3 Dashboard Design Tips

Dashboard design sounds simple. You want to create a way of presenting data to your users that is clean and easy to understand. Easy right?

3 Dashboard Design Tips
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No, dashboard design is more difficult than it seems. You need to consider your users before you can decide what data to present to them and how.

Ask these questions before you start building

  1. What data needs to be show to your users? You want to track a small number of key metrics. Not all data should be on a dashboard. Some data belongs in a report. If the data your considering is a summary or analysis, it may work better as a report.
  2. How am I going to present this data? You can choose to display the data as a chart, gauge, totals or a simple table.
  3. What actions do you want the user to take? Should they click on a link to open a report, update some information or do nothing?

Sketch out your design

After you researched and learned what data the user wants to see, you need to decide how to organize the data. You may find that you have too many pieces of information to present to the user. Sketch out your dashboard before you build it to determine what pieces of data go where. An easy to read dashboard has from 5-9 pieces of information on it. Remember that less is more.

Keep the design simple

You want your users to be able to scan the dashboard quickly. Help them by choosing to limit the number of pieces of information, colors, fonts and other UI elements. Your design should be minimal.

By asking questions before you build a dashboard, sketching out the design and keeping the design simple, you can give your users key pieces of information quickly.

More information on Designing With Data
Data Visualization Best Practices 2013

3 Tips for Better Forms UX

When you enter information into a form, it is easy to make mistakes. How do you help your users make less mistakes? You provide them with defaults. Defaults can help users to fill out a form quicker, make decisions easier and reduce errors.

3 Tips For Better Forms UX
Photo by: BiljaST

When you build a form, you need to get different types of information. Some information like their name, address and email address need to be entered by the user. Other information like state, country, gender or some other information that requires a decision can use a default. A default is the most likely option that a user would choose.

For example, your user is going to buy a product. The default quantity is one. You set the quantity for them, so they don’t have to. It helps them to make the purchase quickly. You don’t want them to think to hard on how many they want.

Should you use a drop down list or something else?

It depends. If you have a short number of options, you can use a radio button list. The list makes it easy to scan your options and choose quickly.

For a longer list of options like State or Country, a radio button list would be too hard to read. It is better to put the options in a drop down list. Most mobile devices can handle the use of a drop down list on a form. If you aren’t certain which one works better for your form, you can ask these 9 questions to help you decide.

Address Form with Defaults

Should you choose an option in a drop down list?

When you can, fill drop down lists like state and country with user data. For drop down lists that require a decision by the user, you can leave the field blank. By leaving them blank, people scan for the empty or blank fields and fill them in. They rarely change fields with defaults in them.

Should you use placeholders in fields?

If you are designing a short form with a couple of fields like a login or sign up form, then the answer is yes. You can use placeholders instead of labels on these forms.

Curves Join Form

When you create longer forms like an event registration form, don’t use placeholders. Use clear label, error messages and defaults to help guide the user through the form.

When you build a form, you can use these techniques to help guide them through filling out a form. Defaults, radio button lists or other input fields, pre-selected drop down lists and placeholders in fields when necessary. By making decisions for users and guiding them through the data entry process of your form, you can help make filling out forms faster and easier.

Getting Started with a Design System

When your website is small, you can use design tools like sketches, sitemap and color schemes to create a consistent and cohesive look and feel. What happens as your team and website grows? How do you keep your website design and functionality from being a mess? You may start out by creating a design style guide or building a pattern library. Eventually, you’ll need something more. A tool like a design system.

Getting Started with a Design System
Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

What is a design system?

A Design System is a documented library of colors, fonts, buttons, components, visual elements and other design features that helps to create a consistent user experience. It is more than a style guide or a pattern library. A style guide focuses on the design or look and feel. Pattern libraries focus on building and providing a consistent code base. Your design system pulls both the style guide and pattern library into a single, documented system for your entire team to use.

Examples of Design Systems

How do I build my own design system?

