How to create smarter CXO Dashboards?

The last decade saw an emergence of data-management functions and chief data officers (CDOs) finding ground – spelling out a clear urgency of managing and discovering through data, as a vital to any company’s success. Executive data dashboards inundated the market with a promise of providing business intelligence to the C-suite executives. Leaders no longer simply gathered a rearview-mirror look at company data but were also offered a window into the future.

Hari Nallan & Mohita Jaiswal

But a struggle with existing CXO dashboards – Understanding the context at a glance, translating KPIs into actionable insights and validating data presented continues to plague many decision-makers of today.

In 2019, a report from a  Global CEO Survey indicates that the gap between the data CEOs need to make decisions and what they get — has not closed in the last 10 years*.


What has lent executive dashboards to be ineffective in empowering the C-suite?

In the crowd of making business dashboards intelligent and meaningful, two basic concerns stand out – which take into account the context of a CXO’s challenges in direct spotlight.

  • What insight could be most relevant to their role of making strategic decisions?
  • How can the presentation of this insight enable intuitive actions expediently?


We explore strategies to address these concerns.

1. Make Dashboards meaningful

Prioritize KPIs which matter

Choose KPIs which are directly linked to the most strategic objectives of the company and help to glimpse, monitor performance and gather insights on futuristic trends of the same. Understanding the purpose for which the CXO’s require a dashboard helps in removing irrelevant data and metrics which can alternatively be useful for other executives within the organization to understand. Also, the important metrics which are relevant to a domain should be considered.

Aggregate the big picture

At C-level, you don’t want to drill down to the micro-level; most CXO’s need a summary overview through a dashboard. Visualizations chosen should hence have a broader timeline to showcase (eg. monthly, annually) data trends and drill-downs should be limited to give an overview of departments/verticals rather than going into details narrowing down to specific data points.

Include a geographical visualization

If the area of operation of business spreads over regions, having a geographic view of various parameters spread geographically can be insightful to take business decisions based on geography – while understanding interdependencies as well. A macro-level view of distribution can be showcased through heatmaps or geo-based visualizations like cartograms, choropleth, etc. Geographic representation holds an important place in CXO dashboards.


Use visual elements with caution

Color is a very powerful visual aid and is very effective for highlighting areas of interest. Hence it is of value to either stick to colors in resonance with the company’s brand guideline – or making more use of more solids, not using bright colors unless required to bring attention to a particular piece of information. Similarly experimentation with typography should be done, keeping in mind its visual impact and the differentiation it can bring to render insights to be intuitive.

Allow for freedom to manipulate

Dashboards can be relatively static presenting data without creating opportunities to explore into granularities. However, creating flexibility to drill down is useful with critical KPIs to facilitate a more-in depth inquiry into insights of why data is revealing a particular pattern.


2. Make Dashboards intuitive

Watch for usage patterns

While adaptability and a learning curve are common to get users used to new interaction patterns and visualizations, dashboards built with new kinds of visualizations could become counterintuitive for CXO’s who need insights with a minimum time investment on learning. Designing with conventional and widely known patterns in mind, helps to reduce time required in iterations to explain and gain approval from a time-starved executive.

Organize at one place

The dashboard is required to be a single scroll – with very less number of CTAs and minimal elements which are quick in interaction. Designing for a simple at a glance view single page to fit the screen of choice, ensures smaller information loss occurring due to neglection of data.

Minimize interaction time

If there is a toggle button/ a switch view with a lot of loading time to reveal a section, it indicates that you have hidden a big chunk of data behind a CTA. Placing heavy data upfront in the first fold of the dashboard can reduce this loading time improving performance of the interaction feature. Interactivity should be purpose based and minimized to the extent it serves the purpose and does not make the dashboard cumbersome and complex.

Embed summary view

CXO’s often require a summary view of the insights captured from the different widgets in a section of the dashboard. If a particular KPI is working well or not – can be captured in a summary or a comment box, it can in effect provide an effective report when needed. This is useful as it collates all this information into one place preventing the decision maker to have to log into multiple systems and get an at a glance overview.


Enabling to create business impact

Decisions by future leaders are going to be taken based more on dashboard data than their “gut feeling” when the turnaround of their decision implicates the creation of greater business impact. 

The purpose of every dashboard is to create an impact on the business, while strengthening the strategic, operation and people processes of any organization. It needs to bring in a different perspective on challenges and opportunities facing a business, evolving to learn and change if it does not create a positive feedback loop.

We need to remember this purpose as our number one priority when creating and optimizing CXO dashboards. That they are not mere reports, but real-time and evolving advisories for action.
Hari Nallan

Hari Nallan

Founder and CEO of Think Design, a Design leader, Speaker and Educator. With a master's from NID and in the capacity of a founder, Hari has influenced, led and delivered several experience driven transformations across industries. As the CEO of Think Design, Hari is the architect of Think Design's approach and design centered practices and the company's strategic initiatives.

Mohita Jaiswal

Mohita Jaiswal

Research, Strategy and Content consultant. With a master's from IIT Delhi, Mohita has diverse experience across domains of technical research, big data, leadership development and arts in education. Having a keen interest in the science of human behavior, she looks at enabling holistic learning experiences, working at the intersection of technology, design, and human psychology.


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