Analysts predicted the growth in mobile use and the scope of use many years ago. For example, this 2012 Business Intelligence and Analytics report that predicted that 33% of Business Intelligence functionality would be consumed via handheld device by 2013. Another 2012 study found that 70% of companies stated that more than 11% of their business users will be exclusively mobile by 2014.
How can you make sure you deliver a simple dashboard for your mobile platform that will connect with users and help them use real data to make better decisions every day?
Balancing Mobile Dashboard Design
The rapid evolution of tablets and smartphones is complicating dashboard design but it's still possible to find a balance between a simple dashboard designed for mobile and having the full functionality of the same app that lives on a computer. Most people want a unique dashboard app experience, but not one where too many flashy elements distract or affect information accuracy.
Dashboard designers must understand that just delivering data is not enough if it's confusing. Designers must then pull in end users that find real value in the data being presented to them. Only then will they want to actively engage in the data. If you can help your users see the value in the data your platform collects and how they can make real everyday decisions with it, you've proven the usefulness of your mobile platform.
Common Challenges to Simple Mobile Dashboard Design
Nearly a decade after smartphones became a part of the zeitgeist and we still don't have all of the design challenges ironed out. But that's to be expected when advances in mobile technology seem to wipe out everything we knew about the boundaries of technology each time a new device comes out.
Here are some of the common challenges we still butt up against when building smart dashboards for mobile:
Keeping things simple, while still giving users access to all the cool, new features we want them to use. You designed some brilliant new doo-dad but putting it front and center will distract from the task at hand. What do you do?
Mobile search hasn't become as nuanced as our actual search queries. There are workarounds for this—like limiting the number of options for search—but no hard solutions.
UI design elements that wag the dog. The most common example of this is having buttons that are too small for all users to use, or they are so big they dominate the screen.
Site navigation that isn't reachable by thumbs (unless you are Sissy from "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues). To have site navigation in the most intelligent spot on the screen (top left, or right) put it out of reach for our most relied-upon digit.
Android fragmentation, which is getting better but isn't quite there. The problem lies in the number of Android device manufacturers, the numerous devices each manufacturer makes and the variations in OS that each individual device contains. It's just exhausting to try to keep up but the problem is getting substantially better.
The Big Question:
Despite these challenges, how can I simplify dashboard user interface designs for mobile platforms?
The following points not only answer this question but outline some of the best practices to keep in mind when designing a simplified user interface for your mobile platform.
Understand how your typical user will access and use the dashboard. Do business users differ from consumers? Conduct regular conversations with your end users to determine exactly what would help them get the most value from your product. Would it be helpful if your platform took up less space on their mobile device? Do your users need to collect more data than your platform currently collects? This is not about making a platform that is all things to all people but finding the most important things to your target market and making sure that your platform puts those values first. Keep it simple and focused and your platforms strength and speed will also benefit.
2. Focus on the Fingers
- Will users hold their tablet in in a portrait or landscape position?
- How will users interact with the dashboard?
- How will they interact with drop-downs and menus?
Let the answers to these questions guide you to the best answers for designing a simple and functionally brilliant mobile platform. How can these answers help you design a hassle-free app?
If you find your users are using their thumbs to access the menu, then place the menu at the bottom left or right corners, where their thumbs naturally dominate the screen real estate. If your users are finding it takes more than one tap to access the menu, expand your menu to 44-pixel size so your users with broad fingers can reach it.
3. Use Colors Wisely
1. Concise - Keep the colors simple. Especially when dealing with business users, having a monochromatic setting for the data being displayed makes it easier for the user to hunt and peck the information they need. It may not be sexy, but it will help you tell the data story effectively and without distraction.
2. Contrast - High contrast design is just more aesthetically pleasing when it comes to a smaller screen, like that of a mobile or tablet. Use the high contrast to help the most important facts or features stand out among the other elements of the screen.
3. Consistency - Be consistent throughout the entire mobile asset, from the layout to the styling. Users will be less confused by the look of the platform, so they can focus on mastering the platform's applications. At the very least, keep colors, fonts and shadows uniform.
4. Lay Out Logically
1. Keep it Simple - By 2020, there will probably be 4.3 Internet-connected devices for each person on Earth. To prepare for this, create applications that are responsive to the most number of devices being used today. Use the same HTML code and then use CSS to customize the elements for the screen size.
2. Right to Left - We have so many options for reading books, newspapers and magazines, using books, devices and audio sources. But one thing remains the same when using our eyes to read: most of the world read left to right and up to down. Follow this format when laying out the elements of your platform: place things of importance from top left to bottom right.
3. Make Room for Fingers - Fumbling with a keyboard is inconvenient and sometimes embarrassing (especially when you don't catch that Auto-Correct flub). Users don't want the navigation between filters, links, and visuals to be made difficult because of the spacing between buttons. Give the plump fingers of society enough room to breathe around the buttons they use the most and it will be a much more pleasurable experience.
To successfully build an engaging mobile dashboard that pares down information into a digestible interface, you must study the needs of your end users and focus on a 1 to 3 functions they can't do business without. Start with a small dashboard that can be turned around quickly, and build it out only when it has been adopted by a significant amount of users who have provided constructive feedback to inform the build.