Welcome to the April edition of “What’s Good?”.
Each month will have a tailored theme, this months is Business Dashboards.
I am so pleased to invite Zak Geis to the blog for the April edition of “What’s Good?” This month’s topic is on Business Dashboards Design Tips. Zak was one of the first individuals I messaged in the community, over a year ago, when I was just starting my Tableau Public profile…. I couldn’t get a huge NBA dataset to stop crashing my computer at the time so I needed to know a way to slice the data beforehand. Anyway, I’m glad we have come full circle!
Zak is the Tableau leader at JPMorgan & Chase and is a Tableau Public Ambassador. Zak’s passion stretches further than dashboard design to Desktop, Server and DataDev / API’s. Recently Zak has been publishing #TableauDesignTips for the community. You can check out a run-through example at a recent #VizConnect here. You can connect with Zak on Twitter here. Zak recently published his website Data Theories, which is well worth bookmarking!
Zak has produced over 25 Design Tips so far on his Tableau Public profile. You can check out the catalogue here.
CJ: Zak, so great to have you on the blog. Let’s start with your recent VizConnect: You mention 5 specific tips. The first three of which I think I am going to bundle into human-centred design.
- Think outside the box.
- User experience is everything
- Find Inspiration
Why is it important to build dashboards around the user?
Z: Thanks for the intro CJ! So happy to be included in your interview series.
We all work in data. We’re architects or engineers or developers or analysts or whatever title is thrown at us. Regardless, our mission is to inform others with data. The data, the information, should be all the user ever needs to think about. When we don’t provide a quality user experience, they are disrupted from that flow. They have to think about how to interact, how to filter, how to interpret the dashboard instead, and that’s wasted time. If we spend the time to make their experience seamless and so well-done that the user doesn’t have to think about it at all, we’ve excelled in our work.
CJ: What are some design tips you think ALL KPI dashboards should have?
Z: Keep them clean, simple and provide plenty of white space. Adding additional context is also always important. Provide a spark line, some filtering and/or a relationship to the more granular data to give the user more than a big number. There is always a balance between proving a clean simple dashboard and giving the user the expansive details that they may need. Work on that balance in your dashboards and your users will thank you.
CJ: Could you give us some examples of where parameter actions are best used in business dashboards?
Z: All over the place! Parameter actions are my favorite new(ish) feature in Tableau. They open so many opportunities in designing dashboards with user experience in mind. Take my tips for example – several of them are just about adding custom user interface elements to the dashboard. Some of the examples include checkboxes, custom filters, toggle shapes, buttons – these are things that users are used to because they see them in their favorite apps.
But you asked for specifics! I would recommend creating custom buttons and combine them with parameter actions for a better experience. Although Tableau is a great tool, the filter/parameter options leave much to be desired. Give them some fresh life by making them custom.
CJ: A couple of my favourite tips you’ve given have been around selection filter colouring but also annotation tips. Do you have any rulings on the number of filters and text that should appear on a page?
Z: Thanks! I try not to have any hard and fast rules on most things. However as a rule of thumb, I typically encourage less than five filters and the least amount of text possible. This helps to present a clean layout and limits the cognitive load. I also try my best to push things that aren’t commonly used to the background, like by using a hide/show container to group and hide the filters.
It is also especially important to consider the value a filter gives on its own. Is it useful to have a date selector but without context into why you should filter? Probably not. Try to give a user context with every action and filter they can use, and they will have a more streamlined experience with your content.
CJ: Have you seen any ‘design nightmares’? What are some things to avoid when building a dashboard for the workplace?
Z: Unfortunately, I come across nightmares all the time. I would be happy to share some things to avoid and tips to use. Here are the biggest and most important in my eyes.
· Use White Space – too often, I work with people that rely on the defaults. I always recommend to at least triple the padding around dashboard objects. It makes a huge difference.
· Use Color Sparingly – It is so easy to drag something to the color shelf in Tableau, that many creators neglect to think if they should. Never use colors for categories and instead use them to highlight the message or focus point of the view.
· Limit filters – As mentioned above, filters, especially when overused, steal the focus of the user which should be spent on the data itself.
· Don’t overload a screen – It can be tough, but everything doesn’t need to be on the same page. It becomes too overloading for the user to interpret the dashboard. It can also have an impact on performance. A tip: if you have a scrollbar, think about changing up your dashboard.
CJ: You referred to the work of Nadiah Bremer in your recent Viz Connect, What business dashboards / KPI design’s have you seen in the wider community that you like and why?
Z: There is a gap when it comes to practical examples of dashboards in the data viz community. So much is focused on designs that do not naturally work well with business capabilities. That said, I would recommend:
1. The Real World Fake Data (RWFD) initiative by Mark Bradbourne. It’s generated a wealth of great content that is focused on practical business design. I’d definitely take a look and also participate if you have the time. Mark releases a new dataset every two weeks.
