If you’re new to User-Centered Dashboard Development (UCDD), please check out the first two posts in this series (found down below) to get acclimated, then come back here!
Last week, we talked about the importance of understanding our users and their problems before we jumped into the data or development. We discussed the importance of asking a lot of questions to uncover the real problem and then using the users’ answers to begin to formulate the requirements for what we build.
This leads us to the second part of our UCDD framework: Define. The goal of this phase is to define what we are going to build and how we are going to build it.
How Do We Define “Define?”
You can think of this part like drawing up the blueprint for a house you want to build. It would be risky to just show up to an empty lot one day without a vision for the house you want to build and start nailing together wood, hoping it turns out sturdy and reliable. The same is true for the dashboard solutions we’re building our users. There is risk to the final product, the development timeline, the budgeted resources and more if we don’t carefully plan what we are going to build. By taking this time up front, we can ensure that we’re building something with a strong foundation that will meet users’ needs and last for a long time.
So how do we do this? As mentioned, we want to organize the intel we collected from users during the understand phase and let it inform our development plan. Here, we want to define four key areas that will become the puzzle pieces we put together later:
- User personas
- Chart Types
- Dashboard Layouts
- Design Styles
Our Four Pieces
- User personas are a way to look at your users and broadly group them by key characteristics. Some user personas you may have in your business are “Executives,” “Managers” and “Business Analysts.” These user personas have differing goals and needs for their dashboards. Knowing the user persona you’re targeting with your dashboard will help decide the next three areas.
- Chart types – there are so many of them! How do you know which ones to use for your dashboard? Knowing your user persona will help you determine if you need a chart with a high level of detail or one that is simpler. Here, you will also begin to examine your data and what story you want to tell so you can select the right chart type for your data.
- Dashboard layouts are important because this is where we begin to guide a user through a data story. We probably want them to explore the dashboard in a specific way, so choosing a good layout that balances the use of charts, features, filters and white space is important.
- Design styles add a level of professionalism to your dashboard and create a pleasant experience for your users. You want a design style that connects with your brand and is consistent with other reporting. A style guide can be a really useful tool here.
Once we have defined these four things, we want to put them all together into our final ‘blueprint’ – a wireframe.
A wireframe can take on many shapes and forms. It could be as simple as a quick sketch with some pen and paper to give you a loose plan of charts and layouts. Or it could be something with higher fidelity in a wireframe/sketch tool like Figma or InVision. It could even go so far as to be a full-fledged high-fidelity design with interactivity that imitates Tableau, without having to do all the Tableau work behind it.
With your wireframe built, you can now reconnect with your users for a round of quick feedback. Showing your users the plan before you start building allows you to answer the question, “Am I going in the right direction?” before investing too much time in development. You can go back to the ‘drawing board’ a lot easier when it’s pencil and paper or a virtual whiteboard, than if you already laid a whole calculation foundation in Tableau.
And that will leave us ready for the next phase of our seven part UCDD framework. Come back next week to see where we go next!