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How to Reimagine Your Dashboards for Effective Communication

Josh Harris | 04.29.2020

As the economic environment cycles between certainty and uncertainty, the role of the marketer changes with it: instead of running growth-focused programs, we switch to efficiently managing budgets and planning ahead for a return to growth. Today we’re in a cycle of uncertainty, and data is one of our best tools for showing the path forward. However, having the right data is only half of the equation; we must also visualise it effectively.

Data x Visualisation = Insight

Data-dump dashboards do little to help us make decisions about efficiently managing budgets. To do that, dashboards primarily need to answer our questions using the data we have.

By following a design approach that answers our questions by turning data into insight, we can make better decisions about our marketing activity faster.

 

Consider what questions the page needs to answer & identify the intellectual tasks to answer them

It’s tempting to jump straight in to starting a new page, putting things together as they come to mind. However, to create a truly effective page, we must create a plan.

First, decide on the overarching purpose for your dashboard – what should this dashboard enable you or your viewers to do?

Second, plan out the questions your pages will answer, and keep in mind how they will contribute to the dashboard’s purpose. If viewers are constantly switching between pages when using the dashboard, that is an indication that the questions have not been strategically split up.

 

Third, your page’s question will likely naturally lead to sub-questions or drill-downs, and these too need to be planned. When planning out the page’s sub-sections, don’t think about specific layouts or visualisations; instead, think about what the intellectual tasks are. To answer your page’s question, tasks might be “I need to look at reach and frequency over time,” or “I need to compare media cost and revenue across channels.” 

To help with drafting an effective list of questions and tasks, consider the Fundamental Principles of Analytical Design, set out by Edward Tufte in his book Beautiful Evidence:

  1. Show comparisons, contrasts, differences.
  2. Show causality, mechanism, explanation, systematic structure.
  3. Show multivariate data; that is, show more than 1 or 2 variables.
  4. Completely integrate words, numbers, images, diagrams.
  5. Thoroughly describe the evidence. Provide a detailed title, indicate the authors and sponsors, document the data sources, show complete measurement scales, point out relevant issues.
  6. Analytical presentations ultimately stand or fall depending on the quality, relevance, and integrity of their content.

How would your list fare if graded according to this standard? Revise it, and consider what you could change to improve it.

When revising your list, take care not to go overboard on digging into every possible metric, since not everything has equal explanatory power. For example, if you have the capability to report on Return on Ad Spend (ROAS), then it wouldn’t be worth also taking equal time to look at Click Through Rate (CTR), because CTR is a measurement already taken into account by the ROAS result. Showing both risks causing confusion and raising more questions than it answers.

 

Set up each page to effectively tell your story

You should now have a strong hierarchical list including dashboard purpose, page questions, sub-questions, and intellectual tasks. How do you set up your page to effectively let viewers explore, accomplish the tasks, and answer the questions?

Sections: If your page question naturally leads to sub-questions or drill downs, then use Rich Text and/or Custom Widgets to create section header and break elements.

Heading Styles: To make order and hierarchy clear, you should decide on and consistently use a set of styles to communicate relationships between text and other content on the page.

Relationships and Interactivity: With the right page sections and heading styles in place, you can leverage these implicit relationships to make your data more discoverable: include interactive filters and switch dimension/ measurement widgets with section-wide scope. Your page design will make it clear that they have only local effects.

 

Narrative Headings: Use your titles to either explain what you’re showing or point the viewer towards interpreting it with a certain question in mind. Simply stating “Bar Chart” is a wasted opportunity.

Branding: Your viewers aren’t visiting your page to celebrate their brand; they’re using it to better understand a holistic view of their marketing activity. Add a small logo and colour some high-level heading styles or section breaks according to the brand colour palette. Anything more is a distraction.

Page Design Options: ‘Light tiles’ is by far the most popular page design option. To better implicitly communicate relationships between groups of widgets, try the ‘flat’ variant with a contrasting page background colour – widgets will sit flush with each other.

 

 

Finding certainty in uncertain times means making sure your questions are being answered quickly and effectively. Doing so will mean you are able to fulfill the marketer’s efficiency mandate of the current climate. Now is the time to put this into practice and embrace a  thoughtful approach to (re-)considering what your questions are and whether you have the right data to answer them, planning a page hierarchy, and laying out your page optimally for human consumption. This will enable marketers to make data-driven decisions during this period and beyond.

This post was authored by Josh Harris, Datorama Success Architect, based in the UK. You’ll continue to hear from our Datorama experts from across the globe. Stay tuned and check back at datorama.com/blog.

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