow that will allow my client's teams to work more efficiently (I included this in my deliverables but will not include it here due to NDA reqs).
  3. Give recommendations for what a tool will look like for improved efficiency 

My process

  • Review current client dashboard
  • Competitive analysis/Comparative analysis of dashboards
  • Review of psychology behind dashboard design
  • Review of dashboard templates
  • Interview compliance department re: current use of dashboard and other programs
  • Make recommendations for dashboard design

Psychology behind Effective Dashboard Design 

As part of my research I used Shilpi Choudhury's Four Cognitive Design Guidelines for Effective Information Dashboards article which describes the four guidelines as follows:

  1. Put an Emphasis on Readability
  2. Minimize Cognitive Overload
  3. Use Graphical Representation
  4. Follow Gestalt Laws

From prioritizing the information to graphical representation to many Gestalt laws such as the law of focal point and Prägnanz, dashboards can be made to provide the data most important in a way that is easy to access and visualize.

Interview Findings

My interviews found that the department used 6 different databases and programs and had many duplicative workflows. A usable dashboard (in part) would help alleviate their current issues. I also learned why the dashboard was not being optimized.

Current Dashboard Challenges

In the view to the right, the compliance team needed to know:

  1. if there are any alarms
  2. if the status is normal
  3. when it was last connected

The arrows note where this information is displayed. Information is not prioritized as it is in the 5th and 6th columns amongst other data.

In the next view, the user needed to know when the last regulatory test took place. It is noted on the far right in the 8th and final column, above a litany of rows of data that were irrelevant.

Only one piece of information was needed in this view.

Only one piece of information was needed in this view.

The final view lists an alarm, the only data the user needed, in the 5th column and 5th row. Based on the present design it was clear why the compliance team was opting for various work arounds.

No emphasis on readability or priority of information

No emphasis on readability or priority of information

Comparative Dashboard analysis

I reviewed various dashboard designs as well as companies doing it well. Google Analytics, the leader in of web analytics, (tracking of website traffic) collects considerable amount of data. They use different infographics as demonstrated by the SIX different ways data is shown on this ONE screen!

Google Analytics and its various ways of graphical representation.

Google Analytics and its various ways of graphical representation.

Stitch Labs is an e-commerce inventory management software used by giants like Amazon. The initial dashboard has high level information with icons as well as table with important information. It is easy to view what data is important with this clean design.

Mint, a budgeting and money management program, uses columns to create contrast and different graphical interpretations such as bar and pie graphs. There is considerable content but it is not overwhelming to use. Based on this research I made recommendations on what was needed in their dashboard redesign.

Final thoughts on Recommended Design 

Note: this is merely the starting process to building a dashboard design. What the research told us regarding an effective dashboard was as follows:

  • Prioritize content that team needs (compliance reports, site information, alarms, etc.)
  • Minimize unnecessary content - don’t pretend all data is equal (either by hiding it, eliminating it or having different views)
  • Use different graphical representation for contrast and importance (icons, infographics, use tables with discretion)
  • High level views vs detailed views Offer ability to upload, download and share reports (e.g some form of repository)
  • Use Gestalt Laws - law of focal point, emphasis, etc.

Before continuing, FuelView will need to fully define his MVP with his board and I will work to develop user flows and scenarios to represent the main interactions. From there wire framing begins then iterations then prototyping and testing.