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BI Dashboard Design Best Practices – Cheat Sheet

by | Dashboards & Data Viz

Ad Hoc Endowment Reporting

It’s a bunch of charts and tables. How hard could it be?

The answer: deceptively hard. Dashboards do the tricky work of presenting complexity as if it were anything but. Organizing important information so that it delivers well to the intended audience requires attention to detail and considerable revision. It’s like that old adage: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Simplification requires skill.

But not everyone has the time to leaf through our Dashboard Design Handbook, so we put together this short, sweet version as a quick reference guide. To control for differences in reporting tools, we’ve focused on best practices that apply regardless of which business intelligence solution you use.

These heuristics will help you plan your design process and refine your business intelligence (BI) dashboards so that they communicate clearly, provide a good user experience,  and represent your company well.



Dashboard Design Cheat Sheet

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  • Consider your audience’s needs and expectations before building.
  • Use additions such as benchmark lines and trend lines to help people understand what the data is saying.
  • If possible, give your viewers access to interactive controls, such as filters and drilldowns.
  • Make the data easy to read. If your chart is looking busy, remove some of the detail. It’s okay not to show every data point if what’s important is the trend.
  • Group related charts, placing KPIs and other broad summaries at the top.
  • Break up more complex charts into two or three that tell different parts of the story.
  • Pick the best chart type for the information you want to display.
  • Try a bar chart, line chart, or scatterplot before resorting to more specialized chart types.
  • Refrain from misleading your audience with insufficient, poorly designed, or dubious data.
  • Keep pie charts to five slices or fewer.
  • Set your dashboard to refresh regularly so data stays up to date.


  • Apply color sparingly, using it to draw attention to key information.
  • Consider how your dashboard appears to someone who is colorblind.
  • Use simple fonts and eliminate unnecessary text.
  • Keep dashboard elements evenly spaced. Make sure there isn’t a lot of unnecessary white space on your dashboard.
  • Avoid graphics and visual effects that do not help communicate the data’s message.
  • Apply chart labels and annotations selectively.
  • Avoid using green and red in your dashboard unless they are meant to signify good/bad respectively.
  • Use conditional formatting to highlight the most relevant information, leaving the rest in a neutral tone.
  • If your dashboard is looking full, consider making multiple dashboards, each for a different audience.
  • Incorporate KPIs, tables, images, and any other dashboard elements that facilitate your design.


  • Get feedback from a colleague first. Does your dashboard feel complete?
  • Test your dashboard on real users, or craft personas to see how the dashboard might look to them.
  • Squint at your dashboard from a short distance and notice which elements stand out. Are they the ones you wish to emphasize?
  • What actions does your dashboard inspire? How might you help your audience get started on them?


About Exago BI:

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