Whiteboarding a Dashboard

Today I want to take some time to examine dashboards and the role white boarding plays when developing a dashboard.
Dashboards are one of the areas where Excel shines. However a poorly planned dashboard is at best inefficient; at worst, wrong or unable to meet the minimum requirements for the dashboard.
Fortunately we can alleviate most of this by planning what the dashboard will accomplish and then by coding what we planned.
Many people will rush into the design of the dashboard without logically thinking through the separate elements of a dashboard and integrating them into a seamless design.
This is where white boarding comes into play.
Spending some time drawing and arranging / rearranging the elements of the dashboard on a whiteboard will help the overall continuity of the design.
Now there are many theories as to what comprises the best dashboard elements.
Some will advise using a heat map similar to web site development. What’s a heat map? Well web developers use heat maps to determine what parts of their websites a reader focuses upon. This helps them optimize content and advertising. Then again, others will argue that heat maps are not valid with dashboards.
Most will agree that a unified color scheme is a necessary element of a dashboard (as is standardized font types and sizes). Documentation of all formulas, assumptions and instructions on how to use the dashboard are also necessary.
Here is an example of a final whiteboard that I created for the ACMC Company and the finished result to the right (now don’t nominate me for a design award based on my excellent drawing skills).

White boarding a design does not need to be fancy; it just needs to provide clarity to a layout. It allows you to think through the design process. Indeed the majority of the time you will spend creating a dashboard will be the preliminary work. Identify what the dashboard will accomplish. Targeting the source data and developing the methods required to parse out the data into logical components.
Finally even though I advised to plan what you are going to code then code what you planned. Don’t get locked into a concept. You may find that when you actually create the dashboard that re arranging components may make sense when conveying the data or end up move visually appealing. You may notice that in my above whiteboard I had supporting data at the bottom. However, in this example it proved redundant and just cluttered up the design, elongating the dashboard forcing it to not fit all on one screen (causing the user to have to scroll to see it). So it was removed.
So how do you plan your dashboards? What tips can you pass along to help others “Wow” their co workers?

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