How can you become a good SAP Analytics Cloud dashboard designer? This is a difficult question because there is no ultimate way to achieve this goal.
Similarly, you could ask: “How do I become a good football player?” The simple answer is learning by doing. Of course, there are a few fundamental rules that you should keep in mind before you start your journey to becoming a dashboard design hero.
Get Familiar with SAP Analytics Cloud
Most importantly, you should increase your knowledge about the product itself. Before you try to take your first steps and aim to build a perfect version of your dashboard, get familiar with at least a few basic functionalities that SAP Analytics Cloud provides. Most notably, you should learn how to create different types of charts (e.g., bar charts, variance charts, or just single KPI charts to display numbers) or how to setup a table (e.g., drill-down possibilities, hierarchies, and measures). You don’t need much at the beginning to display basic data information in the application, and when you’ve become an expert in the charting and table area, you’ve already come quite far.
Beyond these functional aspects, you need to familiarize yourself with all the different formatting options to lay out your dashboard. SAP Analytics Cloud offers tons of formatting possibilities. Having a solid overview of them helps you to ultimately fine-tune the dashboard and adjust it according to corporate branding. Of course, from a functional and design point of view, there are almost no boundaries. After you became familiar with the basic functionalities, you might go one step further and use more advanced features to optimize your dashboard, for example, by offering possibilities to the user to let him play around with the data. This can be achieved, for example, by introducing geo maps, waterfall charts, story filters, or hierarchies; everything that can give users the best opportunities to analyze the data.
If you want to learn more about how to best use SAP Analytics Cloud for your business, you should visit www.sapanalytics.cloud/learning/ to find plenty of online courses, videos, tutorials, and webinars. We especially recommend searching though the webinar section of this website because it provides a great overview of upcoming courses where you can also get in contact with a few selected product experts from SAP.
Think about Use Cases, Personas, and User Journeys
After you’ve familiarized yourself with the functional parts of SAP Analytics Cloud, we recommend taking another sidestep before starting with the design of your first dashboard. Please keep in mind that the design itself usually isn’t the most critical part of any dashboard exercise. Before you even think about what a dashboard should look like, you should first consider the data and the story that you want to tell. If a dashboard doesn’t tell any story to your users, it isn’t worth the time, so you should think about the message you want to send.
Who are the users that you’re engaging with (personas)? What do they need, and what is their task? What do they expect, and which information do they want to get out of the dashboard? When you can answer all these questions, you’ll be ready to build a dashboard prototype based on the information you gathered. Creating a user journey map can help identify concrete use cases. We’ve seen many dashboards that were created before the dashboard builder considered both the use case and personas as well as the user journey. What usually happens is that most of these dashboards are a waste and need to be rebuilt, which takes time and costs money. That is why careful preparation is indispensable.
Learn about Design Best Practices
Customers often ask the following: Do we need designers to create great dashboards? If you aren’t a designer, it might be difficult at the beginning to create nice dashboards for users. However, the answer to the customers’ question is clearly “no.” In past years, many of our internal dashboards were created by people without a design background or without having studied in a design-related field. It doesn’t matter if you’re a data scientist, business analyst, finance manager, or something else. That’s the beauty of dashboard design: everybody can learn it, independent of their profession.
However, that doesn’t mean that a dashboard could not be improved by the help of a designer. After you’ve created a dashboard, it can make sense to get some help from an experienced design colleague. This has two advantages. First, you get the chance to improve your dashboard with the professional knowledge of a colleague who has a design mindset. Second, you get the chance to learn more about the design skills needed and how to best leverage those to improve your dashboard. Thus, including a few review sessions with people from the field will help you again master your targets.
Create Design Standards and Guidelines for Future Usage
If you want to stick to a common look and feel for future dashboards, it helps to define your own design standards and guidelines. Those standards and guidelines can help you do the following:
- Create a consistent UI
- Scale out all your dashboard design activities
- Provide a reference manual for other design-related tasks
- Remember in the future how and why you built your dashboard the way it is
Thus, our recommended approach is as follows: First, create the dashboard based on your user journey maps and personas. Second, provide a set of rules (standards) that other designers can use for their own work. These rules can incorporate any UI-related information, such as the color and size of the fonts and headlines, spaces between different widgets, types of charts, or the number of KPIs shown on one page.
What Comes Next?
If you’ve familiarized yourself with the product, invested time to understand the use cases and personas, created a user journey map, and learned from your design colleagues about some design best practices, nothing can stop you from building your first dashboard. Now, you have all the ingredients together and can make use of your skills.
Remember that the best way of becoming a dashboard designer is learning by doing. Nothing is better than experience in the field. Don’t get disappointed when your first steps take time and your first dashboards don’t seem to look as professional as you would hope. That’s natural and part of the game. As in every discipline, don’t give up, but continuously learn from others on how to improve. You’ll see that your second dashboard is much better than your first one, and the third one is much better than the second one.
Good dashboard designers aren’t born the way they are, but instead they invested a lot of time to familiarize themselves with the subject. In the end, becoming a better dashboard designer is only possible if you incorporate the feedback from others and learn from it.
Editor’s note: This post has been adapted from a section of the book Designing Dashboards with SAP Analytics Cloud by Erik Bertram, James Charlton, Nina Hollender, Melanie Holzapfel, Nico Licht, and Carmen Paduraru.