9 Common Dashboard Design Mistakes to Avoid – And How to Get it Right!

Dashboard design can make or break an application. A well-designed dashboard can help users quickly understand their data and take action while a poor design can lead to confusion and frustration. In this article, we’ll discuss 9 common dashboard design mistakes in detail, how to identify them and how to avoid making them.

Why Is Dashboard Design Important?

Dashboard design plays a crucial role in the usability and effectiveness of any digital product. It serves as the central hub for users to access the information they need and make informed decisions based on that data. In this section, we’ll discuss the importance of dashboard design and offer some tips on how to create a user-friendly and effective dashboard.

An Application’s Dashboard Enhances the User Experience

When designed correctly, a dashboard can significantly improve the overall user experience. Users can quickly understand and navigate through their data, making it easier for them to complete tasks and make decisions. A well-designed dashboard also reduces the time and effort needed to find relevant information, leading to increased productivity.

A Well Designed Dashboard Will Facilitate Decision-Making

The primary purpose of a dashboard is to present data in an easily digestible format so users can make informed decisions. An effective dashboard design should display the most important information at a glance, allowing users to focus on what matters most without getting overwhelmed by less relevant data.

A Dashboard Serves User Needs

A good dashboard design takes into account the unique needs and preferences of its users. By allowing users to customize their dashboard, you can ensure that they have access to the information that is most relevant to their tasks and goals. This personalization not only improves the user experience but also increases the likelihood of users regularly engaging with the dashboard.

Good Dashboards Are Accessible

Inclusivity is a critical aspect of dashboard design. Make sure your dashboard is accessible to all users, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. This includes incorporating features such as keyboard navigation and screen reader compatibility to ensure that everyone can easily access and interpret the information displayed on the dashboard.

9 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Dashboard Design Process

Dashboard design is a critical part of any successful digital coaching business. An effective dashboard can help track progress and drive better results. But there are several mistakes that many businesses make when it comes to designing their dashboard. Here are 9 of the most crucial and common mistakes made in dashboard design, and how you can to avoid them.

  1. Designing the Dashboard First
  2. The Misuse of Color
  3. Repetition
  4. Over-Designed Interface, Under-Designed Information Architecture
  5. Using 3D Graphs
  6. Hiding Vital Information
  7. Presenting Data Without Context
  8. Applying Text and Labels Without Intention
  9. Choosing the Wrong Chart Types For Data Visualization

1. Designing The Dashboard First

A dashboard acts as the summation of an application; an overview of it’s current and historical states, a summary of the data present and a landing or jumping off point for user’s to take further action. At the same time, they are typically one of the most visually exciting screens of the digital product and garner a lot of importance and attention from product stakeholders. Because of those reasons – the dashboard is often one of the first things to be designed.

However, the opposite approach is much more effective in terms of process and I would in fact recommend just the opposite approach. A dashboard is a summary view of everything else and displays key info from various parts of the application. It’s much more practical to design it at the end of your product design journey.

Designing the dashboard of an application last is crucial for several reasons. First, it allows designers to have a comprehensive understanding of the entire application and its various components. This knowledge enables them to make informed decisions about which elements are most important and should be displayed prominently on the dashboard. It also helps in creating a cohesive and consistent design language throughout the application, ensuring that the dashboard seamlessly integrates with the rest of the product.

Additionally, designing the dashboard last enables designers to be more efficient in their workflow. By focusing on the individual pages and components first, they can build a robust library of reusable elements that can be easily incorporated into the dashboard. This not only saves time but also ensures consistency in the overall design

The benefits are also clear when you consider how user feedback and testing might be incorporated into the design process. By having the majority of the application designed and tested, designers can gather valuable insights into user behavior and preferences. This information can then be used to create a dashboard that truly caters to the needs of the users, providing them with a more satisfying and efficient experience.

Designing the dashboard last is a strategic approach that ensures a well-rounded, user-centric, and efficient design process. By prioritizing the individual components and pages first, designers can create a dashboard that effectively summarizes the most important information, maintains consistency with the rest of the application, and provides an optimal user experience.

2. The Misuse of Color

The next common mistake comes to us in the form of color being misused (or overused) in the dashboard’s user interface design.

