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A structured approach to dashboard development

During our sessions at IBIS and on the Lets Speak BO webinar series Mel Sheppard and I talk about learning from other industries and not re-inventing the wheel when designing your BI content.  Specifically we suggest you to look at what web design and mobile application developers do to improve the usability of their products.

There is a great deal of similarity between a mobile application and a dashboard, for instance.  They both have to portray a large amount of potentially complex data, whilst constrained by a limited canvas size.  A key performance indicator, of whether a mobile app is successful is the user adoption rate; an unused app is an unsuccessful app.  This is absolutely true for dashboards too.
Developing mobile applications and websites is a big industry, and they have invested huge sums of money in analysing:

  • How people interact with devices and screens.
  • How best to influence user behaviour once inside the app
  • How to entice people to use the app to start with
  • How to use navigation effectively

silhouetteIn this industry there is a clearly defined segregation in roles and responsibilities between the people that design the User Experience (UX) – how an app behaves and the User Interface (UI) – how the app looks.

They consider topics such as onboarding,  success/error/empty states, calls to action, context etc.  There are guidelines, books and best practices written specifically on  each of these topics, making it much easier for developers to churn out consistently good looking, usable apps.  Compare this design approach to a dashboard project and things look a little different:

You may have a set of requirements given to you (the developer), sometimes you’re the analyst and developer on the same dashboard project.  You may draw out an idea on a piece of paper first, but most times you start your dashboard by dragging things on the canvas and wiring them all together.

Comparing app development and dashboard development, I would surmise that dashboard development is about 5 years behind app development in terms of maturity in approach.  But this doesn’t have to be the case.  We can review the best practices from web and app development and apply the relevant ones to our projects too.

Paul Grill, Mel and I have all talked about a structured approach to dashboard development (Scope, Structure, Skeleton, Skin – the 4 S’s) to help manage a dashboard project efficiently,  and we will be discussing these again in more detail at IBIS this year.

Why wait that long to find out more?  Between now and the run up to IBIS 2016 we will be writing a number of blogs articles, each picking up on one or two elements of UI and UX and relate how web and app development best practice can be applied to dashboard development.

The first one will be looking at empty and error states in dashboards.

Stay tuned.

About Rich Harvey

Richard Harvey is a Business Intelligence Consultant for InfoSol Ltd in Europe. With more than a decade’s experience in IT, he has worked in a variety of report and data management roles. Richard has been developing with SAP Dashboards (formally Xcelsius) since 2006 and combined with his data management experience has produced a number of innovative online and offline dashboards. Richard joined InfoSol Ltd from a leading UK financial services organisation where he had been heading up their Business Intelligence project team.

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