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Dashboard Design from a User Experience Perspective

No matter how many dashboard projects you’ve been involved with, I think you’ll agree that the article below is a GREAT refresher in the fine art of dashboard design. It looks at the approach you should take to ensure that your dashboard designs are user centric and user experience focused. The article is destined to be a classic. Written by Mike Hughes, the post is titled Dashboard Design 101.

Here’s how it starts off:

Unfortunately, dashboard design often follows the following progression:

A product manager recognizes the need for a dashboard or hears people talking about dashboards at a happy-hour networking event and adds this requirement: “Product shall include a graphical dashboard on the home page.”

Engineering scours the database schemata to see what data the system collects and displays it in bar charts and pie charts on a dashboard.
Someone decides the dashboard needs to be more graphically appealing, so Engineering renders all of the charts in 3D and adds more colors.

If the team includes a graphic artist, perhaps that person designs widgets that emulate the kinds of dials one might find on an actual car dashboard, then says, “Get it? It’s a dashboard!” at the stakeholder walkthrough.

We can do so much better than this. The purpose of this column is to investigate how UX professionals can improve on the all-too-typical process I’ve described and drive product teams toward meaningful dashboard design.

Read the rest at http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2010/11/dashboard-design-101.php

Dashboard Grid Design

Dashboards work best when they are laid out on a design grid that makes sense from both an aesthetic and functional point of view. With the popularity of out-of-the-box business intelligence dashboard applications, the dashboard designer often enjoys the luxury of not having to worry about grid alignment or underlying grid design.

However, for those dashboard designers and business intelligence application designers who must deal themselves with dashboard grid layouts, here are some resources:

This Dashboard Layout System tutorial illustrates step by step how to convert a design grid into html layout. Here’s an example from it:

Dashboard grid design

And for you that need the basics of grid layout design, please study the “Rule of Thirds” or the “Golden Mean”:

Golden Mean design rule

Dashboards as Navigation – The Marvel Database

Update: See Dashboards as Navigation for more about using digital dashboards to navigate through information.

Dashboards work brilliantly as navigation devices.  So much so, as a matter of fact, that the dashboard has become a commonly used design pattern for the browsing of databases.

Usability experts will tell you that very specific navigation models exist. One very straight-forward model of navigation involves searching for something you know you want to find. The “Known Item Finding” search model assumes that the searcher knows about the thing he wants to find. To accomodate this model, dashboard designers will offer a search facility. This will be form based and usually consist of alternate complexity levels – i.e. a search box on the top of each page of the dashboard with a “go” button next to it and a link to an “advanced search” or a “power search” button.

Another search model is known as “Browsing”. In this case, the user doesn’t have a known item in mind, but will let the search process refine the search. Here, the value is in presenting categories and sample values and letting the user browse to an ultimate asset.

The “dashboard as navigation” school of thought certainly follows this latter model. The idea is to present a smorgashboard of content that allows for drill-down linking into content or across categories until the user finds what she is interested in. Dashboards facilitate this sort of learning by browsing.

Let’s look at an example of using a dashboard as a browsing navigation tool to examine a database.

The Marvel Database tracks all things having to do with Marvel Comics:

Marvel Comics Database Dashboard

Yes, it’s kind of plain and straight-foward, but you know what? If you are a Marvel Comics fan, the categorization really speaks to you. One look at the portlets and you know that you are among friends. The stage is set for browsing the data in terms that you understand. Take a look at the next dashboard screenshot to see something a little more visually interesting: