Improving the Appearance of Your Reports and Dashboards

By July 13, 2011Tips

Ever present to a client or manager an information dashboard or a key report, only to be crushed by their underwhelming response? Maybe the problem isn’t your data or how well you understood the requirements; maybe you need to understand how to create more attractive reports and dashboards. While you may be a developer not an artist/designer type person, you need to understand at least the basics of design if you want to surprise and excite your customers, clients, or management.

Four Rules for Improving Reports and Dashboards

Here are four basic rules for making the stuff that you put on the screen not just accurate but attractive. These are four basic patterns that every designer uses to make what they do attractive – they just never bothered to tell you how to do these things. Understanding what these four patterns are about and how they work together will do wonders for the content you are programmatically creating.


The heart of this idea is making sure different elements on the page or screen actually look different. For example, both for visual and SEO reasons, there should be only 1 H1 heading, other headings should clearly follow a set hierarchy of sizes, and headings and data should at a minimum be displayed in different fonts. All too often the reports and dashboards we create are a muddle of responding to specific user requirements without paying attention to the differences between blocks of information.


This is the flip side of Contrast – things that are similar should look similar. This goes from using the same kind of chart to display similar data to adhering to a set of style guidelines for one set of reports.


Alignment is the invisible connection between different parts of your dashboard or report, both vertically and horizontally. It can be as simple as keeping to a specific text alignment throughout a report and as subtle as sticking to a specific amount of white space between different text and graphic elements.


Putting similar elements together that should be understood as being of the same type is another way of visually organizing your report or dashboard.

These four principles – Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity – are your starting points for improving your report layouts. They also make for an easy to remember abbreviation that should remind you what you don’t want your hard work to look like.

Finally, spending a bit of time and money on these following resources will handsomely pay off in the form of happier clients and managers:

And if you’re looking for some visual inspiration, check out these sites:

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