My experience of common practices that led to ineffective dashboard designs in Tableau

by Janasobini Vetharuban
This was one of the first dashboards I ever created in Tableau.
An example of multiple ineffective dashboarding practices.

At the end of the day, everyone has their own way of designing dashboard, and there is not necessarily one wrong or right way. In this blog I’ve tried to highlight 5 practices that I myself have been guilty of doing and has limited the full effectiveness of some of my dashboards without me realising.

1. Skipping planning in the design process

The most challenging part of dashboard design typically revolves around ensuring all users are on the same page, especially with regards to strategic aspects such as:

  • Who are your end users, and what are their responsibilities and goals?
  • What are the key insights from this dashboard? How will this help the end user?
  • What are the tasks users want to perform with this dashboard?

Without a clearly defined scope and strategy for creating your dashboard, your requirements will grow into something that’s bulky and without direction.

To avoid this: Create a plan that establishes the goal of the users (what goal to achieve and what tasks to be performed) and the scope of the dashboard (how much data is to be used). Try to get a more comprehensive understanding of the topic and data implications. Focus on creating a visualisation that gives the audience your insights, rather than the analysis.

2. Showing too much granular details in the first view

Showing too much can hinder the viewers’ ability to focus on what’s important, and can slow down their abstract thinking ability. Whether your end-user is a top-level executive or an analyst, give them only the most important information portioned out in an easily consumable, first-glance amount.

How do you know if you’re showing too much detail? If the details don’t directly support what you are trying to convey to the users, then you’re probably showing more detail than necessary.

To avoid this: Carefully study the decisions your end-user makes and analyse the user’s workflow to determine what snapshot of information they need at each step of the decision making process.

3. Trying to show everything in one dashboard

One thing a lot of people assume, is that the dashboard is only insightful is if EVERY SINGLE IMPORTANT THING is visible in view. Although this may be true to some extent, like I’ve mentioned above, giving too much information all at once will overload the view, making it seem cluttered and distract them from some of the key insights you have presented.

While giving all the information in one dashboard maybe useful to someone like an analyst who is familiar with the data, it may not be off the same value to someone higher up in the organisation.

To avoid this: Carefully study the decisions your end-user makes and analyse the user’s workflow to determine what snapshot of information they need at each step of the decision making process.

4. Using too many colours on the Dashboard

Whether it’s the color of visualization or dashboard functional elements, try not use more than 3 distinct colours (hues). No matter how tempting, do not go after flashy looks or copy exactly the styling of your favourite dashboard (I was guilty of this as a Tableau beginner). Keep in mind that the different elements in the dashboard such as buttons, callout, checkboxes, etc. should not take away the focus from data visualisation and other insights.

To avoid this: Use neutral colours or lighter shades. This technique will serve to differentiate areas without making the dashboard appear busy. Use bright shades sparingly to highlight colours and key information you want to stand out. Your colours need to serve a clearly defined purpose, hence it’s best practice is to use a maximum of 3 different hues in a dashboard.

5. Going overboard with the formatting

There are millions of options with Tableau for formatting your dashboards. However, you should stick to the defaults wherever possible. Most people don’t realise that Tableau employees have spent hundreds of hours finding the perfect colours, fonts, and formatting that work just fine 99% of the time. So why take the time yourself when you could be doing something more productive?

To avoid this: Try to stick with the Tableau default fonts, colours, shapes, and field formats whenever possible. Use consistent formatting throughout the entire dashboard or across multiple dashboards based around the same data/topic.

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