Business Intelligence solutions can loosely be divided into two components: getting the data right (by cleaning it and storing in a Data Mart) and presenting the data to the user (through dashboards and reports). Preparing the data requires lots of time and effort and time to ensure the data is clean, conformed and correct. You can only capitalize on this investment if you present the data in a form that is easy to understand and helps support decision making processes.
Here are five tips for displaying data to users.
- Be aware of the form factor. Like it or not many people still like to print. If you know this ahead of time you can design your report or dashboard to accommodate printing. Conversely, perhaps the user will be looking at it on a laptop. Don’t be caught developing it on a large screen only to have it truncated on an Executive’s smaller laptop screen.
- Be consistent. A dynamic report that has different layouts depending on the data will only confuse people. The report should have the information located in the same position every time it is viewed. Imagine if your car dashboard changed location of the gauges each day of the week!
- Keep it simple. Don’t clutter a report with noise such as logos and decoration unless they are conveying information. A good use of decoration is to set the context of which business unit or company the report is for. A poor use is extraneous lines and shadows that don’t introduce any new meaning. Does a 3-D bar chart convey any more information than a 2-D? If not – remove the extra graphics in a 3-D chart and stick with a 2-D.
- Minimize the amount of thinking for the user. Again consider a car dashboard analogy. A driver needs to be able to quickly glance at the dashboard and understand what is going on so decisions can be made. Visual indicators in a report reduces the amount of interpretation that is required. For instance, if red-yellow-green indicators are displayed users can quickly direct their attention to those areas that are immediate issues.
- Allow a natural transition to another level of detail. Once users realizes something needs attention they should be able to drill into the detail to understand the underlying cause. Reports should be naturally linked so it is clear how a summary statistic on one report is related to detailed items on another.
Reports are the basis of people making decisions. Good report design reduces the possibility of mis-interpretation, communicates issues quickly and permits users to view data at the level they need.