A dashboard is a visual tool that shows different views of data to provide an overview of a specific topic. A dashboard will normally be a combination of several charts or important values. It is typically updated regularly or automatically, so a user can monitor it over time.
A dashboard may or may not have interactive elements, such as filtering.
When to use a dashboard
Only consider a dashboard when:
- you are communicating high-level indicators; the more specific the issues and insights, the less likely it is that a dashboard will be useful
- the topic is high-priority and users are likely to have some existing knowledge
- the data are updated frequently, and users are likely to revisit the dashboard
- the data can be updated automatically or with little extra work to avoid ongoing maintenance
Only use a dashboard if you have clear justification for doing so. This should be based on an understanding of your users’ needs.
Disadvantages of dashboards
There are some disadvantages to using dashboards. In most cases it is better to use charts that provide users with specific insights, and to integrate your charts into your analysis.
Dashboards can be problematic, as they:
- are not well-suited to highlighting important findings; they put the burden of interpreting and understanding data onto the user
- are not well-suited to data that need a large amount of explanation to be understood
- can quickly become obsolete, as findings and user needs change
- require a lot of maintenance if they need regular updating
- are difficult to make accessible and responsive for different devices
If you wish to provide complex insights based on a combination of visualisations, use several charts within a single publication. For some publications, we use scrollytelling, where emphasis and information are changed as the user scrolls down the screen.
An example of scrollytelling is Mapping regional differences in productivity and household income.
Tips for creating a dashboard
- Put the most important insights at the top or in the most prominent position.
- You do not have to fit everything onto one screen; if the most important information is visible, the user can scroll up and down.
- Carry out research and testing to understand user needs.
- Regularly review the measures in the dashboard to ensure they meet changing user needs and priorities.
- Use written content to provide context – accompany dashboards with articles highlighting current trends and priorities.
- Always make sure any dashboard design meets accessibility standards.