August 1, 2011

How to build good dashboard. Part 4: Layout

For those who haven't read previous parts -- here they are:

Part 1: Dashboards vs Reports

Part 2: Usage scenario

Part 3: Zoning

In previous part we talked about zoning -- how to organize dashboard elements by logical zones according to their function, meaning and priority. Now we have a question -- where to put these zones on a dashboard? To answer this question we have to take into consideration findings from eye tracking usability studies. Eye tracking by itself is a big and very interesting theme which is worth spending some time studying it (you can start from googling). Briefly, eye-tracking testing helps to understand at what parts of a page users look first, where they go next, what they put more attention to, etc. To understand this technique more deeply you can take a look at one of Google's articles about eye-tracking. Strictly speaking, it is not correct to apply findings from studying web-pages (which mostly contain text, photos and often advertisement) to BI dashboards (which contain charts and tables and never advertisement). Sure, results of an eye tracking study made specifically for BI dashboards would be much more appropriate here, unfortunately I never came across anything like them (if you did -- I would be grateful for link). However, due to common reading habits and strong internet literacy among BI users, I believe we can apply similar logic for our goals as well.

Below is depicted typical user eye path:

Users start looking on a page from top-left corner (1), then study upper part (2) and slide to the left part of a page (3-4). Then they look through right part (5-6) and finally -- bottom part or footer (7). So, place your zones on a dashboard according to their importance and priority and user eye path. Put most important zones, like alerts or top-priority KPIs, into areas marked with (1-2), more detailed information into areas (3-4-5-6) and supplementary info at bottom (7).

In the next part I will speak about managing attention.