The keys to unlocking a dashboard’s potential

Published Mar 19 2024 Last updated Apr 16 2024 5 minute read
key to dashboard potential
  • Sean Dougherty
    Written by Sean Dougherty

    A copywriter at Funnel, Sean has more than 15 years of experience working in branding and advertising (both agency and client side). He's also a professional voice actor.

KISS (keep it simple stupid) is often a mantra in advertisers’ heads as they try to craft winning ads. It may also be a guiding strategy for agencies that create client marketing dashboards. 

So, what does it mean to keep things simple? How do you account for all of the information that a client needs to make informed decisions without bogging them down with arbitrary data visualizations? 

To get some answers, we spoke with Yoann Leny, head of BI for Media.Monks, a Funnel Global Solution Partner. As a leading expert in the space, he shared his perspectives on creating the best possible dashboards. 

Yoann Leny
Yoann Leny, head of BI for Media.Monks

A day in the life…

Yoann’s role involves helping clients scope and implement a variety of visualization and dashboarding projects. In the past, many clients could easily set up basic dashboards that served up performance data from one or two advertising platforms. More recently, though, the deprecation of third-party cookies and stricter privacy regulations have sent more clients to media.monks, seeking a solution to find, connect and analyze data in new ways. 

“Due to these new privacy standards, clients are trying to leverage first-party data through Google Analytics, Adobe and more,” said Yoann. “Their goal is to create a central point of truth from which they can start asking different questions around their performance data.”

The increased complexity has caused clients to increase their data maturity and turn to new data sources. For Yoann and his team, this means that establishing proper data governance upfront is critical for their success. 

“Our first step, after defining global objectives and challenges to answer, is typically to gather all of the client’s data from relevant platforms and establish a strong data architecture through multiple transformation layers” said Yoann. “We need to take stock of what’s available and ensure that the data is as clean as possible. Clean, structured and formatted data is critical to the success of any dashboard or analysis.”

Read more: All about data visualization

Setting a framework

With a data architecture in place, Yoann and his team continuously match business needs with a data audit and cleansing. They also work to establish the client’s new objectives. This includes the purpose of any dashboards, any hypotheses they may be aiming to solve and who the audience of any reporting may include. 

For instance, Yoann must determine if a given dashboard will be sent to an executive leadership team or a more operational team. This audience knowledge will also give him some clues as to how much time the reader has to interpret the dashboard, as well as their logic and mathematical capabilities. 

Think about it this way: a CMO doesn’t have the time to dig deeply into tables of data and mentally infer percent changes in growth. Instead, they need a high-level summary of any changes in growth along with some kind of contextual explanation. It needs to be accurate, impactful and straightforward. 

However, a team of performance marketers or data analysts may demand more granular data to explore the root causes of fluctuations. In other words, an executive summary dashboard won’t give that operational team enough data to allow them to work effectively. 

From scope to visual design

Scope and objective set? Check. Audience and their requirements defined? Check. It’s at this point that Yoann moves his team into the initial design phase. 

“From here, we wireframe and mockup the dashboard,” said Yoann. “It’s almost like building a house. You speak to an architect and build the initial floor plan. In our case, that floor plan is the wireframe. Once that floor plan is approved, the architect and homeowner work on what will be contained in each room.”

Like homebuilding, some clients prefer a maximalist style with intricately planned small rooms. Other clients want an open plan with a central focus point where everyone will congregate. 

To satisfy either type of client, Yoann starts to build out the mockup using preliminary data (dummy data). This allows clients to get a feel for how the features and dynamic elements work. Feedback is then used to adjust and perfect the designs. 

Common challenges

As any agency veteran can attest, working with clients who may not share your own professional expertise may present unique challenges. Yoann shared that many clients aren’t exactly sure of what they hope to achieve from day one. While this can present an obstacle to fast and efficient dashboard design, it does allow the agency to guide clients and help build their understanding of advanced data analysis and their data maturity. 

“It’s quite interesting to see. A client’s initial request and understanding of what they can do with data tends to be vastly different than their understanding and objectives a few months in,” said Yoann. 

This means that building client dashboards is an iterative process that always evolves in new ways. It requires an agency to be flexible and work with agility. After all, once an initial question is answered, clients will have two or three new objectives that they want to achieve. 

“Creating dashboards is an ever-evolving business need and process,” said Yoann. 

Simple is successful

As the dashboard needs to evolve and more teams are brought in from the client’s side, allowing your dashboards to become more complex may be easy — offering more advanced visualizations. Yoann recommends that dashboard designers avoid this trap as much as possible. 

“A solid 80% of your clients and visualization customers don’t have the math background and high-level understanding of advanced graphics,” said Yoann. “These don’t need to be specialty graphs and charts either. The human brain naturally comprehends three dimensions in a visualization, such as the presence of X, Y and Z axes. However, introducing a fourth dimension is not as intuitive and can potentially lead to confusion among your audience, requiring more time for interpretation.”

Yoann believes providing more data visualizations with fewer dimensions in each is better. This approach also allows you to start building a story through your dashboard using interactions and cross-filtering.

Some audiences may crave an advanced presentation of data, though. 

“Data analysts tend to want visualizations that show correlation,” said Yoann. “For this audience, we may avoid visualizations altogether and instead provide data in a format where the analysts can explore and manipulate the data itself.”

In either case, Yoann aims to provide the simplest presentation of data possible for the intended audience. That is even one of his expert tips: keep it simple!

“Think of good storytelling when setting up your dashboards. Start big and then drill down into detail over time,” said Yoann. 

More tips and tricks

Keeping dashboards simple wasn’t Yoann’s only bit of insider advice. He also gave us a few other points to keep in mind:

Be consistent

Yoann recommends standardizing your client’s dashboard design as much as possible. This means a minimal color palette that is used consistently across all reporting tools, placing logos in the same position, using consistent functionality, adopting standard title placements and matching copy point sizes across your dashboards. This will make your dashboards easier to read, interpret and work from. 

Take advantage of the human brain

Yoann’s next tip was a bit psychological. He recommends using design elements to subconsciously communicate insights and the data’s story. The human brain can only take in so much information at once. You simply can’t absorb and understand a massive spreadsheet at a glance. 

However, other pieces within a dashboard can communicate to a reader in ways that numbers and letters cannot. 

“Use color to transmit information and shapes to communicate patterns. An image is worth a thousand words” said Yoann. 

Minimalism makes marketers merry

Focusing your information and visualization delivery on only your audience’s needs can help refine and simplify your dashboard designs. Plus, by leveraging subtle techniques like color usage, size and shape placement, you can help the visualizations to shine. 

The result is a more streamlined dashboard that gives your audience exactly what they need and nothing they don’t. And that means a better, insightful and more effective relationship with your clients. 

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