I often hear a question like ‘How should one design a dashboard?’. Oftentimes this conversation is about charts, design elements, positioning/layout or colors. In this case people should already be familiar with their content and data, right?

Then most of the times I’m still surprised people don’t always know the content and the exact requirements and functions needed to design a dashboard in the first place. I think that starting with a design requires a deep understanding of the content, audience and the requirements. I would like to refer to this as ‘understanding the information architecture’.

Now, what is information architecture? A simple lookup can help to clarify some things:


Information architecture (IA) is the structural design of shared information environments; the art and science of organizing and labelling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability.

I think it crucial to know what you are dealing with in terms of what you will present to a user and how he/she will get to benefit from that.

So what should you do for a basic understanding? Try this for your BI dashboard to start with:

  1. Study the data
  2. Understand the definitions and calculations
  3. Study and define the relationships in the data
  4. Use concepts like:
    1. A Dimension-KPI matrix; to understand what metrics go with what categories and classifications
    2. A table of contents; to be able to help the user to see what he might be able to achieve. In webdesign this will be called a ‘sitemap’
    3. Navigational structures; to help the user to browse accross multiple topics of interest and understand how they might be interesting for him/her
    4. Breadcrumbs; to show a user – where he or she is / or where he or she could go next / or to fail fast; meaning he/she could start all over again in a simple way
  5. Think of a system that helps to present:
    1. What is relevant
    2. What are the highlights
    3. How the user can achieve his goals (actionable insights, where/how to fulfill a task)
  6. How to help a user when there isn’t too much information and context in the UI. Generally speaking this could be solved by documentation or feedback / help files in the application

If you have any questions please feel free to use the comments.

Happy designing!