Heuristic evaluation is a popular usability inspection method for systematic assessment of a user interface for ease-of-use.
This methodology can be extended to evaluate usability of dashboards with the following set of principles:
1. Alignment with Objective(s): The dashboard should meet its objective(s), as defined and understood by the users, on an ongoing basis
This principle elicits a common question – How are Objectives relevant in usability evaluation?
Traditional usability evaluation techniques do not attempt to validate the objectives of the interface or system concerned (i.e. functional compliance). They evaluate the interface only on user-friendliness.
Our rationale behind including objectives while applying heuristic principles is two-fold:
I.) In the world of dashboards, ignoring the user – as it happens often unintentionally – results in “a beautiful and artistic house with no plumbing”. With no utility for the user, many such dashboards just fail to take off.
II.) More importantly, understanding the objective provides a solid context to evaluate usability. The evaluator should have this objective in context while attempting to answer whether:
the positioning of components in the screen is optimal;
the navigation is intuitive and effective;
a particular way of presenting information aids usage
Further, users mature over time and demand changes to features. Usage patterns may change. Businesses undergo modifications as well. For this reason, the provider needs to ensure alignment with objectives on an ongoing basis. Doing this will be key in optimizing costs.
2. Clarity of context : The dashboard should always keep the user informed about the context of the contents being displayed
Content displayed is of two types – information and visual components. Both types need to aid the user in understanding the context
Information (e.g. Sales Volume) displayed in the dashboard should be accompanied by appropriate context (such as Geography, Fiscal Period, Currency, etc.)
Components, especially the ones that allow the user to interact & navigate through drilldowns & selection, should help the user understand and track how the context has changed
3. Match between System and Real World: The dashboard should speak the user’s language, with components, labels, navigation and KPIs familiar to the user.
Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order
This sounds obvious than it actually is. A good case in point where this principle is often violated is in the usage of nulls/blanks/zeroes/”n.a”. Does a ‘0’ in the dashboard indicate a lack of transaction, or a transaction with 0 unit of measure? Can the user interpret this correctly every time?
Also, the ‘real world’ is different for each user (typically, user-groups). Users in Sales may have a different view of terminology compared to users in Finance. One has to carefully approach dashboards that claim to cater to multiple user-groups.
4. Consistency and Standards: Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations or actions mean the same thing. Follow uniform and established convention.
Usage of terms, visual components, images, color schemes, and navigation methods should be consistent within and across dashboards
5. Recognition Rather than Recall: Make context, actions and options visible. The user should not have to remember these
The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. The dashboard design should facilitate recognition of available options and actions.
6. Metadata & Help: Information about the dashboard and instructions for its use should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate
Many dashboards fail to do this. It helps to state objectives, KPIs, explanation of business terms, etc. clearly in a separate screen that can be accessed with the click of a button.
7. Default State: Where users have freedom to interact with the dashboard by altering the information and/or components, the dashboard should allow them to revert to the default state
Having a ‘Home’ state encourages user interaction. It avoids the need for users to remember or recall the original state, or having to use the less engaging ‘browser refresh’
8. Aesthetics and Engagement : The dashboard should be visually appealing and engaging, without overwhelming the user. The design should be aesthetically pleasing with artistic as well as functional value.
The Dashboard should engage users immediately and make them feel comfortable. There should be a ‘wow’ factor that extends to as many repeat visits as possible.
Note that user’s maturity may require subtle changes to the design & aesthetics over time.
9. Pleasurable and Respectful User Interaction: The user’s interactions with the dashboard should enhance his/her quality of work-life. The user should be treated with respect.
Ask yourselves: Does the dashboard deliver results with the least amount of effort from & involvement by the user? Does the dashboard deliver something of value that the user does not already possess?
10. Concise and Minimalist Design: Every extra unit of information in the dashboard competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility
The dashboard, while satisfying all the above principles, should adopt a concise and minimalist design. Avoid information, components, contents and navigation steps that are unnecessary.
Avoid overloading the user with information. If two or more sets of information do not deliver value when viewed together, it is better for the user to view them separately.
After performing an evaluation of the dashboard based on these principles (with the help of a detailed checklist that addresses each of these ten areas), each violation can be categorized on a 5-point scale for usability. The various remedial options are then identified and analyzed to arrive at appropriate recommendations.
For questions related to applying heuristic principles to dashboard design & evaluation, contact firstname.lastname@example.org