A designer might misuse color in a dashboard user interface design in the following ways:

  • Overuse of bright colors: Using too many bright or saturated colors can make the dashboard look cluttered and overwhelming, making it difficult for users to focus on important information.
  • Lack of color consistency: Inconsistently using colors throughout the dashboard can confuse users and make it challenging for them to understand the purpose of different elements.
  • Poor color contrast: Designers may choose colors that do not have enough contrast, making text and other elements difficult to read, especially for users with visual impairments.
  • Inappropriate use of color for emphasis: Using colors to emphasize unimportant elements or not using colors to highlight critical information can lead to users missing essential data points.
  • Ignoring cultural differences: Designers may choose colors that have specific cultural connotations, which could be misinterpreted or offensive to users from different backgrounds.
  • Overuse of gradients and patterns: Using gradients and patterns excessively can make the dashboard appear visually complex and distracting, reducing the overall readability of the interface.
  • Coloring negative space: Adding color to the negative space of charts and graphs can create visual illusions and make it harder for users to interpret the data accurately.
  • Not adhering to a style guide: Failing to follow a consistent color scheme based on a style guide can result in an unprofessional and disjointed appearance, making the dashboard less appealing and harder to navigate.

To avoid these mistakes, designers should carefully consider their color choices, ensure consistency, and prioritize readability and accessibility in their dashboard designs. Try starting with NO colors. This will allow you to deliberately decide where, and more importantly, WHY color might be needed to craft a more effective end-user experience. Backgrounds should not be colored. Instead, I’d recommend a neutral or light gray tone so as not to distract from the actual information you’re trying to convey. The dominant colors in use should occupy the data itself, be careful with coloring the negative space of your charts. This causes a strange illusion for the audience, and can provide friction in their trying to understand the graphics.

3. Repetition

A well-designed dashboard is crucial for effective data visualization and decision-making. One of the key aspects of a successful dashboard design is presenting information in a clear, concise, and easily digestible manner. Repeating data or information on a dashboard can lead to several issues that hinder its effectiveness and usability.

Firstly, repetition of data can create confusion for users. When the same information is presented in multiple ways or locations on a dashboard, it can be unclear which representation is the most accurate or relevant. This can lead to misinterpretation of the data and potentially incorrect decisions based on that data.

Secondly, repeating data or information can make a dashboard appear cluttered and disorganized. A clean and well-structured layout is essential for users to quickly understand and navigate the dashboard. By presenting the same information multiple times, valuable screen space is wasted, making it more difficult for users to find and focus on the most important data points.

Moreover, repetition can also lead to information overload. A dashboard should provide users with the most relevant and actionable insights, allowing them to make informed decisions quickly. By including redundant information, users may become overwhelmed and struggle to identify the key takeaways from the data.

Lastly, repeated data can also indicate a lack of focus in the dashboard’s purpose. A well-designed dashboard should have a clear objective and present only the most relevant information to achieve that goal. Including repetitive information suggests that the dashboard’s purpose has not been clearly defined, which can result in a less effective tool for decision-making.

To avoid these issues, it is essential to carefully plan and design your dashboard with a clear focus on its purpose and the needs of its users. Ensure that each piece of information presented is unique and contributes to the overall understanding of the data. By eliminating repetition and prioritizing clarity and organization, you can create a more effective and user-friendly dashboard that successfully supports data-driven decision-making.

4. Over-Designed Interface, Under-Designed Information Architecture

Most inspirational dashboard designs out there today are ineffective at actually presenting information to their users. It’s a common trap to focus on presentation alone and spend the most time designing a very beautiful dashboard. Intelligently and intentionally creating one which solves a specific set of problems is happening less and less – making it an increasingly important skill to learn. 

I call this trend of beauty over function the “Dribbblization of Dashboard design”. It’s an unfortunate and ongoing trend being fueled by social and gamification features including likes, popular pages and comments.

Modern and often free tools for new designers are also fueling the trend. I’m talking about UI kits, admin bootstrap themes and free website templates. These are often used as a crutch for new UI designers, filling in the gap of experience with ill-fitting visual design resources. They frequently set a poor example for what makes a good dashboard as they focus wholly on eye-catching visuals to make the sale. 

These types of dashboard are beautiful pieces of art. They’re truly impressive! But again – not necessarily a good source of inspiration for a product designer seeking to craft an intentional user experience. Yet they persist as our likes and comments fuel more the social media feedback loop. 

On the other end of the spectrum are boring, yet useful dashboard designs. Coming from the complex world of industrial automation there’s a theory known as High Performance human machine interfaces. This theory is all about displaying complex data in a highly organized and legible way. It’s intended for folks known as operators, whose entire 9-5 job might consist of keeping an eye on and using these complex HMIs to control  operations. Think of a water/wastewater plant for your entire city, a car manufacturing facility or a power plant. 

The design aesthetic is incredibly low contrast, allowing alarms and other attention-seeking bits of the UI to come to the forefront of the operator’s attention easily. I would argue that for our typical software/digital product dashboard – this is taking it too far in the functional direction. We are still selling a product or service here, so we can weave some beauty into our product dashboards.

