Dashboards are often associated with enterprise products, but the truth is that they are everywhere. From social media apps, to video games and even our mobile phones. Dashboards show users the most important information with easy to process and visually effective design.
Prototyping is the practice of modelling the look and functionality of a dashboard prior to development. Prototyping a dashboard can help you save lots of money and time later on by getting critical feedback early on.
Let us understand some of the best practices for dashboard design and how you can create an amazing dashboard user experience.
But first what is a dashboard exactly?
A dashboard is a user interface that essentially allows users to visualise important information such as any analytics, reports, numbers etc. Users can also change certain setting and do any administrative tasks from the dashboard. There are tons of examples of dashboards all around us. From the user interface on your mobile phone, to an online banking user interface, these are all examples of dashboards. There are different types of dashboards based on user needs. Some examples of types of dashboards are analytical – which displays data visualisations, operational – that shows real time or short-term data, strategic – that visualises long term goals with KPI’s and status and tactical – which displays high level performance monitoring.
What are the advantages of prototyping a dashboard?
1. Prototyping can help you start earlier
Sometimes, collecting data can take some time and may not be ready in time to start the dashboard design process. By prototyping you can start gathering requirements and thinking about how the dashboard will come together before the data becomes available.
2. Prototyping helps you get all the stakeholders on the same page
Prototyping can help you understand the structure of your dashboard and how it will all come together and communicate this to all of your stakeholders. This can help alleviate some of the pain of additional changes or pivots that will happen later on in the process.
3. Prototyping helps you figure how better time estimates
A prototype acts like a road map and helps guide the entire design process. Without it, envisioning the journey may be a little tougher. Understanding more about the way the dashboard will come together will make it easier for you to plan out what needs to be worked on when and communicate that clearly and succinctly to your stakeholders.
4. Prototyping helps document the entire process
Document during a project is important and prototyping helps support the process of documentation. Once you get a sign off on the prototype from all the stakeholders, that means that the development is working and all the stakeholders can now begin to work towards an agreed upon goal. Without this sign off, there may be an eventuality of the client asking for additional requirements that could push deadlines.
5. Prototyping speeds up the process
Without a prototype or a mock up, you may spend more time doing an exploratory analysis which could end up becoming time consuming. This may not always be beneficial when working towards tighter deadlines.
Now that we’ve understood the ‘why’, let’s look at some tools you can use to create dashboard prototypes.
What are some dashboard prototype tools?
Figma is a great web based graphics tool that can be great for creating mockups. These mockups can even have functionality included into them that would resemble a real dashboard. It is a free, collaborative tool that can help you create dashboard prototypes.
Most people have access to Powerpoint and are familiar with how to use it. However it can be hard to mock up complex visuals on this tool.
3. Pen and Paper/Whiteboard
This is a simple yet effective way to draw things out. The pro’s of using a manual way of creating a prototype is that you have total control of design & layout, no computer is necessary, it very easy to go back and make edits when iterating through prototypes, and it can be done real-time in front of the users of the dashboard. However it may not look as finished as a computer based prototype.
If you weren’t already making time to prototype in your dashboard design process, think again. Prototyping has many benefits and you can use a wide variety of tools such as paper prototypes, notes, etc. to create wireframes, digital mockups and prototypes.
Do keep in mind that prototyping and testing is an iterative process. As a UX designer it is important to test prototypes comprehensively to ensure usability issues don’t affect the final product.
Get feedback from end-users and key stakeholders to ensure designs meet users’ needs while maximising business value.