The Brilliant Dashboards Checklist: A systematic approach to assessing your dashboard

You may be trying to work out why your current reports aren’t working properly or wondering if you missed anything on your newly created masterpiece. This design checklist encourages you to consider each element of your design and to score it if you are feeling brave. You can use the score to objectively show the improvement to a document (though ultimately this is a subjective thing).

It is pretty long, at 54 questions, but it does cover most areas of design. With practice you will probably not need to refer to this list but it can be a useful memory jogger. It also gives a semi-objective framework that can take some of the emotion out of critiquing existing dashboards and reports.

Here are the questions. I’ll give you a couple of [really dreadful] examples after the questions to test your assessment skills.

The Brilliant Dashboards Checklist

Visual design
Ref.QuestionScore (1=poor 5=good)
1Is colour used to convey additional information?
2Are colours used consistently for the same meaning?
3Is a consistent design theme used for all charts and text boxes?
4Are there unnecessary boxes and dividers?
5Do dividers and boxes lead the eye in a helpful way?
6With RAG (red-amber-green "traffic light") indicators is it clear what criteria are used for RAG?
7Are there unnecessary tick marks?
8Are there unnecessary borders on chart areas?
9Is the background unnecessarily shaded?
10Are the columns/bars unnecessarily shaded?
11Are there unnecessary borders on columns?


Ref.QuestionScore (1=poor 5=good)
1Is text and chart size used proportionate to the importance of the information it's conveying?
2Are data points that need comparison near to each other?
3Are logos and ornamentation kept to a bare minimum?
4Is spacing consistent and pleasing?
5Are lines used to guide the eye in a meaningful direction?
6Is there a "logical hierarchy" for text and comments?
Ref.QuestionScore (1=poor 5=good)
1Are there large amounts of numbers that need to be read to understand the high level situation?
2Can you quickly navigate to the section of the report you need?
3Is it clear where the biggest issues are and how to navigate to find more information?
Ref.QuestionScore (1=poor 5=good)
1Do the graphs and charts meet your objectives?
2Are the charts intuitive i.e. they do not require careful study or explanation?
3Do the charts have impact and give insight?
4Do the charts allow meaningful comparison of relevant data sets?
5Do charts clearly show patterns and trends?
6Does understanding the document tax your short-term memory too much?
7Do your eyes have to leap about the page to understand the document?
8Do the charts answer an obvious question(s)?
9If the chart uses 3D is 3D actually required to represent the information?
10Is the message clear?
Ref.QuestionScore (1=poor 5=good)
1Are targets clearly different from data sets?
Ref.QuestionScore (1=poor 5=good)
1Are the axes "fair" and labelled?
2Are the fonts clear the right size and readable?
3If we use a double axis is it required to make a valid point?
Ref.QuestionScore (1=poor 5=good)
1Is there meaningful trending?
2Are gridlines aiding or obscuring clarity?
3Is there unhelpful use of colour and area/fill patterns?
Ref.QuestionScore (1=poor 5=good)
1Are all charts clearly labelled (avoiding jargon or acronyms)?
2Is it clear what period the charts refer to?
3Are labels physically near to the things they are describing?
4Is jargon defined?
5Is the level of labelling appropriate or is it obscuring the chart (or the message)?
6Are numbers on the chart given to realistic precision (i.e. not to 5 decimal places if that precision is inappropriate for the accuracy of the source data)?
Ref.QuestionScore (1=poor 5=good)
1 Is the text clear?
2 Is the text relevant?
3 Is the text concise?
4 Is the text spelled correctly and without grammatical errors?
5 Is which graphsany text isassociated with?
6 Is the text readable?
Visual Clarity
Ref.QuestionScore (1=poor 5=good)
1Is it the best size?
2 Does the layout work for the delivery medium? e.g. a smartphone or projector?
Ref.QuestionScore (1=poor 5=good)
1It is possible to understand the general message "at a glance"?
2Is it clear who created the report and contents?
3Is it clear who to talk to if there's a query or correction and how to contact them?


Here is a really horrible example dashboard from my book that I have mocked-up that you can test your checklist on. I have tried to break as many design rules as possible, but do let me know if you have ways of making it worse!

Another stinker of a dashboard. Copyright Bernie Smith 2012

If you are serious about improving the look and usability of your dashboards or reports then you need to take a look at my book, BlinkReporting. Click the advert below to find out more or to buy…