Using Dashboards in Your Data Model...

Using a dashboard in a data model is a fantastic idea. It brings your data to life. If you make the dashboard your centre piece you can win the audience on their first glance.

Remember with your data model you want to tell a story, and nothing tells a story better than a dashboard with a few graphs showing the results in one look – easy to comprehend. A picture says more than a thousand words is the common expression, and obviously, this is true for data models as well.

Do you want your reader to look at a spreadsheet filled with formulas and numbers? Maybe you have a highlighted output cell showing the result. Still, this is not as impressive as looking on a graph and seeing with your own eyes, the interpretation of the data.

What to include?

A great start is to have an interactive data selection so that if your user wants to select a certain state, she can then click on New South Wales or Victoria and get the data in the dashboard shown only for that state.

At the same time, less is more – don’t over fill the your dashboards. My rule of thumb is the number 7. Meaning: you have 7 charts on one Excel-sheet. Print it, to make sure it is working and looking good. Because obviously, the arrangement of these charts is crucial as well.

What to avoid?

Pie charts, very simple as that, a pie chart does not really add very much to the story and the downside with pie charts is, that you only can show one set of data. Usually, you want to compare a couple of data-sets, and therefore a pie chart is not the way.

Another pitfall to avoid is too many different colours; so try to make the colour scheme as unified as possible, it is just pleasing on the eye, if you’re not mixing too many colours at the same time.

You want to guide the viewer with your dashboard so make the most important chart the biggest one and put it in a prominent place; meaning in the top left hand corner, because that is where our eyes start to scan on the page first.

Remember also that people might want to print out your dashboard, so therefore again with the colour scheme you are using, print it to check. Print it also in black and white to make sure that the dashboard is still readable.

Let’s have a look at the disadvantages of a dashboard. It could be that your dashboard is overwhelming and the user does not know where to look first. Don’t put too many graphs in, you want to guide the viewer not to shock them.
Very few people like to really see the numbers instead of a nice graph, so you need to make sure to have something for them too.


Of course the advantages just outweigh the disadvantages by far. As I said in the beginning, a picture says more than a thousand words. So if you want to tell a compelling story with your data model, a dashboard is just the perfect way to illustrate and impress your audience.

Why don’t you try the next time you need to present the monthly figures to show a graph or even dashboard first? You will experience more engagement and interest from the audience.

Let me know how you go.