Hi, I’m Ann K. Emery—an evaluator-turned-dataviz-designer.
Humor me: Comment and let me know how you’d define the term “dashboard.”
Lesson Learned: There are Lots of Correct Definitions of Dashboards
A couple months ago, I asked my newsletter readers for their definitions:
- “A dashboard is an at-a-glance – and brief – document or interactive space that allows the user to provide easy to understand highlights about a specific topic (e.g., a project, issue, demographic, etc.) for a specific range of time. Typically, it is the most up-to-date information.” – an evaluator at a Department of Children and Families in the northeast U.S.
- “A tally of metrics every (monthly, quarterly, yearly). All countable, but not necessarily things that count.” – an evaluator in Alberta
- “This is a new term to me. Although I’ve heard it on the news and have a general idea about what it means, it’s not a term I use, and I don’t have a clear idea what it means. I have assumed that it’s some type of electronic platform where people present raw data for others to view.” – a communications specialist working with evaluators
- “A term clients always want but never understand. Must be flashy, constantly changing, and include 9,000 different data sources.” – an epidemiologist
(Yes, I love that last one, too!)
These are all correct definitions. But that’s the problem.
Hot Tip 1: Decide Whether You Need a Single Dashboard or a Series of Matching Dashboards
Here’s how we need to start talking about dashboards.
Do we need a single page/screen that provides a project overview? Or, do we need a series of matching dashboards (e.g., one per school)?
Hot Tip 2: Decide Whether Your Audience is Technical or Non-Technical
Static dashboards are PDFs, handouts, one-pagers, etc. They’re adored by non-technical audiences who appreciate having all the key info laid out for them.
Interactive dashboards are adored by technical audiences—the number-crunchers who love spending tons of time uncovering nuances in the data.
Hot Tip 3: Choose a Software Program Based on the Quadrant
Software decisions should come after these planning conversations—not before!
Need a static dashboard? Use a spreadsheet program like Excel, Sheets, or Numbers.
Need an interactive dashboard? Use an interactive dashboard program, like Tableau, Power BI, or R.
Lesson Learned: Too Many Interactive Dashboards Should Actually Be Static
“Senior leadership definitely doesn’t have the time to drill-around and look at it like I do. They always say they want the option to, but in reality they need a quick snapshot,” an HR coordinator told me recently. I agree 100%.
I used to design interactive dashboards for clients. I don’t anymore because I’m tired of making things that don’t get used. It’s a better use of the project’s budget–and my life energy–to design static dashboards that leaders actually need.
The next time you’re asked to design a dashboard, talk through these dashboard types with stakeholders. Then, comment below and let me know which type(s) you chose.
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