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12 - Data Integration
12 - Data Integration

The Importance of Thoughtful Design: A Prerequisite for Effective Dashboards

When tackling a problem, people tend to become emotionally invested in the solutions they come up with. The more time and effort they dedicate to a particular solution, the more they believe in its effectiveness-- even if it may not actually address the core problem adequately. That's precisely why it is crucial to resist the temptation of rushing into creating a dashboard as a solution. We must avoid the creation of ineffective dashboards that won't serve their intended purpose. In my previous posts, I emphasized the importance of finding the right problem before jumping into crafting a solution and gave you the tools to do so.

To ensure the success of dashboard design, it is essential to invest time in understanding why we need a dashboard in the first place. Exploring multiple ideas and possibilities before settling on a specific solution is key.

The dashboard design process should begin by identifying our stakeholders and their decision-making needs. This understanding will guide us in determining the relevant metrics that support those decisions. The next step involves prototyping the dashboards using simple tools like pen and paper, obtaining feedback, and iterating to refine the design. Only after confirming that the prototype aligns with the project's objectives should we proceed to gather the actual data and begin building the dashboard.

Lastly, creating a useful dashboard requires sharing it effectively with the intended audience and maintaining it over time. By following this thoughtful approach to dashboard design, we can ensure that the end product becomes a valuable tool for its users.

Dashboard Design Process

We can summarize this process into four steps:

  1. Define
  2. Prototype
  3. Build
  4. Deploy

Step 1: The Initial and Crucial Step: Defining Stakeholders and Metrics for the Dashboard

The first and foremost step in dashboard creation is gaining absolute clarity regarding the intended audience and the metrics that hold significance to them. This clarity is paramount to ensure the dashboard's practicality and usability.


In this endeavor, four main stakeholders play crucial roles:

  1. The Designer (You) - Responsible for crafting the dashboard.
  2. The User(s) - Those who will access and utilize the dashboard.
  3. The Key-User - An experienced user who provides valuable insights and feedback.
  4. The Data Buddy - A team member offering assistance and support in dealing with data-related aspects.


Working in collaboration with the key-user, you will transition from identifying the decisions that need to be made to determining the metrics that can be effectively queried and tracked. This process necessitates a thorough back-and-forth exchange to distinguish between interesting but non-essential metrics and the mission-critical data required for making informed decisions.

Step 2: Prototyping - Crafting a Useful Dashboard

After identifying the metrics to be included in the dashboard, the next step is to determine the most effective way to present them to the audience for maximum usefulness.


Select visualizations that convey the metrics clearly and accurately. Even during the sketching and prototyping phase, making the right visualization choices can significantly enhance the prototype and feedback process.



Utilize best practices for assembling the chosen visualizations into a cohesive dashboard. The composition decisions might even lead you to reconsider your initial choice of optimal visualizations.

Sketching and Iteration:

At this stage, it is highly recommended to sketch out the visualizations and dashboards either on paper or using a tool like This approach allows you to swiftly discard any unsuitable ideas without concerns about time investment. Moreover, it enables you to concentrate on the design itself rather than being preoccupied with validating the accuracy of the numbers.



Step 3: Building the Dashboard: Transforming Prototype into Reality

After finalizing and being content with the prototype, the next step involves bringing the dashboard to life using real data.

Locating the Data:

This stage can present various challenges. Questions such as where the data is stored, its cleanliness, and its availability may arise. Collaborating closely with the development team and the Data Buddy becomes essential in navigating through this phase.

Creating Metrics and Dashboard:

To build the dashboard, we must generate queries to power the metrics, formulate necessary calculations and transform the data into visually informative charts. Utilizing a framework to log the metrics, formulas and data sources simplifies the process of creating queries and ensures a smoother development experience.

Step 4: Deploying and Sustaining the Dashboard: Ensuring Widespread Impact

After successfully creating a fully functional dashboard, the next crucial steps involve sharing it with the entire audience, enhancing its effectiveness at scale, and ensuring its ongoing maintenance as usage evolves.


Given that users possess varying levels of data literacy and contextual understanding, it is imperative to ensure that the dashboard provides sufficient context within its design and offers adequate training resources. This approach enables people to easily derive valuable insights from the presented data.


As the dashboard gains popularity, the number of views and viewers is likely to increase. To accommodate this growth, it is beneficial to incorporate links, interactivity, and comprehensive documentation, enabling the dashboard to serve a broader range of use cases and inspire other dashboard creators. Additionally, dedicating time to optimize queries becomes crucial in maintaining the dashboard's usefulness amidst growing demands.


Data sources, tables, and fields are subject to change over time, necessitating corresponding adjustments in the dashboard. Establishing scheduled review periods is vital in ensuring that the dashboard remains relevant and fully functional. Furthermore, providing a means for the audience to report issues allows for informed improvements and ensures the dashboard's ongoing effectiveness.

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