With more organisations using Power BI for its powerful reporting and analytics capabilities, it’s important to understand the balance between using it to your advantage, and getting carried away with the colours and visualisations. Following best practice use can help you get the most out of Power BI, enhancing user experience and preventing frustration.
Here are my favourite best practices for using Power BI, split into report structure and design principles.
1. Report Structure
Reports should be structured in a way that users can easily find what they are looking for, and quickly understand the information in the report. Presenting KPIs on your landing page is standard practice, but it’s also important to provide context for your KPIs – if your Sales Growth is at 10%, is that a positive or negative thing? Without the context of the previous month, year or target, the user cannot tell. The current trend and any differences to the target should also be colour coded, so a user can understand KPIs at a glance.
KPIs should be broken down in a way that makes sense to that specific KPI – either into the different KPIs to look at various demographics or into dimensions, to look at aspects such as product type or location.
2. Design Principles
Visual consistency, as the name suggests, focuses on how consistent the visual elements of a report are, including things such as buttons, fonts, sizes, colours and visualisations. A report theme should be created and used for every page of the report, with each colour representing a specific metric, kept consistent throughout the report. For example, blue representing profit should continue to represent profit on every page. Users will recognise the colour before reading the label, making the experience more intuitive and easier to understand. However, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t have too many colours – usually no more than five – as with most visual aspects of Power BI, there is a fine line between intuitive and confusing!
Put simply, functional consistency means that objects users interact with should function the same way every time – in Power BI, this is particularly true with buttons and slicers. Slicers with the same fields on multiple pages should be placed in the same position on each page, and the same is true for buttons that perform the same action on multiple pages. This prevents any mis-clicks and makes it easier for the user to learn and understand the report – there is nothing more frustrating than an unpredictable program.
On-hover and on-press colour options should also be used for buttons, as this communicates to the user that the button has an action available, and that the action has an effect.
The data-ink ratio looks at how much ink is necessary for the data to still be read and understood. All ink (or pixels on a screen) can be divided into data-ink or non-data-ink. Data-ink refers to the central aspects of a graph that represent measures quantities, like the axes and bars in a bar chart. Non-data-ink is any non-necessary parts of a graph, like a background colour. Minimising the amount of non-data-ink components will increase the readability of a report; this could look like removing a background colour, unnecessary axes titles, gridlines, or different colours of a bar chart that have no meaning. Increasing row padding of tables eliminates the need for gridlines or differently coloured rows, and using a smaller font means the data is emphasised.
Adding in some psychology, the Gestalt Principles describe how different visual properties of objects are naturally interpretated by the brain.
- Proximity – elements places close together are perceived as being linked.
- Similarity – elements that share common shapes or colours are perceived as linked.
- Enclosure – elements sharing a common border are perceived as linked – this is the strongest link that we tend to recognise.
- Connection – connected elements are perceived as linked.
- Continuity – elements that are aligned, as if a line has a gap in it, are perceived as linked.
- Closure – open structures that are perceived as closed, will be. This principle can help with reducing non-data ink.
Taking advantage of the way the brain works can be one of the most useful ways to improve readability and user experience. In fact, every one of these points can be very easily linked to psychology, whether it be to prevent overwhelming the brain with a multitude of colours, or capitalizing on muscle memory.
Inkscape is a vector graphics editor, and can be used to create icons and backgrounds to use in Power BI. Power BI refreshes and re-renders shapes and icons as data is refreshed when the user interacts with it, so text and shape objects made in Power BI can cause the report to run slowly. To combat this, and still have a nice-looking report, create graphics in Inkscape – the graphics will load up once when the report is opened, but won’t re-render, resulting in a faster-loading report. Inkscape also has increased functionality in terms of graphics, including colour gradients, shadows, extra fonts, and filters.
Following these best practices will allow you to have a better user experience by making the most of psychology and the way the brain naturally forms patterns, as well as improving the capability of your report. Reducing time spent waiting for it to load and increasing the predictability of a report will inevitably make your users less frustrated, thereby improving their overall experience.
If you have any questions about Power BI, or any anything mentioned in this article, please feel free to speak to us using our live chat, where one of our experts will be happy to speak with you in more detail.
Matt Neilson, Lead Consultant, Simpson Associates
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