Dashboard design - Part 1: Types of dashboards

A car’s dashboard shows its driver all the essential info she needs to know. Typically, it’s the car’s speed, engine RPM, fuel level, miles run, location on a GPS enabled map, cabin/engine temperature etc. A business dashboard draws heavily from a car’s dashboard. However, unlike the car’s dashboard which is limited to only its driver, a business dashboard has multiple consumers. Also, a business can have multiple dashboards, instead of just one.

A business dashboard can mean a lot of things. The best way to design it is to know who is going to view it. Based on that, your dashboard can fall under one of the three categories.

  • Strategic
  • Analytical
  • Operational

Strategic dashboards
As the name suggests, these dashboards are designed to provide strategic guidance, based on snapshots of data. A company’s CEO (or a CXO) may want an overall bird’s eye view of the business. Such dashboards are typically looked up once a month or quarter. They can have metrics like overall sales numbers, how YTD sales has been when compared to last year’s, profit margins, inventory levels etc.


Analytical dashboards
These are more hands-on dashboards. The typical consumers for these dashboards are line managers and data analysts. These dashboards are interactive, where the user can filter out results, and can do data drill-downs. For example, an analyst may want to know the quarterly sales of a particular product category in the North and West regions alone. Or she may want to drill-down and see the monthly sales of a particular quarter, drill-down further to see the weekly sales of a particular month.


Operational dashboards
Also called monitoring dashboards, these offer a glimpse of the day-to-day activities of a business. The data is usually real-time, or near real-time. Such dashboards are projected on large TV screens with auto-refresh intervals, and are seen by everyone in the company.


Keep these three different dashboard designs in mind, and you will be able to create any business dashboard that is insightful and functional. That ends part 1 of this dashboard design series. We will look at strategic dashboards in detail in the next part.

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2 Replies to Dashboard design - Part 1: Types of dashboards

  1. I would like to know how to format a report so that it looks like the executive dashboard, only that it automatically updates with the data. Right now we just have tables and it looks clunky.

    1. Jan: Click 'New' -> 'New Dashboard' -> 'Add Widget'. You can add widgets as I'd shown in the executive dashboard. And these numbers will automatically update as new data comes in.

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