10 Dashboard Design Principles for An Amazing User Interface

Data Visualization
May 29, 2024
10 Dashboard Design Principles for An Amazing User Interface

Dashboards are an excellent way to communicate a lot of data at once. They can help you and your customers understand the data behind a product or a website and they’re popular for a reason. However, not everyone knows how to create a good dashboard, despite the many templates available in popular tools.

Today, you’ll learn all the rules and best practices for creating amazing dashboard designs. No matter if you’re a newbie in the world of data visualization or a seasoned pro, there is something of value for everyone.

Why does good dashboard design matter?

Dashboards are inherently visual by nature. Instead of raw numbers and data, they show visualizations in different shapes and forms to tell a story. We read and interpret dashboards more easily thanks to their visual aspect.

Having said that, choosing what to visualize, how, and where can be tricky. A good dashboard tells a story with just the right data points and metrics and does not overwhelm the intended audience.

Get the design right, and the end-user (your customer or someone from upper management) will immediately understand the data behind the dashboard. Get it wrong, and they will leave the dashboard even more confused than when they opened it.

With years of experience in embedded analytics dashboards, we prepared some of the best tips for dashboard design for you.

Tip 1: Consider the target audience

Imagine you’re writing a book about how trains work. Would you write it the same way for a 25-year-old machine engineering graduate and a 10-year-old child?

The same goes for dashboards. The first and most important factor is who reads the dashboard. The CEO of the company, the marketing manager and a customer using a product require a different set of metrics and KPIs in a dashboard to be useful.

The general rule of thumb for the dashboard mockup process is that the more important the person reading is, the simpler the dashboard should be to read and interpret.

Implementation tip: Use tools like to build quick dashboard mockups, and use them to validate your ideas with your intended audience. Keep iterating your dashboard design based on customer feedback.

Tip 2: Lead with the goals

A good dashboard tells a story and every story needs a main character. In our case, the main character is the main goal you’re pursuing as a business or the main goal for your customers.

For example, a SaaS sales dashboard should lead with revenue as the main goal. Alternatively, it could be a handful of metrics such as conversion rate, lifetime value, monthly recurring revenue and others.

saas sales dashboard example

These goals should be front and center of your dashboard and the person reading them should see them immediately. There is something called a 5-second rule, where the reader should be able to get to the most important information within 5 seconds. In this case, that is the dashboard goal.

You can find many good dashboard examples online which can serve as inspiration.

Implementation tip: Use layout in a smart way to create a visual hierarchy of information. Make important information bigger, bring it to the top of your dashboard, and hide less important information (or cut it out completely).

Tip 3: Choose your KPIs and metrics

Choosing the right KPIs is like going to an amazing restaurant and picking a dish to order. However, there is one key difference - your KPIs and metrics serve a purpose and they solve user needs. You should choose those that best reflect the goal described in the previous step.

For example, if revenue is your most important goal, there are a handful of metrics to include for that goal in your sales management dashboard, such as:

  • New conversions
  • Conversions from a free trial to a paid account
  • Cost per acquisition
  • Cost per click
  • And similar metrics

These should be the supporting characters in your story and they should be easily visible, close to the top of your dashboard. If you don’t know which metrics to choose, just think of the ones that are the most important for achieving the main goal(s).

Implementation tip: Interview whoever will use your dashboard to understand the main metrics related to their objectives. Or get help from ChatGPT and other AI analytics tools if you need to move fast.

Tip 4: Add insights and create context around relevant data

It can be tempting to load your SaaS dashboard up with various visualizations and let the person reading interpret the data the best that they can. This is one approach, but you can do even better than that.

Besides each chart, graph, or table, add just a sentence or two explaining what the values represent and what kind of a change it is compared to the previous period. This leaves no room for interpretation and adds tons of value to your dashboard, especially if the dashboard data refreshes in real-time.

If your intended audience does not have the time to sift through all the visualizations, a few sentences of summary can make a world of difference. Also, you may be dealing with an audience that does not know how to interpret data, which is why the commentary can be crucial for a successful dashboard.

Implementation tip: Tools like Luzmo offer tooltips to add this context and make the dashboard more valuable. Tooltips are hidden behind an info button to expand the text and view the extra information, so it won’t clutter up your dashboard!

Example of a good dashboard design

Tip 5: Don’t go crazy with colors

Once again, this is an issue of too much choice. You can make your dashboard super colorful and vivid, but should you really?

a colorful dashboard in Luzmo

The most well-designed dashboards stick to two or three main colors for all visualizations and it’s for a good reason. It allows for consistency when viewing data and it’s easier for the person reading to understand the values without going into too much detail. Just as importantly, it’s not straining on the eyes and it won’t make your designer cringe upon opening the dashboard.

For example, if you show a category in multiple charts, you can give it the same color in all of those charts to make your dashboard design easier to browse. If you use this system, make sure it’s repeated consistently throughout the dashboard.

Last but not least, remember that white space is a designer’s friend. Use some of it to space apart your visualizations and increase the usability of your dashboard.

Implementation tip: The traffic light system (red, yellow, green) is a great way to communicate progress on targets visually, and one of the most common tactics for conditional formatting!

Tip 6: Make your dashboard interactive

One of the dashboard design best practices you should follow is to make the dashboards interactive so that the person reading them can get the information they need with a few clicks.

Let us explain. This means giving the viewer an option to change what the data looks like. For example, choosing a different time frame for the data, highlighting a specific metric, hiding the widgets they don’t find useful and more.

For example, you can have a social media dashboard that allows the end user to drill down into data and select specific platforms (e.g. LinkedIn) to see the conversions coming from them.

With Luzmo, you can trigger an action directly from the dashboard, which is useful in SaaS product design. For example, inside an email marketing tool, you can report on the main email marketing metrics to see which segments of your audience are most active. Imagine being able to save this segment from your dashboard, and trigger an email campaign to that segment.

This kind of integration allows you to save time and more importantly, take action immediately based on real-time data.

In short, it’s about giving your SaaS product user the ability to take action on a KPI dashboard on their own terms.

Implementation tip: If you want to go full-blown on the interactivity, you even embed a BI interface into your web application, so your product users can create their own dashboards, or edit templates.

Tip 7: Use the right type of visualization

Great dashboard software such as Luzmo has a multitude of options to present data. You can use different types of visualizations to illustrate one and the same dataset, which is why it’s crucial to choose the ones that make the most sense for your audience.

For example, pie charts seem to be a favorite among many people, but they are actually not that useful. It’s difficult to assess which chunk of the pie is bigger just by eyeballing it, which can lead to unnecessary confusion. Also, if you have many different data types, the slices of the pie can get so small that it’s hard to see what is what.

avoid using pie charts if you want great dashboard design

And then, there are various chart types to choose from.

Bar charts and line charts are very easy to create and interpret. In almost any use case, it’s easy to see what they are about within seconds of the dashboard user glancing at them.

Choose the visualization type based on the data you’re presenting, but always bear in mind the end-user experience. Remember, it doesn’t matter if the data looks pretty if it is difficult to comprehend.

Implementation tip: Use this handy flowchart to determine which chart type is right for which data. And just, you know, don’t use pie charts.

Tip 8: Tell a story (use the inverted pyramid)

There are many different types of dashboards out there, but the very best tell a story from start to finish. There is a principle from journalism called an inverted pyramid and it is easily applied in analytical dashboards too.

inverted pyramid principle in journalism, can be applied in dashboard design

In short, the bottom of the inverted pyramid goes on top of your dashboard. This is the main goal of the dashboard - we can use the revenue example from the previous tips. Open up the dashboard with the goal and then proceed with the supporting metrics.

The middle portion of the pyramid is the second part of the dashboard. These are the supporting key performance indicators and key metrics (such as churn, conversion rates, and others) that explain why and how you reached your main goal.

The last part of the pyramid is the top. This is the least important information in the hierarchy but it is necessary to back up your story. These are metrics and datasets explaining the supporting metrics.

For example, an analysis of in-app product activation could explain an increase in churn (middle of the pyramid), which then reflects on revenue (bottom of the pyramid, top of the dashboard).

Implementation tip: put your most relevant information first (on the top left) and then add less important information towards the bottom of the dashboard.

Tip 9: Round your numbers

If you work with large numbers, you may want to cut them short for better UX design and readability. For example, you have the choice of displaying the two different numbers:

24,524 or 24.5k

Depending on the business intelligence aspect of your dashboard, 24.5k could mean just as much as the first number. However, there is a huge difference in readability between the two. Most good dashboard software will have this functionality.

Implementation tip: choose one number format and stick to it throughout your dashboard. Consistency is key, which brings us to our next point.

Tip 10: Stay consistent with your design

If you use one set of colors and one type of visualization for a dataset, don’t switch it up and use something entirely different near the end of the dashboard. Choose a theme and stick with it, be it colors, types of widgets, the number formatting or even fonts.

To create an effective dashboard series, make sure that your web design is consistent as time goes by. That means that a dashboard sent out 6 months from today should have the exact same design and layout with the newly updated metrics. When set up like this, the business dashboard is easier to read and understand for all stakeholders.

Implementation tip: A final UX check before launching your dashboards publicly helps remove inconsistencies. There are plenty of dashboard checklists that can help you do the job.

Wrapping up

Great dashboard UI design is crucial if you want to make sure your readers actually understand the data and use it for effective decision-making. But as you may be aware, creating great operational dashboards with a superb user interface is easier said than done.

Don’t worry though, as we can help. Luzmo specializes in in-app dashboards for your SaaS product. With our set of templates and easy-to-use dashboard editor, you can create your own dashboard in hours as opposed to weeks and months if you built it with a team of in-house developers.

Don’t want to take our word for it? Sign up for your free trial to check it out yourself.

Mile Zivkovic

Mile Zivkovic

Senior Content Writer

Mile Zivkovic is a content marketer specializing in SaaS. Since 2016, he’s worked on content strategy, creation and promotion for software vendors in verticals such as BI, project management, time tracking, HR and many others.

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