Dashboards are a great way to organise complicated raw information into an overview of data points and present it to a user in an easy to understand and useful way.
At Draw, we’ve become experts in creating dashboards for all sorts of user needs. The process is usually something like this: a company has a service that involves a lot of data points which they need to show in a user-friendly way - they need a dashboard. They’ll approach Draw with an idea of how the dashboard will look and how this will connect to its backend. We’ll then go away to produce a usable solution that meet the needs of the client as well as being user-focused.
Creating a dashboard can be quite time consuming, with UX, UI, development and data all being considered to create a useful and accurate end product. A normal process will start with an exploration phase, prioritising data points and prototyping the dashboard to flow in a cohesive way. Next will usually be a series of iterations of wireframes, with the client feeding back to refine each time. Once a final set of wireframes have been agreed, the polished design will be presented in a clickable prototype form, or sometimes go straight into development.
This is a tried and tested process, but it’s not without issues. Shortcomings include:
- The priority of data can be lost in translation when a designer is structuring the dashboard.
- Dummy data will be used for the prototype, which can be distracting when presenting back to stakeholders who know the “real” numbers inside-out.
- The client may have a strong idea of how the dashboard should look - and that idea won’t always reflect the best user experience or adhere to UX best practices.
If you’re in the dashboard business, these issues will probably be familiar. The good news is that Google Data Studio might be able to help.
What Data Studio can do (and how to use it)
Data Studio allows you to compile visualisations from linked data sources such as Adwords, CSV files, Google analytics, Google Sheets, Google cloud, Search console, Doubleclick, Youtube, and SQL databases, as well as a load of third party integrations, in one place.
Setting up a board is straightforward and intuitive but can get a little confusing at times because the tool gives users a lot of flexibility.
After starting a new report inside Data Studio, you simply select the initial data source through the connectors described above and choose which data view you wish to use (such as a particular spreadsheet and a worksheet it contains). Then you can get to work making the most of its features to the benefit of your dashboard project.
Data Studio’s features
You can use design software to create modules containing data, header and body text, logos, images and custom fonts. Functionality such as dropdown filters and date ranges can easily be be added and linked to individual modules or at a page level. If you have one, your development team can also set up the priority of modules while designers can perfect the look and feel.
The best thing about Data Studio is that it’s easy to use real data. That means you can set it up so there’ll be no ambiguity for the client as to what it represents. You can also make use of different representations for the data, for example by changing from a pie chart to a line graph instantly. So you can select the best visualisation method for the task at hand.
Changes are displayed live, allowing quick feedback from all users, and encouraging a more collaborative approach than the “traditional” linear design-feedback-iterate approach. Your client also gets more visibility and can contribute to the process if something doesn’t look right to them.
Limitations of the Data Studio approach
The collaborative Data Studio-based approach I’ve outlined above is not without its own drawbacks. These include:
- Collaboration can be confusing. If two people are making changes to the same area at the same time, there can be conflicts which break the structure.
- The end result may not seem as polished as a dashboard built from scratch by a front end developer.
- Links for data sources have to be implemented first, so the designer doesn't have to use placeholders for any numbers or statistics.
- The available “data views” can be limiting. Each individual graph, table or data point can be connected to its own data source, meaning that each time you include a new data view you must reference the data you were initially working from.
The Data Studio Approach in action
Our SEO Manager Luke Holman and I recently created a dashboard for a client who needed a tool to review Google Analytics data for their ecommerce site.
We initially created a list of user behaviour, traffic and ecommerce metrics that could be used for business intelligence and analysis. We then worked with the client to diagnose which metrics were the most relevant to their objectives, ensuring that they understand each metric’s meaning and strategic value
Once this list of metrics was confirmed we planned out how best to present them in a weekly dashboard. We considered the way to best communicate the story so that the client could quickly understand what has happened over the last week, and what tactical actions may need to be taken based upon the data they are seeing.
Give it a go
Data studio may not be the most customisable solution currently. It is, however, still only in Beta stages, and will improve with future iterations. The flexibility and speed of the output results are already genuinely impressive. Give it a go for producing effective dashboards with real data.