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Information Design for Marketers: 7 Tips for Designing Effective Dashboards

So, you’ve created a dashboard that answers all the questions it’s supposed to. So why is it so awful to use?

Creating a dashboard that addresses its intended questions is ideal but to do so you need to take a step back and look at it through the eyes of the end user. You, as the creator of the dashboard, know what each element is for and looking at it from the perspective of a new user (or even handing it over to the new user) will highlight any unnecessary clutter that can make the dashboard appear overwhelming. This exercise may also help highlight what questions or stories your end users may be looking for after interacting with the visible data visualizations.

In the example below, we’ll first use a Merkle Email Performance dashboard to illustrate how fundamental information is effectively conveyed to promote adoption.

fundamental information

1) Scroll Bars

This is especially relevant with Tableau version 2019.1. While you can now export to PowerPoint, it will not capture any parts of your dashboard that are beyond the area of the scrollbar. If you do need a scrollbar, try to use either horizontal or vertical. It is also worth noting that if you have scroll bars, when you publish your dashboard, you may have two layers of scrollbars: one for the browser, one for your dashboard, often resulting in hidden headers and confusing navigation.

2) Decimal Places

This applies to data labels and axis labels. How many decimal places do you need? If the labels all end with “.00%” for example, you probably don’t need them.

3) Abbreviations

Does it make sense to use “%” in place of “Rate”? If you abbreviate a metric name, ensure that what it stands for is clear.

4) Color

Use color when it adds another layer of information. While it may be tempting to use the full spectrum of your beautiful palette, many colors can add confusion instead of clarity.

5) Real Estate

Negative space can be your friend, but if it’s there because you’re using inefficient visualization types (I’m looking at you, pie charts), then consider using a more efficient visualization that gives you space to provide additional relevant information.

6) Lines

If you’re using grid lines, are they adding value or clutter? Is your average line overbearing or can it be toned down with a lighter color / width? If you’re outlining containers or sections, a light color is typically enough.

Next, we’ll use a sample SEM dashboard to illustrate how Tableau’s Tooltips feature helps bring both clarity and depth to the stories available through data visualization.

Key metrics yearly comparison

In this example, we leverage a bar chart over time to illustrate performance trends and comparisons to the year prior. We superimpose reference lines and color coding for each bar chart to visualize the months performance a year prior.

To tell a deeper story of SEM marketing performance, while serving marketing operations with current performance trends, we leverage Tooltips – specifically, Tableau’s viz-in-tooltip feature.

7) Tooltips

This feature enables the visualization to incorporate more analytics without investing in more dashboard real estate. In addition to this visualization’s primary purpose of telling a story about SEM marketing operational performance, the Tooltip supplements the dashboard with key, hidden information that’s only visible after scrolling over a data point with your mouse.

As you can see in the image above, the tooltip includes an additional chart, filtered to the data point highlighted, to address another frequently used marketing measurement: year-over-year percentage change. Including this information is an analytic requirement because of how frequently volume and percentage change from previous periods are used when communicating performance to stakeholders (CTR in January 2019 is at 11.33%, up 0.82% from January 2018).

A fundamental pillar of data visualization is finding the balance between information and simplicity. As such, leveraging data visualization best practices, along with clever and sleek tableau features such as Tooltips, will help you meet that balance (and impress your stakeholders while doing so).

Check out other sophisticated data visualization tips and tricks with our first and second posts in this series. Learn more about our Data Visualization capabilities here.