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How to build an accessible data dashboard

How to build an accessible data dashboard

It’s no secret that most people who use a data visualisation tool are trying to build a killer data dashboard: one that nails aesthetics, and is full of interesting charts and actionable data.

And to create a pixel-perfect dashboard, you might add colours to your charts, for example. Colours help you to show off your skills to users and make your chart pop. But when creating the perfect dashboard, have you considered the full spectrum of users and thought about how your design might come across to someone who is colourblind, has loss of sight, or who is dyslexic and/or has dyscalculia?

If you’re not actively designing for users with disabilities, it’s likely that you’re ignoring or alienating a large portion of your audience: approximately 12% of the people on this planet are dyslexic, and an incredible 300 million people are colourblind. It’s critical to take into account these users when designing the perfect data dashboard to ensure that everyone has access to the data you share Wondering how to do it? Let’s set the scene.

Design for all

Let’s say you’re working for a large bank and you’ve been tasked with providing a dashboard that presents KPIs and forecasted data for executives and stakeholders. You don’t know exactly who will view your data dashboard, but you want to provide something impressive that showcases your abilities to your manager.

You spend several days creating the dashboard of your manager’s dreams, and you finally have it ready. But when the time comes to deliver it, you notice that 2 of the stakeholders are wearing glasses, and they immediately begin to squint and adjust their specs to get a better look at your work.

And when you begin your presentation and start pointing to the negative and positive colours (red and green), one person mentions that they can’t distinguish between the two.

So, instead of creating a data dashboard that should be in the Guinness Book of World Records for its beauty and relevance, you’ve built something that not all users can easily approach, understand, or learn from. You didn’t set out to build a non-inclusive dashboard, you simply failed to recognise and take into account the so-called ‘hidden disabilities’ that exist all around us, every day. In the future, you can avoid this same mistake by trying to better understand these disabilities, and how they might impact your audience. 

Important statistics about your audience

Building more inclusive data dashboards starts with discovering some key facts and figures about disabilities that may impact someone’s ability to easily interact with your work:

  • Visually Impaired
    – Three out of four people in America alone wear corrective lenses, and up to 41% of those people should wear them more regularly.
  • Colour blindness
    – 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women are colourblind.
  • Dyslexia
    – 9 – 12% of the population is affected, and 2 – 4% of the population is seriously affected.
  • Dyscalculia
    – 3 – 6% of the population is diagnosed with Dyscalculia.

People with so-called ‘hidden’ disabilities are present in every line of work. In fact, the person writing this very blog is colourblind and dyslexic (thank you Auto Correct!) That’s why it’s so critical to consider accessibility and design inclusivity when creating data dashboards.

How to design inclusive data dashboards 

At Vizlib, we are known for building solutions that empower our users to customise their visualisations in a way that no other product allows for.

This level of flexibility allows our customers to build compelling dashboards that can address many of the disabilities we’ve discussed in this blog, whilst still allowing viewers to answer their business questions.

There are a few straightforward design principles and guidelines that you can keep in mind when creating dashboards that will automatically improve the accessibility of your design. As our Lead Senior Product Designer, Simon Lavin, says: simplicity is key.

Best design practices for the visually impaired

Font size:

  • Small font is hard to read if you are viewing charts on your computer. A font size of 16 (which is 12pt) is the smallest size that’s still easy to read. GOV UK suggests a minimum document size of 21px (which is 16pt) for printed charts.

Titles

  • Titles should be in bold or large text to differentiate them from body text.

Colour choice:

  • Colours that are close to each other on the colour wheel should be far apart from each other on your dashboard. Contrasting colours (ones that sit across from each other on the colour wheel) make for an ideal dashboard.

Screen readers:

  • Screen readers help those who are visually impaired to understand what they are viewing. Without titles and explanatory subjects, these users are at a distinct disadvantage.