Start with the tools that you know. You can build your own using a CMS that you are familiar with. To get started, you can look at Brad Frost’s Design System Boilerplate. You can use the boilerplate as a starting guide for building your own system. Next, review and document your visual elements, design features and other components that make your user experience unique.

When you build your own, start small and build as you go. Remember, the best solution is the one that you and your team uses. Refer to these tools and resources to learn more about how to build a design system:

Prototype a website with CSS Grid

When I build a prototype, I start with pen and paper. A paper prototype (blog Post) helps me to develop my ideas better. What if your drawings don’t get the ideas across to your team or client? What do you do then?

Prototype a website with CSS Grid
Photo by Stefan Schweihofer

You could use a prototyping app or start building in the browser. Sometimes, it is simpler to start building in the browser. With HTML, CSS and JavaScript, you can build it quickly.

Building Your Prototype in a Browser

When you create your prototype in the browser, use the basic tools for building the web–HTML and CSS. HTML and CSS let your build and make changes to your prototype quickly. You and your designers can focus on designing and testing finicky UI components like tables and drop downs.

What if HTML and CSS isn’t enough to get you started quickly? You want to build a prototype not focus on the layout. A framework like Bootstrap or CSS Grid can help you get started quickly.

Why CSS Grid?

You can build your prototype using other frameworks like Bootstrap. CSS Grid gives you more flexibility, simpler markup and no 12 column limitation. When you use a framework like Bootstrap, it can look as though it was built using that framework. If you need more flexibility in your branding and design, then Bootstrap won’t work for you. CSS Grid gives you more creative control.

How Do You Start?

With CSS Grid, you have three choices:

  • Start with a page layout example. With these experiments, you can learn how CSS Grid works without having to build all of the markup yourself. One of the examples uses the Skeleton Framework. I used this example to build a public domain book website with it.
  • CSS Grid Layout Builder, an app, you download to help you build your CSS Grid layout quickly.
  • Build a CSS Grid website by creating the markup yourself. Grid By Example is a good resource for learning how to build what you need with CSS Grid.

CSS Grid is another tool that you can use to build prototypes quickly. Layout templates, grid builders and online examples all can help you to create your prototype quickly so you can focus on the user experience and not the tools to build it. When building a prototype, the best tools are the ones that you use.

Build a Website With CSS Grid Starter Template

The best way to learn a new coding technique or design framework is to build something with it. I chose to build a website with CSS Grid. I wanted to take a book and make it a website. On Grid By Example, you can find a CSS Grid starter template that makes it simple to begin. The template has a simple two column layout: left-hand sidebar and right hand column for content. Plus, it uses an existing CSS Framework called Skeleton. I have used Skeleton to create WordPress themes.

Build website with CSS Grid Starter Template

What steps were needed to build the website?

  1. Choose and download a public domain book from Project Gutenberg
  2. Download the CSS Grid Starter Template
  3. Step up the new website with the CSS Grid Starter Template
  4. Modify the sample page with content from the ebook
  5. Create new CSS classes and modify existing ones to create the look I wanted
  6. Test and modify the CSS for mobile

Choose a public domain book for this project

You can download a public domain book from Project Gutenberg. I picked I chose Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett because I wanted to build a science fiction themed site.

Getting Started with the CSS Grid Starter Template

When you first install the template, your website looks like this:
Grid By Example Two Column Template with Skeleton

My next steps were to replace the template’s content with my own and start to add new CSS to start building a simple design. Then, I downloaded images from Pixabay.com for the website. I wanted a photo of Mars for the header and a better photo for one of the chapters. It had an illustration that didn’t go with the story. The final result looks like this.
CSS Grid Template with Black Amazon of Mars

Does it work on mobile?

CSS Grid is mobile-first. I had to make changes to the CSS for the additions that I added to the website. The CSS Grid part worked beautifully on mobile.

Summary

CSS Grid Starter template helped me to get started quickly. The template did most of the work. I didn’t have to figure out the layout from scratch. I spent most of my time creating the pages, adding the content and adding design elements to make the site look better. The starter template made my first attempt in building with CSS Grid simple and easy.