From the looks of it, dashboard design might seem as the simplest thing ever. Just throw some charts, some stats together and you are good to go. Yes, our very own data hero! But does that actually enable users to take right data decisions? Is that it for information? It is seen that going overboard with the target of visual appeal, designers tend to harm its actual purpose and trip on usability. Too much clutter and heavy features are some of the major blunders that take dashboards far from inspiration and make them more of a burden.

With audience in mind, design an interface that is a crowd pleaser and has the right blend of appearance and functionality. Here, we bring to you a list of bad design pitfalls that can actually crash a dashboard. Avoid these faux pas and create successful dashboards that are just perfect for the users-

1. Crossing Single Screen

Dashboards that have data confined to a single screen, without scrolling or shifting between multiple screens, are appreciated more by the audience. Even visually, keeping things together within the eye span grants a more powerful experience. One tends to lose the track of data if has to be scrolled or switched regularly to gain access. Our memory can hold on to a piece of information for a short period of time. We are risking it a big time if we rely on the mind’s ability to retain what is no longer in the periphery of vision. Dashboard is of great benefit mainly because of the communication it generates with the users, all at-a-glance.

So, if you cross the boundaries of the screen, it will negate the effect and falter the opportunity to gain valuable insights. If the users have to navigate to different screens or use different instances of single screen to access additional information, you are ruining the dashboard feature big time. Fragmenting information weakens the advantage of dashboard to be able to view clustered data.

A consolidated overview of the data is required to understand the relation of the variables and the influence they have on one another. By opening the option of scrolling, users are left wondering as to what is left at the bottom of the screen and can view only the first of many metrics visible first. Such designs are a big failure to users’ expectations.

2. Insufficient Contextual Data

Okay, so you look at the stats and know what is your quarterly sales. But, wait a minute. There is no context to support and that can tell whether the business is on track or has it improved. It is important to provide the right context with the key performance indicators so that the audience just doesn’t view it as numbers, but as something that inspires and instigates action. Without context, the information actually loses its meaning and doesn’t signify how good or bad the performance is. If you want to utilize the full potential of the data, better incorporate context so that it enables overall meaningful comparisons.

Note, be careful while adding rich context so that it doesn’t overburden the user with its details to understand the basic message. Use a visually bold display of the main information and accompany it with supporting context that is subdued, so that it doesn’t block the way when the dashboard is being scanned by the visitors. The amount of context to be included is weighed on the purpose of dashboard and the needs of the users. It is not obvious that more will be better always as the context should support a quick overview of data without causing much distraction while reading.

3. Stuffed With Data

When it comes to reading word document we have always been comfortable with skimming and scanning that gives us the message right away. Our brains are comfortable processing information like that only. Same is the case with dashboards. If we look across the panel and it doesn’t make sense just in a glance, it has failed as our decision making tool. The best way is to make simple and clean dashboards that just provide the information users are looking for.

An effective technique is to condense the data into few key ideas that appear as an understandable context for the onlooker. Having thousands and thousands of pieces of information is both tiring and frustrating for our brains to process.

4. Too Much Details

Dashboard is the face of an application. Its high-level information structure can only fulfill the need for a quick overview of data. Having said that, too much of a detail and that too expressed precisely can actually backfire by slowing down viewers in their reading. Too much can overkill the context. Every unnecessary information can slower the viewer’s processing ability and be a big waste of time in terms of data analysis.

5. One For All

By not knowing the intended audience of a dashboard, you can miss the mark. Note that via dashboard you are communicating to a particular set of audience. Audience wants to get the information and take the action accordingly. Now, your audience can be a data analyst or a regular visitor; everyone has their own way of interpreting data. An ideal approach will be to straightway ask your audience about the information they are seeking and the form they require to do so. You must concentrate on each user’s end goal.

6. Inefficient Measure

If you want the metrics to be effective, the measures must be meaningful and for that you should have a fair idea of what is being measured and the units that are used to express it. A measure will be deemed as deficient if it doesn’t communicate the meaning which is essentially meant for the dashboard viewer. Although accurate, but it may not be suitable for the intended message. Always think about the message that complies with the users’ needs and then go for the measure that is suitable for the message.

7. Improper Display Media

Creating a design with improper display media is one of the biggest pitfalls in not only dashboard, but all ways of quantitative data representation. For example, if you finalize a graph instead of a table of numbers that is ideally suitable with the context of information, that is where you go wrong. This is a frequent mistake committed by the designers. Wrong charts or graph can disorient the meaning of data and will not lead to an effective data presentation. Data should be displayed in a manner that it gives insight to the users and aids them in taking beneficial decisions.

8. Badly Designed Medium

Just choosing the right medium to display the data is not sufficient enough to convey the message. If you want the communication to be clear and effective, without any diversions, it is important to design the components with utmost perfection. It is observed that most graphs and charts are badly designed and defeat the whole purpose of the illustration. This is due to the fact that the designers are not trained about the basic principles of flawless graph design. Make graphs that are just like a treat to the eyes and can reduce wastage of time and effort on the part of the users. Have such kind of a display medium that makes it simpler to assimilate information.

