A cartoon character is annoyed because the dashboard is not useful

Why too much “ooh-ah” and not enough “a-ha” will derail your dashboard design efforts.

Over the past few months I’ve seen a rash of dashboards, some of them beautiful, that are very likely to fail.

And by fail, I mean people aren’t going to use them.

And what do these destined-to-fail dashboards have in common?

They don’t help their audiences.

The beautiful ones may elicit “ooh-ah,” but they are lacking something much more important.

The “a-ha.”

So, what can you do to make sure you don’t go Figma crazy and put in countless hours building something that is going to fail?

Here are some guidelines that have helped me.

Should we be celebrating or hyperventilating?

When a client, colleague, or student shows me a dashboard and I have difficulty understanding what that dashboard is supposed to convey, I will ask the designer “should I be celebrating or hyperventilating?”

If the designer says he/she doesn’t know then I’ll ask “will your stakeholders want to know?”

That’s usually a rhetorical question.

If the designer instead answers that I should be hyperventilating, I’ll ask “and what on this dashboard is telling me that?”

This usually leads to a lively discussion of what questions we’re trying to answer. By the way, this is where you want your stakeholders to weigh in.

With this in mind, here’s a list of starter questions. If you’re dashboard isn’t answering at least one of these questions I think there’s a good chance the dashboard is going to fail.

  • Are we ahead or behind our goals?
  • By how much are we ahead or behind?
  • Did that just happen, or has it been going on for a while?
  • Which areas of the organization are doing well?
  • Which are doing poorly?
  • How are we doing this period vs. last period?
  • How about this same time last year?
  • How is our organization doing compared with other organizations?

Got a before / after example?

I’m working with some colleagues on a solid “before / after” example and hope to be able to share something soon.

But if you’ve got an example, I’d love to see it.