A dashboard should be treated as the central point of contact between you and your SaaS product users. Getting its design right, therefore, can make the difference between success and failure when it comes to turning trial users into paying customers.
Let’s explore dashboards for SaaS products and how you can ensure you align yours with the expectations of your core target audience.
What is a dashboard and what should it do for your users?
Your dashboard is undoubtedly one of the most important screens in your SaaS product. It’s your most conspicuous way of presenting simple information and relevant KPIs in the shape of data visualisations like numbers, bar charts, pie charts and line graphs.
It’s where users should be able to see high-level content they can dig deeper into in an efficient and easy-to-understand manner.
There are, of course, different types of dashboards for you to consider for your product, depending on your user requirements:
Operational dashboards are ideal for users who need to carry out tasks in a timely, efficient manner. It’s where a product can display status and available resources, as well as any relevant data that might help the user complete the task(s) at hand.
Analytical dashboards are made for users who don’t need to make an immediate decision, but require the logical presentation of data to inform future decisions. This means a product dashboard for these types of users should make it as easy as possible to collect and analyse the data when required.
You should always consider the end-goals of your user when designing your dashboard(s). There might be a number of user flows at play in your product, so it might need a number of unique dashboard designs aimed at different users.
Before you begin the design, consider the management level of your target user and ask yourself how reliant they might be on data visualisation, for instance.
What makes an effective dashboard?
The first step for anyone wanting to create an effective dashboard is to get to know the users. Full stop.
It’s one thing making a dashboard look beautiful, but it’s another to actually get people to use it.
If you’ve missed the mark on what they want, the attractive design will fall flat on its face.
It takes consistency, attention to detail and an understanding of how you can make your users’ lives easier to create an effective dashboard.
Take a look at my dashboard teardown series to see a few examples of what to do and what not to do if you want to hit the mark with your users.
The best examples of visual representations of data and insights in dashboards are engaging, intuitive and highly actionable. They bring the essential information to the fore and leave no place for unwanted clutter. They effectively reduce complexity and provide greater clarity for users.
What are the most common dashboard UX mistakes?
The truth of the matter is that, in the current landscape, users have short attention spans and low levels of patience. This ultimately means that, if your dashboard doesn’t meet their needs quickly, you will be facing an uphill battle to convince them that your product is the solution for them.
There are many mistakes that fly in the face of this reality - these can include misinterpreting user goals, designing poor layouts, using improper data charts, creating excess visual clutter and employing inappropriate colours.
If you make assumptions about what your users want to see, you’ll only serve to give them irrelevant information with which users won’t be compelled to engage.
If you make poor layout choices, users will grow frustrated with the increased effort it takes to use your product and they’ll probably abandon it.
If you present an excess of clutter in the dashboard, users won’t be able to find what they’re after and they’ll think twice about coming back to use your product again.
If you use the wrong data types, you’ll make it unnecessarily difficult for users to take the right actions. They might even make the wrong decisions altogether because of a misinterpretation of the data.
Finally, if you use the wrong colour palette, the product can become confusing and overwhelming for users.
Here’s how to improve your dashboard UX
Understand your users and their intentions
The most important place to start is to get to grips with the goals of your users. Empathise with them and understand what they want to get out of your product.
Use this knowledge to build a clearly defined set of goals that focus on solving the problem at hand. What steps do users need to take to solve their problems and how can you help them get there in the most efficient way? Focus on reducing the cognitive load on them as much as possible.
Use an appropriate layout and logical order
Modern users have high expectations that are set by the great experiences they have in other top products, so they will arrive at yours with a preconception of where certain components and elements will be.
Violating these expectations will do nothing more than cause confusion and frustration, so pay as much attention to them as possible during the design phase.
To cater to the user habit of scanning from top to bottom, you should prioritise the most important information at the top of the dashboard in a visually appealing manner. Group all relevant content together to make it easier for your users to engage.
The layout of your dashboard is critical to keeping users hooked, so make it as easy as possible for them to scan and understand the information they need in any given circumstance.
Reduce visual clutter
Your dashboard should only include the information that is most pertinent to your users, so you should ruthlessly ensure that you reduce the amount of noise it expels. Ask yourself what is absolutely necessary and remove everything that isn’t.
It’s no use wasting design and development time on features that people don’t want and won’t use.
The ultimate objective comes down to making people’s lives easier, so be sure to keep this in mind when you are culling content. Build out additional screens if you have to, but concentrate on keeping your dashboard as clean and simple as possible.
Use the right data visualisation types
The foundations of any useful dashboard must include the right approach to data visualisation. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here either.
Use line charts to visualise trends over time. Use bar charts to summarise categorical and comparative data. Use pie charts to demonstrate statistical proportions.
If you have to show more precise values, tables are a classic and simple way to do so, but be wary of the potential clashes between data visualisation and basic data. Great design can boost your dashboard UX, but going overboard can harm it if it creates more work for the end-user.
Use colour wisely and more sparingly
Colour choices are incredibly important when it comes to the dashboard. It’s easy to assume that your brand colours are the ideal choice for dashboard design and data visualisation, but this can sometimes end up being more damaging to your overall UX.
Consider accessibility and be intuitive with your choices. Put some research into the meanings of certain colours in the culture of your target audience.
Take time over the colour contrasts, especially when it comes to text and readability. Use shades of grey wherever you need to indicate insignificance of information or deselection of an element or component on your user’s part.
Consider where your colours appear in relation to one another. The smaller the areas on your chart and the bigger the distance between them, the harder it is to compare and contrast them, which can contribute to a substandard and disjointed dashboard experience.
If you need to display clear differences between values within your SaaS product, use light colours for low values and dark colours for high values. Be clear with the keys, too, as using variations of the same shade can actually make the experience more frustrating than enriching.
Get expert help with designing your dashboard UX
The importance of the dashboard cannot be underestimated. It is the most powerful way to communicate the kind of data and information that are critical to your users.
The good news is that the foundations of a great dashboard are universal.
If the design is slick enough, clear enough and robust enough to meet user expectations, it will succeed in communicating the what, the when, the why and the how to your typical users, regardless of the niche in which you operate. The tricky part comes in knowing how to implement an intuitive dashboard that appeals to the quirks of your particular industry and target audience. This is where I can come in.
My services focus on helping you relieve the burden of designing your dashboard yourself, so you can concentrate on freeing up resources to work on other critical aspects of a great SaaS product, such as the core technology.
I can give you one less thing to worry about by avoiding the kind of costly dashboard UX mistakes that are inevitably more expensive to fix further down the line. This means testing and validating ideas with wireframes before you even begin to build your dashboard.
Together, we can increase the likelihood of you increasing engagement, improving conversions and receiving word-of-mouth recommendations by creating a dashboard that your customers will simply love to use on a daily basis.
We can fit your product right into their daily workflow and turn more customers into evangelists so you can scale efficiently and, financially speaking, lessen the burden on your sales and marketing departments.
If you want to harness the huge potential of data visualisation in your SaaS product’s dashboard, I can help you and your development team make that a reality.
Get in touch today to discuss your dashboard challenges and we’ll see how I can help.