Dashboards are used in many industries, come in all shapes and sizes, and, when designed effectively, can significantly assist in improving business performance – particularly for the office of the CFO, where reporting of real-time, accurate financials has become an absolute necessity.
These 7 golden guidelines will help you develop a financial dashboard that conveys information in a clear and easy to understand fashion, as well as give you tips as to how to arrange, sort, and present your data in a visually appealing and professional manner. Looking for insights on which tools to use? Check out our blog on CXO-Cockpit.
Before designing any dashboard it’s important to consider two concepts – the message and the audience –
The Message – it is key
Without a strong message, readers are often left with more questions than answers.
This does not mean we are just highlighting the fact that Company X’s profits are down 10% for the period and stopping there. Explaining the “why” is where a true story or message can be told.
It may not always be the case that an explanation can be found straight away, but delving into “why” can guide your readers to uncover some very important insights and lends itself to identifying solutions to business problems.
The Audience – know who they are
The person who will end up using your dashboard will have a significant impact on the way in which you present and deliver your information. So it is always important to ask; Who is the dashboard intended for?
- Is it for your boss?
- A senior level executive?
- A board member?
- The scientific community?
- A family friend?
The way you present information should be tailored as best as possible and relevant for that audience. A board member only wants to know how their business is tracking against a high level KPI, so don’t present them painfully detailed financials.
Everyone is different, every individual consumes information in different ways, so taking the time to understand your audience’s tastes and preferences will go a long way.
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The 7 golden guidelines for building perfect dashboards
Where, how and what you place on your dashboard will obviously have a significant impact on how effectively you communicate your message.
Does your audience’s eye get drawn to what you want them to see straight away? Do they read the information in a simple and logical manner? Or is there too much data with no clear structure for readers to easily digest and interpret what you are trying to convey?
Your design will be governed by your message, and your audience.
1 Use meaningful, descriptive report titles
Bold, clear, easy to read titles will ensure your reader knows what the dashboard is about in the first place. Be sure to include them for every element of the dashboard, as well as every dashboard within a storyboard (a sequence of dashboards).
2 Use your space strategically
Think of your dashboard as precious real estate, every pixel needs to be utilized in the best way possible. This means grouping your information logically, and structuring your data in visually easy to follow segments. For example, grouping financial and non-financial data in clear, separate sections of a dashboard makes it obvious to a user that these are two distinct categories.
3 Use color sparingly
Color is a very powerful visual aid and is very effective for highlighting areas of interest, do not waste it on pieces of information which do not require it. Make more use of blacks, greys, light greys, solids, and outlines and save those greens and reds for drawing the eyes points of interest.
4 Interactivity – don’t over do it
There’s nothing cooler than adding filters, drill downs, hyperlinks, and charts which allow the user to interact and slice and dice their data to how they see fit. However, in many situations, limiting options of interactivity (or at least ensuring interactive elements support the message) is much more effective at keeping your dashboard on point.
5 Less is more
While trying to get as much information into your dashboard is very important, equally as important is how easily your reader can read that information, especially when dealing with financials. Where possible, make use of negative space (employing large margins, and ensuring sufficient empty spaces between your groups of data). This will ensure eyes don’t get lost in a maze of numbers as well as giving your dashboard a lot more aesthetic appeal.
There’s nothing worse than inconsistent formatting, keep it uniform, keep it tidy. This means using a distinct but consistent font and font size for your report titles, chart titles, data, and labels. Similarly, when it comes to units of measure and scale, try to ensure a uniform value is applied to all dashboards within a storyboard. This is not always possible, but limit any instances of scaling deviations as much as possible.
7 Seek feedback
Most of all, when creating your financial dashboards, throughout all stages of development, seek feedback, whether it be from a peer, the client, your boss, whoever. What might make sense to you may not make sense to another. Getting as much feedback as possible will help refine your design as well as improve overall user experience.
Ready to start building your own dashboard?
It’s important to remember what financial dashboards or any report for management are designed for in the first place, and that is to improve business performance. It’s easy enough to provide information, but being able to effectively highlight areas of interest, to identify items of concern, to suggest possible solutions, to tell a story – that is how you can ensure real value can be derived from your dashboards, and avoid them from becoming yet another report among hundreds of un-read reports floating around the office.
CXO-Cockpit offers real time and actionable insight in relevant financial data from all leading EPM systems to the CFO office including OneStream XF, Oracle Hyperion Financial Management (HFM) and Oracle Essbase.
One of the reasons we love to work with the tool is because its so easy to use.
Be sure to Check out CXO-Cockpit if you are looking for a dashboarding tool.