Editor’s Note: With this blog get an idea about what the best practices for designing data visualization dashboards are, at the same time, understand the components of creating dashboards with the help of Power BI
“What to do and what not to do” is always the lingering question when we are making BI dashboards. If you have questions like - how to represent data? , which charts to use? , what should be the colour combo? etc., then you are in the right place. Let us help you resolve at least some of the questions you might have, which will help you take the first step in designing the best Power BI dashboard.
(P.S. You can apply these to other BI dashboards too).
Brace yourselves for seeing a lot of images and BI dashboard examples. This is not for the “boring-hearted”.
For starters, let us look at how an example of a good Power BI dashboard looks like:
If you are aspiring to make such dashboards. Keep reading.
What Is Business Intelligence?
Business Intelligence (BI) Tools or Platforms support IT-enabled analytics content development which helps non-technical users to execute analytics workflows. The inclusion of self-contained architecture helps users with data accessibility, transformation, and preparation of data to make interactive analytics possible. Data can be presented in many ways like tables, reports, charts, dashboards, etc.
It is actually encoded in our DNA to understand visually displayed things better, plus it enhances retention and makes the data easier to grasp. So, the best way to showcase the data through a BI platform is through dashboards.
A Business Intelligence dashboard is an information management and analytics tool that uses visualization to display KPIs and data that are essential for the performance of the business. For example, a financial dashboard would contain the financial ratios and Profit and Loss of an organization. A retail company would keep a check on its Sales, Accounts receivable, Accounts Payable, etc.
As for the Business Intelligence tools, there are many in the market. The leaders in this area are:
What is Power BI? Why are we talking about it?
Power BI is a powerful self-service business intelligence platform by Microsoft that provides users even without technical knowledge to connect and visualize data seamlessly. With its deep integration with other Microsoft tools from Azure to Excel makes it uniquely intuitive and versatile.
The not-so-obvious but obvious answer - that it is good. Even Gartner, a global research and advisory firm, which publishes the Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms has named Microsoft as the Leader for the 14th consecutive year in 2021 as a result of the capabilities of the Power BI platform, especially after its inception. Check the picture below (in case you need proof)
Benefits And Types Of Data Visualization Dashboards
We have spoken about how Dashboards are important to keep an eye on the Business performance by visualizing its KPI or analytics metrics, but ultimately what you are representing in it is data. And the advantage of using dashboards against traditional formats like reports is:
Interactive nature: Dashboards are interactive. You can manipulate the entire dashboard just by clicking on the required parameters.
Crisp details: Present data in the form of KPIs, Charts, graphs, and trends to take actionable insights without reading lengthy tables.
Comprehensible: The data presented is with charts, making the data visualization easier to fathom by anyone.
Types of Data Visualization Dashboards
We told the topic of the best practices to make dashboards, and we digressed a little. But it is important to know what type of dashboards you are making such that the data or the KPIs that you are presenting have a definite goal in place. So, the three types of BI dashboards are:
Operational Dashboards: As the name implies, these dashboards are used to comprehend day-to-day operations. For example, think of concreting levels done every day per floor or building to understand the overall work done. These are time-sensitive.
Strategic dashboards: The word “Strategy” generally relates to top-level executives. These dashboards make use of data on the KPIs of the business over a period of time. They summarize the performance of the business to help make long-term strategies.
Analytical dashboards: Used to analyze large amounts of historical data. It helps identify trends, predict outcomes, compare variables against benchmarks, and test theories.
Power BI has the capability to let the user make all three types of dashboards. Before we jump into making the dashboards and identify the best practices, it is important to identify what is that you want to present. Always keep in mind the end-user and what it is that she/he wants to know about.
7 Best Practices To Design The Best Power BI Dashboards:
1. Know Your Audience.
Think about it, would you want to present the Sales of the models and different colors of cars to the financial officer? This data would be more relevant to the sales experts. An effective dashboard would be one that clearly communicates the message to the end user.
For example, look at the Power BI Finance Dashboard below:
At first glance, there is one thing you can understand, it has the Balance sheet details. And the end-user would mostly be a CFO. Look at the details, the balance sheet is balanced, and it talks about the key financial ratios and the composition of both assets and liabilities. The BI dashboard has been made clearly with the end-user in mind. So, before you start making the dashboard, ask yourself one simple question- “Who is going to consume the dashboard?”.
2. Think About The Flow of Data And Layout
By now you should have decided who you are making the Power BI dashboards for, and you should have a rough idea of which KPI to present. With this information, further questions would arise like:
Since you have a fixed amount of data or space that you want to utilize, maximize the visual perception of the end-user. Check out the image below:
What’s the first thing you saw? The heading or the ABCDs?
We normally read in the “Z” fashion i.e. from A to B to C to D to E in this example. So having key parameters placed at the top is very vital. You can utilize the other spaces depending on what data you need to present. Present the least important but relevant things like the logo to the bottom right corner or top right and present key charts to the left (Represented as Logo-1 and Logo-2 in the picture). Understanding the flow can be required for making a good dashboard.
