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Designing Dashboards that Stick:
A Guide to Design and Practical Harmony

January 18, 2024

We explore how to make attractive and useful dashboards that engage users and help with decision-making. Real-world examples illustrate how effective data design can transform data into compelling, easy-to-understand visual stories. The article also addresses familiar challenges and offers practical tips to help designers and developers create dashboards that not only look great but also deliver meaningful insights, ensuring that they become indispensable tools in any data-driven environment.

A Guide to Design and Practical Harmony

We’re in the age of short attention spans and visually driven culture, where audiences prefer to absorb information through visual means, particularly with dashboards, which are more exploratory in nature.

While maintaining functionality remains crucial in dashboards for clarity and ease of comprehension, considering aesthetics is equally important, because it’s the beautifully designed charts, visually pleasing color schemes, and engaging typography that will ultimately drive visual engagement and make the data more inviting.

The Influence of Visual Appeal

If done well, great visuals can quickly grab attention and create a foundation for engagement with the audience. In fact, it enhances memorability of the information presented, which is why people tend to remember well-designed data visuals more than their plain counterparts.

But aesthetics is not just about making information stick, it’s also about stirring up emotions and making the data relatable. For instance, in corporate context, a slick dashboard not only helps people remember but also reflects positively on the brand.

Long story short, good visuals can improve the overall user experience by making information sharing a lot more enjoyable and accessible.

The Importance of Functionality

Data is meant to convey information, and if it fails in this regard, visual appeal becomes secondary. A graph may be aesthetically pleasing, but if it complicates rather than simplifies the understanding of information, then no amount of visual appeal will be of any use. On the contrary, functional visuals that prioritize clarity and simplicity will always ensure that the audience effortlessly grasps the intended message.

The true essence of a functional visual lies in its ability to align data with the topic at hand, so that the information shared is not only visually engaging but also highly relevant for the audience.

The Pitfalls of Not Balancing Aesthetics And Functionality

All said and done, there is still a very delicate challenge – did you know too much aesthetics or too much functionality can be a bad thing? The ideal dashboard needs to carefully balance aesthetics and functionality, recognizing that one complements the other, rather than competing to overpower each other.

Excessive focus on aesthetics at the expense of functionality can have detrimental effects on the intended communication.

  • First, there is loss of clarity. Complex visuals or ornate designs can overcrowd the dashboard, hindering the audience’s ability to comprehend the real data. This can cause the main message to be lost, resulting in misunderstanding and misreading.
  • Secondly, your audience gets distracted. Even though visuals may be effectively laid out with proper information, too much design can draw the audience’s attention away from the data’s significance and towards the design itself. This diversion can hinder the audience from focusing on crucial insights and messages, leading them to overlook significant information and understanding.

So, the obvious question we are tempted to ask is, should we focus less on aesthetics and more on functionality?

It turns out, overemphasis on functionality at the expense of aesthetics can also be problematic for several reasons:

  • It can lead to lack of engagement. Audiences seek engaging and visually stimulating content. Dashboards that are solely functional can come across as dry and uninteresting, gradually resulting in reduced attention and comprehension.
  • The presented information has reduced impact. Aesthetic elements, such as well-designed charts or appealing visuals can make the data more memorable and persuasive, but hyper focus on functionality and lack of aesthetics can diminish the information’s overall influence.
  • While functionality is crucial, excessive emphasis on it can quickly lead to information overload. Without aesthetic elements to organize and present the data, the audience may struggle to navigate and understand the information effectively.
  • Lastly, there’s a limited emotional connection. Aesthetics have the power to stir emotions and establish a link between the data and the audience. Focusing solely on functionality might overlook the chance to connect with the audience on a more profound level.

Consider if the IKEA dashboard embraced an orange and green color palette, or if Starbucks’ corporate dashboard opted for purple and gray tones. Even though the graphs and data may be accurate and meaningful, deviation from brand colors would likely result in viewers feeling less emotionally engaged with the dashboard, as it would miss the opportunity to forge that crucial emotional connection.

Finding The Right Balance

Aesthetic appeal and functionality are two sides of the same coin, each playing a crucial role in the overall effectiveness of communication. While aesthetics captivates and engages, functionality ensures clarity and comprehension.

Achieving the perfect blend of both is an art, and it’s important to keep in mind that the primary goal of dashboards is to convey information effectively and efficiently. Here are some tips to strike the right balance between aesthetics and functionality:

  • Create audience-centric designs by considering their preferences, so that visuals can resonate to their understanding. By looking into specific preferences, whether it be in terms of color schemes, graphic styles, or information hierarchy, you create a more engaging and relatable visual experience.
  • Avoid excess décor. Make deliberate aesthetic choices so that the elements can act as visual aids to reinforce the narrative guiding the audience through the information instead of overshadowing the key insights.
  • Ensure the visual presentation of data maintains a consistent design theme for overall visual coherence. When the visual elements, from colors to fonts to layout and charts stay in harmony, audiences find it easier to follow through the narrative more seamlessly.
  • Perhaps, the most important and often overlooked, seek feedback from peers or test the dashboard with a small audience. This will reveal any issues with functionality or aesthetics and design that can be rectified before revealing it to the main audience.


The way we consume information has undergone a significant transformation over time. We find ourselves in an era characterized by a visually driven culture and a collective shift towards shorter attention spans. Infographics, charts, and concise visual representations have become the go-to tools for conveying complex information in a format that aligns with our modern lifestyle. With that said, it is also essential to ensure that the core message does not get overshadowed by decorative elements. Maintaining clarity in information delivery remains crucial.

In short, it all boils down to balance – creating an experience where the aesthetics make you feel visually invested, and the functionality makes you understand. When you can make both elements harmonize seamlessly, your dashboard will not only engage the audience visually but will also convey the intended message with significant impact.

About Decision Foundry

Decision Foundry is a Salesforce, independent software vendor, managed services provider, and a certified award-winning Salesforce Marketing Cloud integration partner. Decision Foundry closes the gap between data accessibility, platform adoption and business impact. Our consulting services include the integration of Data Cloud, Account, Engagement, Personalization, Tableau, and Intelligence.




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