Design the dashboard last

The dashboard always has potential but make sure to make every other page even more valuable.


Oct 9, 2019


Steve Berry

Creating a compelling and valuable dashboard for an application is the single hardest task in system design. A dashboard is the culmination and synthesis of every single design decision in the entire application. No pressure right?

The dashboard should always be designed last because it usually touches on every single aspect inside the company's problem space. Think about it like a kitchen drawer. One of the most used and valuable is the old "junk drawer." It is highly used but contains uncategorized items from lots of other drawers in your kitchen.

Especially at an early stage, you need to capture valuable user activity on individual pages first, before taking the next step and creating a higher fidelity, more condensed, more relevant interaction inside a single dashboard screen. Lots of companies really want some sexy control center that they can point to, because who doesn't want something nice to look at?

Take a step back. Create individually valuable pages inside your application before trying to optimize tasks with a dashboard. Sometimes if you wait long enough, you will discover you do not even need a dashboard.

Remember the content first. If people start drawing charts, graphs, and feed diagrams without actual real content inside them, that is a smell. Force those who want a dashboard to create the content and notifications before a single pixel is pushed on the dashboard design.

The dashboard should be a destination, not a hallway.