Thought Merchants

People. Process. Product.

Design the dashboard last.

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


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 has highly used but uncategorized items from lots of other drawers in your kitchen.

junk drawer
My kitchen's junk drawer. Full of interesting items I use regularly but am unable to categorize.

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 for the fact that they have seen them on television or some multi-billion dollar company totally nailed their dashboard after 8 years.

Take a step back. Creating individually valuable pages inside your applicaiton before trying to reduce the time it takes to accomplish tasks with a dashboard. Sometimes if you wait long enough you will find you do not even need one.

Remember content first. If people start drawing charts and 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 in a dashboard design.

The dashboard should be a destination not a hallway.