It’s your job to decide where and how that blend is going to happen. Try to land somewhere in between these two styles of visual design with a focus on the product’s core information design and functionality. Blending these two ideas into a beautiful, functional design will leave you with friendly and approachable software experience. 

5. Using 3D Graphs

Using 3D graphs for data visualization on a dashboard is generally considered a bad UX design choice due to several reasons. While they may appear visually appealing, 3D graphs often distort the perception of data and hinder users’ ability to accurately interpret the information presented.

Using 3D on a dashboard can skew the representation of data points, making it difficult for users to accurately compare values. This generally occurs because the added dimension can create visual illusions that affect the perception of size and position of the data points. As a result, users may draw incorrect conclusions from the data, leading to potential misinformed decisions.

On the visual side of the spectrum, 3D graphics tend to clutter the dashboard and increase the cognitive load for an average user. They add a lot of visual noise and complexity when in contrast, simpler 2D visualizations allow users to focus on the data itself – rather than trying to decipher the graph’s structure. This issue is particularly problematic when users need to access the dashboard on smaller screens or mobile devices, where the 3D effects can further obscure the data.

Last but not least, 3D graphs can be less accessible for users with visual impairments or cognitive disabilities. The added complexity and potential for distortion can make it more difficult for these users to understand the information being presented, leading to an exclusionary experience.

Keep your dashboard’s interface design simple by opting for simpler 2D visualizations and focusing on clarity of information. As a designer, this brings you one step closer to reaching your goal of crafting a dashboard that effectively communicates information and caters to a wide range of users.

6. Hiding Vital Information

A well-designed dashboard user interface is crucial for effectively conveying the most vital information about a web application’s status and data. By highlighting the most essential and vital information, users can quickly grasp the current state of the system, make informed decisions, and take appropriate actions based on the insights provided.

One of the primary reasons to emphasize vital information on a dashboard is to improve efficiency and productivity. Users often rely on dashboards to monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) and other critical metrics in real-time. By presenting this information prominently, users can easily identify trends, detect anomalies, and respond to any issues that may arise, ultimately saving time and resources.

Emphasizing vital information on a dashboard helps to support data-driven decision-making. In today’s fast-paced business environment, having access to accurate and up-to-date information is crucial for making informed decisions. A well-designed dashboard that highlights key data points enables users to quickly analyze the information and make data-driven decisions that can positively impact the organization’s performance.

A cluttered or poorly organized dashboard can be overwhelming and confusing, making it difficult for users to find the information they need. By prioritizing the most important data and presenting it in a clear and concise manner, users can navigate the dashboard with ease and focus on the tasks at hand. Ultimately, when vital information is either unavailable or obfuscated, the overall user experience is diminished.

Of course, drilling down into more minute data and information should be an avenue, but really try to hone in on what’s absolutely essential for the top level dashboard.

7. Presenting Data Without Context

Data and information are two distinct concepts that play a crucial role in dashboard design and data visualization. Understanding the difference between these two terms is essential for creating effective and meaningful visual representations of data. Long story short, data is not information. Data, provided with context, becomes information.

Data refers to raw, unstructured, and unorganized facts or figures that have the potential to be analyzed for value. It consists of individual pieces of information that, on their own, may not hold much meaning or context. Data can come from various sources, such as user inputs, sensors, or databases, and often requires processing and organization before it can be effectively used.

On the other hand, information is data that has been structured, contextualized, and organized in a way that makes it ready for further analysis and interpretation. Information is derived from data by applying various processes, such as sorting, filtering, and aggregating, to give it meaning and relevance. In essence, information is data that has been transformed into a format that can be easily understood and utilized by users.

In our context of dashboard design and data visualization, the distinction between data and information is crucial. When designing a dashboard, it is essential to focus on presenting information rather than raw data. This involves organizing and structuring the data in a way that highlights key insights, trends, and patterns, making it easier for users to interpret and act upon. Effective dashboard design should prioritize relevant information, provide context, and use appropriate visualizations to convey the intended message clearly and efficiently.

Data and information are distinct concepts that play a vital role in dashboard design and data visualization. Information is the result of organizing and contextualizing data to make it meaningful and actionable. Understanding this difference is crucial for creating effective dashboards and visualizations that enable users to extract valuable insights and make informed decisions.

