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Dashboard Essentials: The Foundation of Data Visualization

Dashboards are currently experiencing unprecedented popularity. We have more data available to us all the time and better visualization tools than ever before. Essentially, a dashboard comprises charts, yet its essence extends far beyond mere data visualization. If you add some charts on a page, you would technically have a dashboard, but it might not be very effective. Creating a good dashboard takes some preparation, knowledge, and skill. Here, I introduce you to dashboards and the concepts, skills, and best practices you will need to create them.

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What is a Dashboard?

A dashboard is one or more visual elements that tell a story about related data. A report that aggregates data isn’t a dashboard because it’s not telling a story. That’s typically called a report to table, although these terms are often used to mean the same thing. For our purposes, a dashboard must contain visual elements and not just a list of data. You may improve the clarity and impact of the dashboard by using the correct visualization approaches. Effective visualization types include bar charts, line graphs, heat maps and scatter plots. It is important to select a chart or graph that effectively shows the data and support the desired findings.

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The above is an example of Tableau dashboard from the health care data, which combines a range of actionable data types, professional design with gentle-to-the eyes colors, and deep analytical view.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

The story is the most important aspect of a dashboard. It comes from analyzing the data to determine what’s important about it. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are commonly displayed on dashboards. KPIs are ready-made stories for your dashboard to tell. The management will craft KPIs based on their understanding of the organization. If you are running a commercial business, net income is an important measurement and you don’t have to analyze the data to know that it’s something you’ll want to look at. KPIs are unique to each organization, but similar organizations will have similar KPIs. Finance departments are interested in net income, free cash flow, and working capital. And manufacturers are interested in units produced and line utilization.

Establishing User Requirements

It’s not advisable to start building a dashboard without proper planning. Similar to constructing a house, initiating dashboard development without a plan may result in the need to tear it down and restart again. To make your plan, start by finding out what the end users need. There are at least 3 users you’ll want to talk to before you begin: the person requesting the dashboard, the person providing the data, and the end user.

Finding out where the data is extracted from and if it’s already been aggregated or analyze is required. If you don’t have the data you need, your dashboard project might turn into two projects: a data-collection project and a dashboard project.

Types of End Users

You can divide end users by how they intend to use the dashboard to get a better understanding of how to construct it. A dashboard presented at a shareholder meeting may be used to simply give shareholders information they don’t see day to day.

It’s ideal to track the dashboard-building process from inception to completion. You don’t need fancy software for this, just a text document or a spreadsheet. Record the information about the users and the data that you’ve already discovered.

Plan on iterating through the dashboard design process. When you get a usable draft, send it to the stakeholders for input. Continue to send iterations for input throughout the process. Each iteration may involve making changes to the layout, visualizations based on the feed back from stakeholders. You can continue to work on the next stage while you wait for input, but if there are problems, you’ll save yourself a lot of rework compared to handing over a final design that’s not right. Finally, plan to review the results after the dashboard is complete.

Keep exploring, experimenting, and refining your dashboards to continuously enhance their impact and value.

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