9. Varieties Of No Use

By having meaningless variety in a dashboard, designers tend to make a big mistake. Designers are hesitant to use similar type of display medium many a times in a dashboard, assuming viewers will be bored with repetition. As a result, they indulge in too much variety which makes the display suffer. You must always go for those means of display that convey the message in the best possible manner even though that means having to repeat the same time of graph again and again.

If you are giving the users the info that they are desperately seeking, the data won’t appear monotonous to them. However, things will go out of hand, if they are forced to search information from the absurd display media that is not even compatible with the data. As a matter of fact, if you have consistency in deploying data, it will save on the time and energy of the viewers because they have to use the same strategy to interpret it every time. Variety adds spice, but when in excess, causes despise.

10. Inaccurate Encoding

There are instances when quantitative data gets encoded with inaccurate values in graphical representations. In such cases, no implications can be rendered from the data as the nature varies; like the axis of line graph is quite different from that of bars. Be particular in encoding quantitative data to reveal proper analysis of the figures or the trend that represent the performance of the product.

11. Poor Arrangement

Dashboards come with the challenge of presenting loads of information in limited space. If the information is not organized well, based on the importance and the desired viewing need, the result can be a big mess. The visual design should categorize the data into meaningful groups rather than dividing it into a confusing maze. Well designed dashboards consist of small amount of manageable data that is presented in a skilful manner and doesn’t even look cluttered. The aim is not make the dashboard beautiful, but to include the elements that fit in perfectly without burdening the design.

Make it a point to highlight the most significant data so that it stands out from the rest. Data that is meant for comparisons should be arranged in a manner that visually facilitates the viewer to go for it. Remember to always have an appropriate visual sequence in dashboard and maintain a proper balance in the nature and importance of information. Don’t just think that you will throw in everything together and the dashboard will accommodate to get the work done.

12. Highlights Are Not Present

As a designer, your primary goal should be to create a dashboard that captures attention. That means when a user looks at the dashboard he/she shouldn’t make much effort in absorbing important information. The info of high value should stand out and grab the attention of the user first. If a dashboard doesn’t contain visually prominent elements, it won’t be able to target the users with consequential information. They will not have any idea where to focus. With the right emphasis, viewer’s eyes will always be directed to the most crucial information first.

13. Useless Decoration

Another faux pas that pinches the most is the over decorative display in dashboards. Designers do that either in the hope that aesthetics will pull the crowd or it is the decoration that will keep them entertained amidst all the information. However, it is seen that the decoration which looks amazing initially generally loses its charm and appear irritating after some time. If the decoration is just a distracting waste of space that is of no use to visual content, then it is better to get rid of it.

Have visually subtle elements that are least distracting and support the real purpose of the tool. Heavy ornate graphics are popular in the first instance because many designers believe that statistics are boring in nature and with such decorated stuff, the display will be pepped up and become more interesting. Remember, if you consider statistics boring, then probably you have the wrong figures.

4. Color Misuse

Just throwing colors haphazardly in a design is not a wise thing. Make sure to think over your color choices and contemplate how they will be perceived by the users and the impact the different schemes will have on them. Some colors are heavy and demand attention whereas some are light and less visible. When it comes to color contrast, our eyes immediately catch attention and start relating a meaning to it. If a similar color appears in two different sections of dashboard, we begin connecting them together. We blindly assume that colors such as red, yellow, green can be used to denote importance to data, but here we tend to forget the 10% of males and 1 % females who are color blind. Mix and match colors in a manner that you can derive maximum out of the visual perceptions of the user.

15. Unpleasing Visual Display

Let us face it. Some dashboards are just hideous and not pleasant to look at all. Such is the case that when we look at them, we want to instantly cast our glance away from the screen, which had promised to provide important information initially. Shunning decoration doesn’t mean that you ignore the aesthetics completely. If users come across an unattractive dashboard, there is no way they will wait to delve in deeper. Note glorifying dashboards is not the goal rather it is to display the data in a pleasant manner without embellishing it with stuff that serves as distraction or divert the attention away.


Dashboards are like reports that contain useful data and help to discover more about the application. Use elements that provide insights about performance and assist in the decision making process. Incorporate filters and grouping features to organize significant information which is of much value to users. The lesser clutter, the better. Try to boil down everything to simple steps to avoid complexity and deliver usability. For a powerful dashboard, you must understand how the data will be visually perceived by the users. Have been making above mistakes? Don’t worry, now you know how to rectify them and design a fantastic dashboard.

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Prince Pal

UX/UI Strategist & Usability Tester at Think360 Studio
For 15+ years I have designed, developed and marketed websites/apps startups in New York, California, Florida and in India. Always focused on great User Interface is key.

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