Dashboard design is one of the most difficult parts of creating an application. From online business applications to quick and simple mobile apps, knowing what data to present to your users – and more important, what not to present to users – is an art and a science.
In this guide, you’ll learn 10 tips for designing dashboards and application interfaces that are stylish and user-friendly while still presenting important data to your users in a format that they can understand. Whether you’re just starting UI design or your product is almost finished, jump in and learn how to design the perfect dashboard.
Is this your first time designing a user interface? There’s more to UI design than just creating something that looks good – great UIs also need to perform well. User Experience: The Ultimate Guide to Usability, breaks down the complicated and challenging process of UI design and testing into simple steps for you to follow.
Know your key performance indicators (KPIs)
Every application, from mobile fitness apps to powerful online analytics software, is built around a few key performance indicators. Google Analytics tracks conversions and traffic, while MyFitnessPal tracks calories in, calories out, and weight loss.
Knowing your key performance indicators (KPIs) is the key to creating a dashboard that your users love to interact with. Your KPIs should be the first thing users see as they start using your app – the key focus of your interface design.
Study a variety of applications, from Twitter to Google Analytics, and see how they make KPIs – in this case, recent tweets and account activity as well as conversions, traffic, and other goals – the focus of their dashboards.
Keep everything light, clean, and simple
When in doubt, simplify. The best user interfaces aren’t massively complex – in fact, the best UIs aren’t complex at all. With the right approach to usability, you can put a huge amount of functionality behind a simple, user-friendly dashboard design.
Break your product’s functions down into core categories, then use these categories to determine your interface’s design. MailChimp does this spectacularly by breaking all of its features into five categories: Campaigns, Lists, Reports, Autoresponders, and Search.
If your product has hundreds of features, categorize them and create a tabbed or modular layout for users to select features from. Simplicity works, and it’s always best to select clean, simple design over something cluttered but powerful.
Use colors to alert and notify users
Colors play a fundamental role in web design, particularly in the design of great user interfaces. Use colors to alert and notify users to tasks, activities, features, and more in the form of button colors and alerts.
Generally, it’s best to use predictable and common colors on your website. Green is a great indicator that everything is okay, while orange and red can be used to indicate a small or serious problem.
Learn more about using color in UI design with Scott & Neil’s Designing Web Interfaces Masterclass. Built from the ground up for UI designers, this detailed course covers everything from application structure to layout and UI controls.
Don’t reinvent the web design wheel
There are certain features of UI design that are common between websites. Almost every social network, for example, has a feed of recent updates. Almost every B2B application has a left-aligned navigation bar and a right-aligned content section.
Instead of designing your dashboard from the ground up, use features common to your type of application to speed up the design process. Dropdown notifications or top-right corner account menus are ubiquitous and well-known in UI design.
These UI design clichés are often known as UI patterns. Learn more about how you can use UI patterns to speed up design and development with our blog post on the nine UI design patterns you should know.
Design for your most popular platform
How will your users interact with your application? Will they view it on their iPad, on a full resolution PC, or on their smartphone? Knowing the platform which your users prefer is key to building a powerful and usable interface.
While every modern website should be responsive (viewable on any type of mobile device or PC) it’s important to design your application with your most widely used platform in mind. Things like large buttons, for example, are crucial for tablet apps.
Use Google Analytics to see which devices are used to access your website, and then design for your most popular platform. Learn the basics of Google Analytics with our in-depth training course, Google Analytics Mastery.
Poll your audience to learn their needs
What do your users care about? Application developers frequently make mistakes in determining what their applications will be used for, in turn focusing on metrics that aren’t as important as they think they are.
Instead of guessing about what your users will find important, poll them to find out directly. Facebook used this strategy to understand the needs of its advertisers and released a UI update (with metrics like Impressions replaced with Reach) as a result.
Don’t know how to survey your customers? Enroll in our course, How to Interview Your Customers and Get Useful Feedback, to learn the secrets of getting useful and actionable information from your customers using online surveys.
Fewer options is almost always better
When you’re designing a user interface, keep this simple rule in mind: the fewer options there are, the fewer problems users will experience. When your interface is straightforward and simple, you’ll deal with fewer support tickets and emails.
If you need to strike a balance between usability and power, consider adding an advanced features option to your dashboard. Power users can activate advanced features using this option, allowing you to build a simple interface for other users.
Let your users sort, filter, and organize
Does your application display a lot of data? Business applications such as analytics or advertising networks frequently display tables with thousands of cells, making it difficult to show important data while maintaining a clean design.
Avoid creating an indecipherable interface by letting your users choose what they would like to see. Simple filter and sorting features make organizing large lists or tables a quick and easy one-click process.
Break long tasks into short, simple steps
Are your users abandoning shopping carts and forms? One of the most likely causes of cart abandonment is forms that are simply too long and complicated for users to understand.
Shorten your forms and split long, complicated tasks into simple steps. If your order form requires 20 steps to complete, break it down into four pages with five steps on each one for optimum usability and improved conversions.
From forms to checkouts, creating an interface that users like to interact with can be difficult. Learn the best strategies for testing your user interface by enrolling in our Web Usability Made Simple course.
Provide constant help and feedback
It’s easy to assume that your users will naturally know what to do upon arriving at your dashboard. After all, you’re the designer – you’ve spent weeks, possibly even months, designing it from the ground up.
While some users will naturally know what to do upon reaching your dashboard, the majority won’t. Prepare a brief tutorial to guide them through your application’s key features and you’ll significantly reduce your support requests from new users.
Even frequent users occasionally require help and feedback. Gmail, for example, has a Learn More tab on nearly every feature, making it easy for users to access help and learn more about how the application works.
Learn more about UI and dashboard design
Dashboards are one of the most important parts of any web or mobile application, serving as a one-stop-shop for users interested in monitoring their KPIs. Even the best app can be let down by a bad dashboard, making it vital to get the design right.
Learn more about creating great user interfaces with our UI design tutorial. From the best software for UI design to the benefits of sketching out a UI using a pencil and paper, it contains useful tips for designers interested in dashboard design.