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Why No One is Using Your Dashboard

Adapted from a lightning talk presented at MERL Tech 2018 in Washington DC. As a data visualization developer, whether I’m at a conference or speaking with a new client, the most common question I hear is “What dashboard tool should I use?”. I’m not surprised; technology platforms make big promises. Reading the teasers on a […]

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January 03, 2019

Adapted from a lightning talk presented at MERL Tech 2018 in Washington DC.

As a data visualization developer, whether I’m at a conference or speaking with a new client, the most common question I hear is “What dashboard tool should I use?”.

I’m not surprised; technology platforms make big promises. Reading the teasers on a quick web search, Tableau promises to “help anyone see and understand their data” and allow users to “share with a click.” Qlik tells users that their dashboards will “instantly pivot your thinking.” And Power BI offers to “Provide a 360-degree view for business users…updated in real time.”

While each of these technology products (and many others in the market) offer a range of amazing features, when we’re so focused on the technology we can lose sight of our ultimate goal: to empower people with information they can use.  We become so focused on picking the right technology, we often forget that the dashboard we build is a digital product in itself.

If we think of our dashboards as digital products designed to serve their users, we can look to design thinking to consider what makes a successful dashboard. Consider if the dashboard is:

Missing the Mark (and Common Issues We Can Address)

When dashboards are launched but not used, we’ve often skipped the first criteria above: desirability. By refocusing on user needs first (rather than tech stacks), we can deliver dashboards with which users are excited to interact.

In nearly a decade of developing data visualizations across the public and private sectors, I’ve observed some common user issues that can be easily addressed by giving greater consideration to user needs, product usability, and launch.

“I don’t know how to use the new dashboard.”

“I can’t find the data I need.”

“The dashboard doesn’t help me uncover why something happened.”

Dashboard platforms can enable great design but aren’t silver bullet solutions that can solve all of an organization’s data challenges. By considering user needs first, we can develop better dashboards that users are excited to log on and use.

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