How to build accessible data dashboards

How to accommodate colourblindness

While it may seem obvious that one colour is different to another, it’s not obvious to everyone (the number of times I have asked for help to distinguish between colours is immeasurable!) Luckily, it’s not difficult to design with colourblindness in mind:

Show only necessary colours:

  • This may sound odd, but it’s worth thinking about colour in a slightly different way than you might be used to. Use colour to highlight your key values, and the metrics you want to show off most. Remove colour from the less interesting values (a light-medium grey is a good choice for less important data).

Avoid conflicting colours:

  • Colours make things look aesthetically pleasing, but when you have a bar chart that has a colour gradient, things can get tricky for anyone who is colourblind. Generally, those who are colourblind are unable to distinguish faint colour differences in a gradient. It’s best to avoid gradients unless absolutely necessary.

How colour can help or hinder designs for data dashboards

Use contrasting colours:

  • A good example of this is the Penguin Books logo, which is orange, black, and white. Understanding why this logo is easier to see starts with a better understanding of how a colour may look to someone who is colourblind.  ‘Colourblind Colour Wheel’ like the one below (or a website like this one) can help inform your colour choices. 

How to use contrasting colours in data dashboards to improve accessibility

It’s also helpful to understand the rules regarding visualisations, per the IBCS Standards.

Best practices for designing for dyslexia

Being dyslexic myself, there are two main things I struggle with: processing a lot of text and reading complex words. This is my personal experience, and different people will struggle with different issues, so it’s best to try and understand the varying ways that dyslexia can impact your users. 

A good resource is the “Dyslexia friendly style guide” which includes the following tips:

Use simple English:

  • You may feel like you’re using basic terminology, but getting back to fundamentals and speaking plainly is usually the best way forward. 

Remove excessive formatting:

  • Generally, it’s okay to BOLD your words, but italics and underlining require more cognitive effort to read and process.

Reducing amount of text:

  • Reducing the amount of text on a given page helps with understanding the details because it enhances clarity. It also forces you to consider the words you choose and the conclusion you draw.

How to design data dashboards that are inclusive for people with dyslexia

Good practices for designing for dyscalculia 

Have you ever stared at a pivot table and gotten lost in the numbers? The reality is that data is predominantly made up of numbers and percentages, so it can be hard to design a dashboard without it!

But for those who have Dyscalculia, it can be incredibly difficult to read. Just like Dyslexia can be accommodated by using simple English, simple numbers and number values (and the right colour choice) can make all the difference for someone with dyscalculia:

10k is easier to read than 10,000, which is easier to read than 10000:

  • Consider this: Can you abbreviate numbers? Can a number be rounded up/down? Can you define a negative number in an easier-to-understand method?

Think about other ways to represent numbers:

  • When dealing with numbers on a spreadsheet, think about how you can use colours to show off what is important for your viewer. Can you use a colour range to show off critical information while hiding information that’s less relevant?
  • Consider using BOLD text to highlight the most important values.
  • Font size can improve the legibility of numbers: Think about using font sizes like you would use headers. What numbers are important to know right away? What numbers can be classed as less important? Answer these questions and a font size hierarchy can be easily applied.

Breathing room between numbers:

  • In many dashboards, we have the urge to add lots of KPIs. But KPIs can crowd the page and, as your scope increases, so does the number of data points you are trying to display.
  • Consider what are the most important dimensions and have them nearer the top of the page.

How to design data dashboards that are inclusive for people with dyscalculia

You’re ready to build accessible data dashboards

Just as designing a ramp for wheelchair users also benefits people with prams, designing with disabilities in mind also benefits users who do not have a disability. For example, making your charts colourblind-friendly and improving the legibility of your numbers will, at the end of the day, help everyone to better read and understand the data you have put together.

So, next time you prepare to design a dashboard, consider the above disabilities and take into account issues of design inclusivity and accessibility. Whether your work is for the local newspaper or a multinational company, designing for inclusivity should be an integral part of your process.

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