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How to Design Web Dashboards That Communicate Actionable Insights

September 28th, 2011

As a web app developer or designer, you have probably played around with the idea of building a web dashboard. Dashboards on modern websites can be helpful tools allowing anyone to take away insights at a glance. Companies that get the right data, ask the right questions and display data in the right way stand out from other web apps.

But sometimes dashboards are only designed as charts for the sake of charts. Recently, Twitter announced they were planning on introducing an analytics platform to help uncover insights in social media campaigns. The tool’s design looks outstanding; overlapping line graphs showing clicks against bar charts showing tweets, plotted out by hour.

Just don’t let the aesthetics fool you. A social media marketer would not be able to glance at the charts and determine how to improve their campaigns with any amount of certainty. This analytics dashboard leans closer to eye candy.

When building a dashboard, remember one thing: All dashboards should communicate information that users will be able to act upon.

The intent behind this post is not to put a spotlight on Twitter. There’s a lot of potential for a Twitter-owned analytics platform.  Instead, put the spotlight on your own web apps.

Take this same perspective we used with Twitter’s dashboard and use it on your own. What kind of implications would users be able to learn from your dashboards? If a chart is strictly showing data points, it’s likely not valuable to a user. Kill those charts. Show your users something they would be able to react to.

For those seeking inspiration, here are a few examples of sites using charts and dashboards well.

Mint.com

Instead of just charting your total assets against your total debt, Mint.com shows how your net worth changes over time.

 

Adobe Business Catalyst

Business Catalyst gives users a snapshot of their businesses’ health, beyond the latest metrics or sales.

 

Facebook Ads

Facebook estimates your campaigns’ reach, which uses marketers own words to indicate campaign performance.

 

Google Analytics

The mother of all web dashboards does not disappoint. Google Analytics works fine when web owners install a tracking code, but the real power is unlocked once businesses begin tracking revenue and conversion data. Suddenly, web design decisions can be motivated by previous sales.

 

Crowdbooster

We wrote about Crowdbooster last year because of the value their dashboards bring to people on Twitter. Crowdbooster helps marketers understand what’s working with their social media campaigns or, more importantly, what’s not working.

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