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Don't Hire a Translator for Your Dashboards: Teach Them Tell Stories

Many dashboards these days are nothing more than a hodgepodge of KPIs, lacking any real purpose or focus. If dashboards we see out there are not telling data stories yet, does not mean your dashboards cannot. Let me tell you something: dashboards can and should tell stories. And if you’re not leveraging them to their full potential, you’re missing out on valuable insights and opportunities.

Dashboards have the potential to communicate insights effectively and enable users to make decisions. That’s the essence of data storytelling. In this article, we’ll discuss why data storytelling in dashboards is important and how to achieve it.

Dashboards as Storytellers:

Now, some people believe that only a skilled storyteller can transform information from a dashboard into a story and properly present it to users. While that may be true to some extent, what’s the point of a dashboard if it needs a translator between it and the final user?

Dashboards should be designed in a user-centric way that allows for direct interaction. They should be able to answer questions like “Why?” for diagnostic analytics and “What if?” for predictive analytics. The role of a storyteller in this process is not to interpret the dashboard but to design it in a way that tells a clear and engaging story.

Content: Don’t Settle for KPIs – Bring in Relevant Context and Business Drivers

When designing a dashboard, it’s important to bring in relevant internal and external context. Don’t limit yourself to actual vs. budget comparisons – look at trends, extrapolations, and scenarios. Make sure you have the right time period for comparison, industry or competitor benchmarks, and relative targets.

Identify and monitor your internal and external business drivers within the same dashboard. Talk to your business stakeholders at the design stage, not at the data interpretation stage. By bringing in relevant metrics into your dashboard at the design stage, you can cover 90% of possible explanations and find the answer to the question “why” within the dashboard.

If the relevant data needed to answer the “why” question cannot be found in your data warehouse, it’s time to pull in relevant operational, marketing, customer, and competition metrics. Chances are you’re already collecting all this information, and some other department is using it in isolation from you. Don’t let data silos limit your insights. By combining this information into driver-based dashboards, you can create a more complete and compelling story.

Form: Craft Your Tale through Smart Design

When it comes to dashboard design, space is at a premium. On the one hand you want to fit as much information as possible onto a single screen, on the other hand you want only pieces relevant to your story to be visible. Here are some tips how to achieve that, without overwhelming the end user:

  • Use compact visuals such as four dashboard space savers to fit the whole dashboard into a single screen to make your story visible at a glance.
  • Utilize conditional formatting and variance tolerance intervals to highlight everything related to the story, while everything irrelevant is greyed out.
  • Use an alert color scheme instead of a red-green color scheme to speed up understanding and focus on what’s relevant.

Storytelling in Dashboards is not a Question of Whether, But of How

So, there you have it folks – dashboards can and should tell stories. By designing them in a user-centric way and focusing on the right content and form, we can create compelling data stories that enable decision-making. Remember, storytelling in dashboards is not a question of whether, but of how. So go ahead, take your dashboards to the next level and let them tell the story behind the numbers.

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