Visiting the London National Gallery was a favourite weekend outing while I was living in London. I love exploring paintings!
One day I was siting at a bench looking at a simple yet beautiful landscape painting when suddenly my view was blocked by a group of kids on a field trip. Their teacher stopped by the same painting and asked her students to look carefully at it and then tell her what they see. These kids were ages 7 or 8.
This was a fascinating moment! Not only is this a great activity for young children but the way these kids described the painting was mind blowing. Most of the kids would begin by saying they see a river and trees. There were some to point out that they see small and big trees, others would find details such as the rock and the grass. A couple of kids were also amazed that the sky is grey over the river and the trees and is bright blue and sunny in the distance. For the rest of my visit that day in the gallery I looked at paintings and in mind tried to describe them the way those kids did.
I remember this moment in the gallery to this day so vividly.
And when I look at the reports and dashboard I build for clients I try to think if kids look at these would they be able to decipher what is in the picture? Are these dashboards informative yet simple enough for the audience to read and understand. But most importantly while everyone is looking for data insights, try to bring those hidden numbers with most impact – the data out of sights.
I recently created a video on building a simple and insightful dashboard in Google Data Studio.
I use only numbers, there are no graphs in this report, yet it gives a quick overview of how an eCommerce website is performing in terms of sales and revenue.
Here is another example of a simple dashboard in Excel reporting on website traffic acquisition.
Regardless of the tools you are using to build your reports here is a process to follow to make sure you tell a story with your dashboards:
1. Do not just throw in metrics for the sake of reporting. Focus on KPIs and the metrics that theme your dashboard. As in the examples above an eCommerce dashboard does not need traffic data, focus on eCommerce metrics and sales performance. If you need to show engagement, built a separate dashboard or another page in your report that focuses on website engagement metrics. Think of your dashboard as a landscaping painting. Is it a painting of a lonely valley or a busy market? What is the purpose of each detail you draw in your picture?
2. Build good data visuals. You do not need to be a designer to create a graph that is easy to analyse. Clean clutter, use colors wisely and insert insights where needed.
Is your landscape painting showing a storm that is about to clear because the sky in the distance looks bright blue and sunny? All these details help your audience understand what it is you want to tell with the graphs you are using.
3. Set the tone with a good summary headline. It will help your audience understand what to expect and how to focus their attention when looking at your graphs. What other means you can use to aid understanding? Can you use colors to highlight, or pointers and dividers and icons? You want your audience to know that there is a small and a big tree in your landscape painting. How can you make that easily visible?
4. Think beyond a single component of your dashboard.It is all the charts and tables that work together to build the dashboard. Think about the composition of a landscape painting. If we draw one tree this would be just a drawing of a tree. But when we paint a few trees together, a sky and a river, our picture looks more complete and is becoming a landscape. It is also the logical order of these components that make it a landscape. If we paint the river on the sky it will become a totally different type of painting. Compose your dashboards with this in mind. Put charts next to each other or apart as long as it makes sense to the final message you want your dashboard to send.
When we follow a logical pattern, use colors and clues and bring out the most important components of our dashboards, then they become a whole story with a lot of lessons, insights and even out of sights.