Make data-driven decisions

3 Tips to Design Your Dashboard for Maximum Impact

So you’ve spent hours and hours gathering, verifying, and analyzing the data for your report… phew! All done, right?

Not so fast…

To make the most out of your report that you invested the time to set-up and build properly, it’s essential to design your dashboards in a way that maximizes the impact of your report.

You don’t want all that work to go to waste when your colleagues can’t digest the dashboard or just skip past it because they’re completely overwhelmed.

To maximize the effectiveness of your dashboards, you need to:

     -    Choose the Right Visualizations

     -    Pay Attention to Colors

     -    Design A User-Friendly Layout

Choose the Right Visualizations

To create the most effective visuals possible, think about the purpose of your data. Then, think about which type of chart will allow you (and everyone who sees the dashboard) to present the relevant information in the easiest way possible.

These are some common ways to present your data:

Comparing variables? Try a column chart
Column charts are great to quickly display the lows and highs among your data.

Figuring out the composition of a group? Try a pie chart
If you are trying to determine parts of a whole, pie charts will probably be the most effective way to do this. For example, you could use a pie chart to show how many dollars each fundraising effort contributed to the total dollars raised in a year.

Identifying trends over time? Try a line chart
Line charts are particularly useful if you’re looking for trends of various categories over the same period of time.

Looking for the relationship between variables? Try a scatter plot
A scatter plot is a great way to visualize the distribution and relationship between variables at the same time.

Looking for where people are located? Try a scatter map
Scatter maps can help organizations find where the majority of their constituents are located, or to see if their most valuable donors, members, and patrons are concentrated in a particular region.

Pay Attention to Colors

We suggest being minimal with color because color is going to have a strong impact on how someone will read and interpret your dashboard. While color is an important element of a well-designed dashboard, too many colors can be distracting—each color should have a meaning behind it.

And once you’ve assigned a meaning to a color, stay consistent. If you’ve associated a particular variable or category with a color, ensure that this color is used for that category throughout your dashboard. For example, if you’re using red to represent apples in one chart, don’t use red to represent bananas in another chart! This will lead to confusion for your colleagues who will need to interpret the dashboard.

Another reminder about using colors in your dashboard: be mindful of color blindness. Using red and green, or orange and blue together, for example, can be difficult to distinguish for those who are color blind.

Design a User-Friendly Layout

To make your dashboard user friendly, consider the Inverted Pyramid concept and the Z-Pattern Layout.

Inverted Pyramid

What is it?

The Inverted Pyramid is a concept taken from journalism that recommends putting the most note-worthy information at the top of the article, then including the important details, and placing any less important details, such as background information, towards the bottom.

How can I apply this to my dashboard?

When designing the layout of your various visualizations, ensure that you make it easy for the readers to identify the most important information—the key performance indicators—first by putting it at the top. We suggest using the five-second rule: ask yourself if people looking at your dashboard can identify the most important information in five seconds right at the top of your dashboard.

Then, you can fill in your dashboard with the major trends your audience needs to know, and, finally, place more detailed metrics and visualizations below. If people just need a quick summary of the report they should be able to find it quickly. When people are looking for more granular details, though, they are expecting to need to scroll down.

 Designing Dashboards - Inverted Pyramid

Z-pattern layout

What is it?

The Z-Pattern Layout is a design concept that considers that users tend to view highly-visual information in a Z pattern. People tend to:

     -   first look at the top left and then move horizontally to the top right,

     -   then draw their eyes diagonally to the bottom left,

     -   and finally, make one last horizontal movement to the bottom right.

How can I apply this to my dashboard?

Keep this idea in mind when deciding where to position your data. Place the most important information at the top left, second most important at the top right, third most at the bottom left and the most granular information in the bottom right. You do not want to put any important information in the right and left central spots that people skip over (see the X-ed out parts of the screenshot below). In our example dashboard below, we placed the chart legends in this area.

 Designing Dashboards - Z Pattern


Finally, keep it simple and don’t overcrowd your dashboard! You’ll want to stay between 7 – 9 widgets on each dashboard—any more than this and you’ll likely overwhelm viewers.

Looking for more nonprofit data insights? Download the Fundraiser's Guide to Data Analysis.

Download the eBook

If you use Raiser’s Edge, Galaxy, and/or Siriusware, we recommend using Answers to bring together your data and visualize it in beautiful dashboards that are powered by leading business intelligence software, Sisense.

If you’re interested in learning more or seeing a live demo of Answers, please contact us.