May 20, 2011

How to build good dashboard. Part 3: Zoning.

In Part 2 I mentioned that prioritization is the key thing in building dashboards. Prioritization of content has to be supported first of all by right layout and zoning of a dashboard. Let's talk about this a little bit.

Think about your dashboard like if it was a house. Unless you're a very original person, in your house you typically don't want to keep car accessories in the bedroom, dinner table in the bathroom and washing machine in your dining room. Instead, you keep car stuff in the garage, have meals in dining room and do your laundry in the basement or laundry room, because your house has logical and functional zones. The same should be applied for dashboards as well -- define logical and functional zones on your dashboard. Usually there are not more than 5-6 of them on a single sheet. Here is an example:

As you can see on example above there are 6 zones. Notice, however, that some zones can also be logically grouped -- e.g. Suppliers and Inventory, Sales and Cash flow, Context selection and Alerts. Sometimes these logical groups can overlap -- when a certain zone can belong to two logical groups. Here is an example:

In this case cash flow has two major components -- incoming money (from sales) and expenses (money that mostly go to suppliers). Therefore, Cash flow zone can be shown as overlapping segment from both Sales and Suppliers zones.

So, what should be size and position of the zones? Regarding size -- let's use our analogue with house once again. Typically you don't want your laundry room be the biggest room in the house. Why? Because your house is for living, not for laundry (unless you operate a laundry business and live there). The same is true for dashboards. As screen size is limited, you should allocate the largest zones for the most important information and keep less important data in smaller zones (however it doesn't mean that you should have an important pie chart that occupies 60% of your screen room).

In Part 4 I will talk about positioning zones and elements -- which is layout.