8. Applying Text and Labels Without Intention

In dashboard design, the effective use of text and labels plays a crucial role in enhancing the overall user experience and ensuring that the presented data is easily understood. When incorporating text into your dashboard, it is essential to strike a balance between providing necessary context and avoiding information overload. Here are some guidelines on how to use text and labels effectively in dashboard design:

1. Be concise and clear: Use short, descriptive labels for charts, tables, and other visual elements. This helps users quickly grasp the purpose of each element and understand the data being presented. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that may be unfamiliar to your target audience.

2. Maintain consistency: Ensure that the font style, size, and color are consistent throughout the dashboard. This not only creates a visually appealing design but also makes it easier for users to navigate and comprehend the information.

3. Prioritize important information: Place the most critical data points and labels prominently on the dashboard, making them easily accessible and noticeable. This helps users focus on the key insights and make informed decisions based on the data.

4. Use white space effectively: White space, or the empty space between text and visual elements, can significantly impact the readability and aesthetics of your dashboard. Proper use of white space prevents overcrowding and allows users to easily distinguish between different sections and elements.

5. Leverage text for context: While visuals are essential in dashboard design, sometimes additional context is needed to fully understand the data. Use text sparingly to provide explanations, definitions, or instructions that help users interpret the data accurately.

6. Optimize for accessibility: Ensure that your text is easily readable by all users, including those with visual impairments. Choose high-contrast colors for text and background, and consider using larger font sizes or adjustable font settings to accommodate different user preferences.

As always, there’s so much more to uncover on this topic – but by following these guidelines you can effectively incorporate text and labels into your dashboard design, creating a user-friendly interface that communicates essential information clearly and efficiently. Remember that the ultimate goal is to facilitate data-driven decision-making, and the strategic use of text can significantly contribute to achieving this objective.

9. Choosing the Wrong Chart Types For Data Visualization

The final of these common mistakes I’ve observed over my career is simply choosing the wrong type of chart to visualize data. This may seem trivial, but can have several negative consequences, which can ultimately lead to misinterpretation and poor decision-making amongst your users. A key drawback of selecting an inappropriate chart type is that you might be misleading your users which can lead to confusion and misguided actions. There’s also the ever-present risk of reduced user engagement within the dashboard itself.

A poorly designed chart can be visually unappealing and difficult to engage with, causing users to lose interest and disengage from the data. This can result in missed opportunities to identify important trends or patterns that could inform strategic decision-making. When users struggle to interpret a poorly chosen chart type, they may spend more time trying to understand the data than understanding and taking effective actions in parallel with the information.

To avoid these negative consequences, it is crucial to carefully consider the most appropriate chart type for the data being presented. By selecting a chart that accurately represents the data and is easy to interpret, you can ensure that your visualizations support informed decision-making. To do so, focus on the following during the planning and design phases of your dashboard:

  1. Determine the type of data: Before choosing a chart, it is essential to understand the kind of data you want to display. Is it categorical or numerical data? Continuous or discrete data? Identifying the data type will help narrow down the suitable chart options.
  2. Consider the message you want to convey: Different charts are better suited for different purposes. If you want to show changes over time, a line chart or a bar chart would be suitable. If you want to compare values between categories, a bar chart, pie chart, or donut chart will be appropriate. Align your chart choice with the message you aim to communicate.
  3. Keep it simple: Use charts that accurately represent data and don’t add unnecessary complexity. A chart with too many elements or too much information can confuse the reader and make it difficult to understand the message you are trying to convey.
  4. Pay attention to the axis: Make sure that the axis on the chart is correctly labeled and scaled to the data. This will help ensure that the chart accurately represents the data.
  5. Choose a chart that is visually appealing: The chart should be aesthetically pleasing and easy to read. Select a chart with a modern design that is clear and easy to interpret.
  6. Consider your target audience: Take into account the familiarity of your audience with the basic principles being presented by the data, as well as their background in fields where charts and graphs are more likely to be viewed regularly.
  7. Test and iterate: Once you have chosen a chart, test it with users to ensure that it effectively communicates the intended message. Gather feedback and make any necessary adjustments to improve the clarity and effectiveness of the visualization.

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Effective Dashboard Design Tips

In order to avoid common dashboard design mistakes and create a user-friendly interface, consider the following tips:

  • Prioritize the most important information and display it prominently on the dashboard.
  • Use white space effectively to prevent overcrowding and enhance readability.
  • Choose a limited color palette that aligns with your brand and use it consistently.
  • Provide customization options to cater to individual user needs and preferences.
  • Ensure accessibility for all users, including those with disabilities.
  • Test your dashboard design with real users to gather feedback and make necessary adjustments.

By keeping these principles in mind and avoiding common pitfalls, you can create a dashboard that successfully meets the needs of your users and enhances their overall experience with your digital product.