Let Me Guide series: how to create stunning dashboard with self-service BI


Let me introduce you to the first episode of a number of “Let Me Guide You” articles sharing my experience and best practices on data visualizations. This one is about creating top-notch story and dashboard using self-service BI. Select the appropriate BI components and off you go.

Infographics and story-boards act as icing on the cake. When you have finished your data explorations and data insights, you end up deciding what type of visualization to use reflecting insights to the best possible way. We discussed this earlier here. You also have to decide on what visualizations to bring onto the storyboard and how you structure and lay-out them. The key questions here to answer are:

  • What is the insight I want to communicate exactly? The “exactly” refers to your audience (think about level of abstraction), your perspectives of the insight (time-series, GEO) and what is your story-flow

  • What is the experience I want my user to have? Is your story dashboard-like indicating KPI’s and trends on a regular basis and are you in for a recurring use of it? Do you want to offer more detail to the user, and requires your story multiple pages with summarized and detailed insights? Or is your aim towards an Infographic that is a one of impacting with context-sensitive visualizations? Does your story need to be interactive?

So let’s go and find out some of the better practices to create impactful boards. In this series we look at KPI driven dashboards. I use SAP Lumira since it is one of most flexible tools for agile data visualization and interactive self-service BI tools available in the market.

Hichert standards

For KPI driven dashboards I’d recommend to respect the IBCS International Business Communication Standards where possible. They are a great guide for effectively communicating insights in a consequent matter. IBCS uses the standards once developed by Dr. Rolf Hichert. I certainly recommend to have a look at the Hichert Succes Rules. Applying – pieces of – these standards towards your generic BI design certainly pays of and helps users adopting and respecting your BI insights. Moreover if narrows down misinterpretation of your insights to a minimum.

IBCS offers a whole variety of communication standards advising what chart/graphs to use when, how to deal with legends, axes, color coding and many more. SAP Design Studio and Lumira graphomate charts for example are “Hichert-certified”.

Landing pages and font types

Landing pages as front page for your story or dashboard are a great way to welcome your user and guide or navigate them through your story. On the landing page you can create categories of information that users can link too. By clicking one of your categories, they end up in the correct section or page of your board. You use landing pages in case of:

  • You require a split in summarized KPI indicators and detailed insights. The summarized KPI’s are separated from the detailed once. A user might only want to see the detailed information of a KPI once the KPI is behaving inconsequent.

  • You require to communicate insights on different information domains. I.e. if you create dashboard with one overview KPI page indication HR Attrition and HR recruitment metrics, Vendor statistics and Marketing lead generation, you might want to create detail pages for these domains on separate pages. The landing page provides input to the applicable domains

Landing pages serve different purposes:

  • They welcome the user and allow for text/video communication explaining what the story-board is all about, how it should be used and what to do in case of remarks

  • They act as navigation guidance through your story. On a landing page you can create links towards other sections/pages in your story

  • Landing pages can guide users to additional information outside your story. On a landing page you can create URL links to any http – address

  • Landing pages can serve to set data filters that need to apply to all pages and visualizations in your board. I.e. if a user want to study all information on your storyboard only for the years 2013 – 2014 – 2015, the landing pages could be the place for the user to apply these filters so it shouldn’t be done page per page.

Color coded performance indicators

When I create storyboards that require color coded bar’s to indicate a KPI trend or KPI performance, I use conditional formatting as the base. This is how it works step-by-step

  1. Create a crosstab with you KPI metrics and applicable dimensions and attributes

  2. Create conditional formatting on your metric by applying rules and color-coding

  3. Change the crosstab into a bar or pie chart

  4. Use the applicable dimension as filter to apply the KPI color coded in detail

  5. Choose a picture that applies to the subject of your insight and apply it to your storyboard. In the video I use a glass to indicate how much it is “filled” with the KPI performance. AN empty glass is a low performing KPI

  6. Drag and drop your color coded visualization onto your storyboard

  7. Now when changing filters or range, the color coded bar will automatically adjust

Enrich the above with small (!) text comments for KPI labeling. Try to avoid bold font types and use regular fonts; they disturb the attention from the graphs. A font-type that works very well is the modern-looking Trebuchet. The color off the font should not be black but dark grey; again this gives a more modern look.

Never use more than 3-4 colors in total on your KPI overview dashboard. 2 colors are used for both performing and underperforming metrics, the 3rd is used as background and the 4th can eventually be used as plot background for your chart. Commenting, illustrating and text boxes always use one of the four applicable colors.

Enriching visualizations with base lines

Especially in situations where you want to indicate the trend of a certain metric, the use of a base lines is very helpful to judge the insight. Let me use an example from the video: imagine I want to indicate the forecast accuracy % (FCA%) of a company over time. Instead of creating a line chart with FCA% per month per year, I better create a baseline of 100%compared in the same chart with the delta of the FCA% against that baseline (tap the picture for background info):

Video and reference links

In below video I demonstrate the above best practices on landing pages, font types, color coded KPI indicators and baseline graphs. They by far cover everything to deliver staggering story boards, but at least they give you a head-start. In a next series of Let Me Guide we will explore more tips and tricks.

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