2. EverydayDashboards hosted by Chris Love. This is another excellent repository of real and actual dashboards submitted from across the community. Chris was focusing on real and practical use of Tableau in this initiative.
3. The Superstore Sales Dashboard for Executives by Luke Stanke. Luke has done some incredible stuff in pushing the boundaries of business dashboards. His ability to combine tables with data & charts is unparalleled.
5. Anything from Ryan Sleeper. He is the king of building functional, clean dashboards for business use cases while also showing inventive ways to provide a great user experience.
CJ: In the business world, how important is it to revamp current dashboards with new features? Is there anything from the new Tableau releases that have caught your eye?
Z: Great question! This is something that developers often overlook in Tableau dashboard delivery. Requirements change, needs change, data changes – so dashboards should change too. You should always check in with your users to see if the dashboard is needed or if they need something new. Also monitor for activity. This can be your best friend and tell you tons of info.
As for new features, I am very interested in the direction Tableau is going with Map Layers. The ability to stack marks on layers, turn them on and off and also individually format them is great. I really hope this is just the first in a series of making Tableau more design-friendly. This could completely change the game in making well-designed stuff in Tableau and pulling in from other successful applications like those found in the Adobe Suite.
CJ: Designing for Tableau Public and for the workplace is very different, I was surprised to hear how you still use Pinterest & Dribble for this. What have been some of the more obscure examples of inspiration from these sites you’ve had?
Z: I just love the field of design! There is so much interesting stuff out there if you look for it. Every day, I check in on these sites for inspiration. Most of my tips have been impacted in some way from the things that I see out in the wild. A few of my favorite, lesser-known places to watch are:
· Muzli – a great curation blog for weekly design inspiration.
· Awwwards – not just for web/app design, this site is all about use experience and awards that are given to the best.
· Siteinspire – this one just covers some of the best website designs. I get a ton of inspiration from looking at well-designed websites and applications.
CJ: Do you have any tips on how companies can build dashboards for longevity and don’t become outdated?
Z: For this question, I am going to put on my server hat! There is a ton of data behind every Tableau Server installation in the backend Postgres database just waiting to be explored. This is a great opportunity to use it to determine:
· Are users still leveraging this dashboard?
· Are they frequently returning?
· Are the right people using it?
· Are they using it interactively or just downloading the data?
· How is the performance?
· Is there an extract – if so, is it refreshing as expected?
Using data to determine where our focus should be is the right step forward. After all, we are data people!
CJ: Do you think companies should aim for bespoke dashboards, templates or a blend of the two? Is homogeneity important in dashboard design at a company? Is this possible across divisions?
Z: This one is tough. I think it is a blend of the two, especially in a larger company. My team and I typically take the approach of providing guidance, best practices, and a little bit of control vs full control over any design. We leave the ownership of this to the individual teams.
That said, I do see a lot of positive in prescribing design standards where possible. Mostly, because this ensures that the end users have a positive and consistent experience regardless of the developer or team. This is especially true in higher management, where the developer could be anyone, from any team.
I personally feel that stepping out of the way, while also giving the tools to succeed is the right option, but it can certainly depend on the use case.
CJ: How does your BI team tend to approach the build of a dashboard? Do you have projects that are a) Blue-sky thinking design, e.g Anything goes before seeing the data. b) Solution-design e.g building alongside the data c) End of process. E.g ‘Oh a dashboard would be good now’ ? Does this impact design?
Z: You are on a roll with these questions. Really good one!
Typically, my team is focused on the IT side, but we do occasionally have dashboard delivery requests. Just like with most BI delivery efforts, it is a mixed bag. Sometimes we can work with the sponsors from the beginning and have a hand in the design of the data, however we are mostly involved later in the process.
In any ideal dashboard project, it is better be involved throughout the process, talking to the end users and the project sponsors, detailing the requirements of the data, understanding the needs of the reporting layer. Regardless of whether that is the case, I always challenge my team to think outside of the box. As you can tell from my earlier answers, I rarely focus on what can be achievable in Tableau, but first start with the design and what I would like to happen. Then, we move into how we will make it happen in the product. The designs can be challenged on how the earlier events happen and how in-touch we are with the other teams but having the autonomy to design early and often is key to a good project.
CJ: Last but not least, Tiled or Floating?
Z: Oh man, the controversy – trying to get me in trouble right at the end! So, I know most people prefer tiled dashboards and I get it. If done well, tiled dashboards make sense and are a good practice. However, I love the freedom you get with floating. Being able to easily play with the size and position of things makes floating the choice for me.
CJ Round Up:
So great to see Zak share all these tips with the community. I’m sure a few companies have ‘long term borrowed’ them for their own dashboards. I know I’ve personally been bookmarking a fair few. I’m a floating over tiled kind of person myself too!
I wanted to highlight a few extra dashboards in the community from going through my favourites tab on Tableau Public. They are:
Finally, thanks Zak for joining, and so pleased to see Data Theories up and running.
Thanks for reading and do share your favourite dashboards with me!