There are also other things you need to keep in mind like
Confused? Let us help. Remember the first dashboard you have seen. Now let’s scrutinize it.
Proximity here refers to grouping elements of similar use together or based on their location i.e proximity. Similarity means using the visual perception of the audience by grouping similar fonts and colors together. And ultimately Enclosure, which essentially means showing physical demarcation by a visual border or shading to make them a part of a group.
3. Choosing The Right Visualization
Even after so much thought, there is still the process of choosing the right data visualization tool. As we mentioned above, the human brain digests visual information more effectively than text. So, while you’re working with your dashboard it is important to display it in a way it resonates with your audience. Check out our summary which would help you decide what type of chart can be used based on 5 types of data usage, which are:
Now you are equipped with the knowledge of which visualization to use based on your data but always remember – “Who is going to consume the dashboard?”. Because the whole purpose of dashboards is to simplify information and not complicate it with fancy or complex charts which might cause information overload. (In other words, not everyone can understand stacked or waterfall charts)
4. Avoid Poor Labeling And Provide Context
To analyze the role of data in specific dashboards the two important on-screen parameters are
BI Dashboards and Visual representation which lack these two parameters will limit their ROI. For example, take the dashboard below:
What do you think this data intends to convey? Sales Data? We can understand this based on the 1 KPI of Sales but what else? There is no context of the time period in which the data is presented. Some data also shows the profit, so, is it for the Profit of the various regions? There is no way to guess. Coming to the labeling, half of the labels are hidden or improperly shown.
Some other dashboards don’t have a legend or even labels for the data. So it is of prime importance to make sure even a new user can understand your data without any explanation offscreen. Check out this HR Power BI dashboard for a better understanding.
5. Focus On Color
Normally dashboards are made with a lighter background for the flexibility it provides with colors. But with people having digital fatigue growing increasingly, the use of darker backgrounds is being preferred for the comfort it provides. But colors with higher contrast also cause discomfort and create a sense of urgency. So instead of having black and white which have high contrast, try to increase the range of your color palette by using colors that fall in the intermediate range by changing the saturation and brightness. Check out the possible colors below:
And please note Don’t use too many colors to beautify the dashboard. Use Red and Green only to show negative and positive respectively and not otherwise. Or use gradients from Red to green or of one color to show the effect instead of using many colors.
6. Avoid Data Clutter
With all this knowledge in mind, the one tendency we might have is – Show all the possible data such that nothing gets left out and the user can understand what they would want from the data. This notion has two main disadvantages:
This would never be the end goal of the designer of Power BI dashboards. So, to avoid data clutter in addition to the principles of Proximity, Similarity, and Enclosure, as mentioned in Point 2, continuity and connection, are important. For example, look at the dashboard below:
There is a connection between all the data represented by going through different phases that one might find necessary and using the same data for various parameters and showing continuity across the values.
7. Test Dashboards Early
This practice is a very short and important one. When you focus too much on the beautification of the dashboard you might lose sight of its usability. So the next time you perfect your design, try testing it with the end users. This would also keep the end-users in the loop about the progress and workings of the design.
If you are reading this, Congratulations on making it this far!! We are sure you must have at least one takeaway from the data. But again if you still feel you want to know more, keep reading!
BONUS: Few Extra Tips For Making The Best Use Out Of Power BI Dashboards
Bonus Tip #1 - Use Add-Ons
This advice might not sound new to you but Power BI has an amazing database for the add-ons it provides. Some add-ons in Power BI that one might find useful are Word Cloud, Correlation Charts, Pareto Charts, Natural Language Insights, etc. and these are just the tip of an iceberg. Look at the Power BI Dashboard below:
Why write the synopsis when you can directly make Power BI Add-ons do it for you. And think about what the user would understand better. For example, of the two options below:
Personally, I would prefer Option B as it shows the size of the Loyal Customer proportionate to the Sales of the person and it is easy to compare more than the TreeMap of Option-A.
Bonus Tip #2- Use Images In The Dashboards
Take two examples that we have discussed in this blog, Financial dashboard, and Google Analytics Dashboard. Both have images in them which help them understand the context without needing to go through a lot of content. Or you can use comics like the one below (which changes expressions with the data. Sounds interesting right? Try- Comicgen)
The key to making the best Power BI dashboard revolves around the thought of what would the intended user need. All the other practices are support activities for this thought. And one last tip- Stop Thinking and start practicing.
If you want to know more about the Components of a good dashboard, you can learn more about design here.
Is Microsoft Power BI the solution you are looking for?
If the answer is yes, then you are looking at the perfect Power BI implementation partner. Just go through our various use cases. We provide Power BI Consulting services and also support for all the versions including Power BI Embedded (P.S. We are Microsoft Gold Partners after all)
Or if you are looking for other business intelligence tools like Tableau or Qlik and are having a hard time choosing, we can still help you.
If you were intrigued at any point till now, Contact us.