What makes a KPI Dashboard tick

Each day we are privileged to interact with many types of KPI Dashboards …

SimpleKPI Icon By Stuart Kinsey

2 Minute Read
KPI Dashboard characteristics

Each day we are privileged to interact with many types of KPI Dashboards, from the quirky, small, yet simple dashboard for personal performance, to the real heavyweight financial reporting goliaths.

Yet there is something about a select number of these dashboards that make them stand out. The reality is that it's not the number of charts, fancy widgets, or even the amount of data, Metrics, or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that can be packed into these dashboards that sets some of them apart - it's something else.

Beautiful dashboards catch the eye, but not necessarily for their aesthetic qualities – although this does help. A broader range of essentials work together as part of a well-oiled machine to create a dashboard that is not just functional but stunning.

There are essentially eight elements that these KPI Dashboards have in common that sets them apart:

  1. Getting Graph Types Just Right

    Graph, chart, widget, or view selection is fundamental to a streamlined dashboard. However, with over 100 recognized chart and graph types available, not including the near-endless derivatives, it's no wonder that some dashboards with great data structure and well-thought-through KPIs fall down at the first hurdle. This is not to say that using some of the more exotic chart types is a dashboard crime; it's far more critical that the marriage of the data to the graph is in the most understandable way that makes dashboard graphs spectacular.

    Limiting the number of graphs and charts makes it easier for the audience to comprehend the existing data and facilitates understanding the new charts' purpose when added.

  2. Analytics that deliver insights

    Looking at the data from only one angle can limit our understanding of performance. It can be even more frustrating when we can't explore or analyze the KPIs in more detail to see why the sales revenue has suddenly changed so much.

    Good dashboard design has already thought this through; the ability to simply analyze the KPI data with a single click is vital; a well-defined dashboard understands that displaying the surface data and the subsequent data is equally as important.

    Quickly accessing and analyzing data provides opportunities and competitive advantages.

  3. Creating Groupings that Make Sense

    I suppose it is the perception that a dashboard's sole purpose is to display the surface layer of data that encourages the underutilized yet powerful grouping feature. It can be refreshing when grouping is used to enhance understanding of how the chart data has been formed. For example, a dashboard chart displaying unique visitors is extremely basic and a little misleading - in most cases, it's the countries or target markets those visitors are coming from that are important. A chart showing the top 5 destinations with the total unique visitors would offer a greater insight into visitor segmentation within the wider context of visitors without being over complicated.

    To gain more information beyond surface KPI data it is crucial to comprehend the significance of grouping and make it a prominent part of your dashboard.

  4. Exporting your dashboard

    The flexibility to instantly replicate the dashboard in several ways ensures it retains its magnificence.

    Good dashboards recognize the importance of context and are only one component of a larger structure or process. To convey their message effectively, dashboards should be flexible enough to provide supplementary information through alternate formats like PDFs and Excel. Organizations value dashboards that can communicate their insights across multiple mediums.

  5. Clear Dashboard Communication

    Dashboard clarity has to be one of the essential elements of a genuinely stunning dashboard. The whole purpose of existing lies in its ability to communicate the reality of a position based on data - be that good, bad, or indifferent.

    Removing confusion and frustration from the flow of data can be achieved by focusing on a clear objective for each graph or chart type. For example, a sales revenue chart could be defined as 'Providing an accurate revenue value of all of our sales this month by outlet'. Dashboards with clear chart objectives create trust when making business decisions based on the data.

  6. Concise and straight to the point

    Why present four graphs when one will suffice? Not only do great dashboards display a simplistic view of the data, but they also display it concisely. This concise approach to dashboard management removes frustration and rewards the audience with a graceful display of their important KPIs.

  7. Responsive

    Responsive KPI dashboards are quick - they acquire the data and display even large amounts of data effortlessly. They give feedback to the user when something has happened and show a smooth and precise level of control over functions and features. Data is kept to a minimum to ensure responsiveness or collated initially at a higher level before being displayed on dashboards.

  8. Sharing the knowledge

    Sharing knowledge can be highly beneficial to an organization. A dashboard that can be effortlessly shared with groups, teams, and even individuals will provide the organization with more accurate results from the data than an existing dashboard. We see sharing as a pivotal element in the most successful dashboards.


KPI dashboards are essential to monitoring and improving business performance, but good KPI dashboard design isn't just about the surface design – it's about understanding the 8 fundamental elements that drive these stunning tools. By applying the principles of Getting Graph Types Just Right, Analytics that deliver insights, Creating Groupings that make Sense, Exporting your dashboard, Dashboard Clarity, Conciseness, and Responsive sharing the knowledge, you can create a truly powerful and beautiful KPI dashboard.

Stuart Kinsey portrait

by Stuart Kinsey

Stuart Kinsey writes on Key Performance Indicators, Dashboards, Marketing, and Business Strategy. He is a co-founder of SimpleKPI and has worked in creative and analytical services for over 25 years. He believes embracing KPIs and visualizing performance is essential for any organization to strive and grow.

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