January 1, 2022

Dashboard Design Best Practices: Why You Should Prototype

By Autumn Battani

When building dashboards, there’s a large part of the job that happens outside of Tableau. In a previous blog, I talked about the importance of managing user feedback and how I go about that successfully. In these next few blogs, my colleague Jacob Blizzard and I will be talking about prototyping, which is the practice of modeling the look and, at times, the functionality of a dashboard prior to development.

Before we get into the different options for prototyping in later installments of this series, we want to talk about why you should add this step into your dashboard design best practices. 

1. Prototyping Can Help You Start Earlier

Whether you’re working on a personal viz or delivering a solution for a client, the data may not be ready when you are. But you can still start the process while it’s being collected, cleaned, or modeled. Adding prototyping into your routine can allow you to begin gathering requirements and iterating on how the dashboard will come together before the data is available and you actually jump into your BI tool.

2. Prototyping Helps You Communicate Needs

Understanding the structure of your dashboard and the charts you wish to use to communicate the data can help you inform how the data comes together. In the event that it is not already ready (as mentioned above), influencing its format and storage can significantly alleviate some of the uplift during the development of additional cleaning or pivoting.

3. Prototyping Helps You Better Estimate Time Frames

Without a prototype, you might know the destination of the dashboard but not what the journey is going to look like. It provides a roadmap. Understanding more about the way the dashboard will come together will make it easier for you to plan out what needs to be worked on when and communicate that to your key stakeholders. This will hopefully help ensure that nothing unexpected comes up along the way that pushes out the delivery date whether that be to Tableau Public or your company’s server.

4. Prototyping Prevent Scope Creep

Documentation during a project is important and this is one piece that supports that. Getting sign-off on a prototype ensures that the development is working towards an agreed-upon goal. It’s not uncommon to deliver a dashboard and have the client or stakeholder ask for one more chart or one more tab. While you may be able to accommodate this request, being able to refer back to a more concrete example of the original plan (the prototype) can help smooth conversations about how those extra pieces are going to affect the overall timeline.

5. Prototyping Helps You Build Faster

I know for myself, without a prototype or mock-up I often spend more time playing with the data and trying several things out. This is great for more exploratory analysis but it’s definitely time-consuming and that’s something you can’t always afford. When developing towards something specific, you may need a couple of tries to get the calculations correct but once you do, it’s easier to feel more satisfied with how accomplishing smaller pieces contributes to the bigger project. 

If you weren’t already making time for prototyping in your dashboard design process, we hope that this blog has made you reconsider it. If it is already something you do regularly, stay tuned for our next two blog posts in our dashboard design best practices series on prototyping, where we will discuss all the ways you can prototype. 

Do you have more questions about dashboard design best practices and prototyping? Talk to our expert consultants today and have all your questions answered!

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