We like to think of data visualisation playing the key role of ‘translator’ between analysts and audiences. Translating the raw data into graphs, charts and tables makes it easier to comprehend, helps identify trends and highlight meaningful insights. Being able to display data in a clear and digestible way is crucial if we want to understand the data and use it to deliver clear actionable insights and employ data-driven decisions. However, simply creating charts and tables is only the start of this process. To really make data visuals resonate with the audience, they need to be appealing. This is why we use Google Data Studio.
Introduction to Google Data Studio
Google Data Studio is a free tool that allows you to visualise data from a number of different sources and allows for a high degree of customisability. Combining this with the fact that the dashboards are easy to share, intuitive to create and simple to use, it’s one of our favourite tools for displaying data both internally and externally.
Best practices for building user-friendly data studio reports
Here, I am going to outline some of the tips and tricks we’ve picked up along the way that help us create a highly effective and visually appealing website analytics dashboard in Google Data Studio, with a focus on how to apply certain laws of UX to maximise the effectiveness of dashboards. Our best practices include:
Creating a consistent look and feel
Building eye-catching visuals
Eradicating any ‘clutter’ that may distract from the data
Keeping your report fairly concise and clean
Taking inspiration from dashboard views from other software to create a sense of familiarity for the user
Making your dashboard bespoke for your client
What are the Laws of UX?
Quite simply, the laws of UX are a collection of best practices for designing user interfaces based on key principles in psychology. In particular, we will go through some of the most applicable when it comes to dashboard design, outlining what they mean, followed by how to act on them.
1. Aesthetic-Usability Effect
“Users often perceive aesthetically pleasing design as design that’s more usable.”
This seems like quite an obvious statement – but how does this translate into data studio, how do you make something aesthetically pleasing?
Consistency –Through experience, I’ve found consistency to be one of the most powerful ways to ensure a dashboard comes across professionally. One of the best ways to achieve this is via utilising the grid lines and creating rules for yourself whilst building the dashboard. In the example below, I keep a distance of 4 squares between features and make sure the text in the side navigation bar is evenly spaced and consistent throughout subsequent pages.
Stand Out – It’s important to make the visuals eye-catching. One method of doing so is making the background slightly off-white or grey and adding white shapes that we then place the visualisations and text on top of. Adding a border shadow to these shapes also helps elevate the visualisations and rounding the corners makes it feel more friendly.
Minimalism – Try to remove clutter that will distract from the insights you are trying to show. For example, removing gridlines from graphs and tables can help your dashboard look cleaner and more modern. Moreover, they don’t serve much of a purpose within Data Studio, as you can hover over data points to observe the values, or even add data labels.
2. Hick’s Law:
“The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices.”
Concise – In this instance, less is more and allows the focus to be directed where intended. It’s useful to make use of the optional metrics feature, which enables the user to choose what metric they would like displayed in the table or graph they’re looking at. To ensure this gets noticed and used, I set the ‘chart header’ to always showing and highlight it by placing a transparent shape that matches the branding of the report over the top of it.
3. Jakob’s Law:
“Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.”
Familiarity – We looked at examples of dashboards across software we use, as well as other dashboard examples through Google Images in order to identify common features of dashboards that people would expect. Broadly speaking, these features include things like navigation sidebars, stand out visuals, dynamic filters and a consistent design.
Bespoke – Expensive suits are usually bespoke and made-to-measure. This is the same logic we like to apply to our client dashboards, making sure they fit the needs and requirements perfectly. Here are some examples of how to do this:
Client Logo – Where possible, the logo image either has a transparent background or has a background colour that can blend into the dashboard design. This avoids it looking like a blocky image that’s clearly been pasted in, helping to subtly add personalisation to the dashboard.
Client Colour Schemes – We like to ask for specific colour codes the client might want to be in the dashboard. If these aren’t available, using browser add-ons in the form of colour pickers to extract colour codes directly from the website can be useful. These colours can then be applied to line graphs and other colour accents.
Wider Context – Adding a small description to accompany graphs can make sure the data is easy to understand for whoever is looking at it. It’s useful to always think of the target audience and how it might come across from their perspective. After all, the easier your dashboard is to understand, the more likely it is to be used.
We’ve opted for building a navigation bar on the left within the dashboard that outlines the content clearly and has room for additions. Combining this with the other recommendations throughout this blog, we have created a dashboard that looks something like this:
We’ve explored the different ways in which we can make dashboards stand out, supporting these decisions based on a fundamental set of psychological principles. The key to making your dashboard stand out from the rest is in the details: being consistent, familiar and easy to understand. Following the tips outlined in this blog, you should be able to make the necessary changes to your Google Data Studio dashboard to make it go from good to great.