Design better dashboards with the 3-30-300 framework

I wish I coined the 3-30-300 framework for dashboards, but it’s one of the things I picked up at MeasureCamp Amsterdam. The rule says that any successful dashboard shows information in 3, 30, and 300 seconds.

I love it because it’s easy to remember, and it works. It makes your dashboards simpler to understand. Your audience discovers insights for themselves, which means they retain more at the end. A five-year-old understands how well you’re performing if you do it right.

3 seconds: Your KPI’s & targets

We open our dashboard with our main KPI’s and targets. Talk about starting strong. I limit these to three. On occasion, I’m persuaded to add a fourth KPI. I confess that one or two times, I’ve added a fifth. But my general rule is to limit it to three KPI’s and targets.

One second per KPI means that it’s much easier for our audience to remember what the performance is. They see if we are on target and how much we over/underperformed. The more you add to your opening salvo, the less someone is going to remember.

If I’m designing it from scratch, I pick the three main See, Think, Do KPI’s (sometimes I’ll add the Care KPI). That means the dashboard opens with how we’re acquiring people, turning them into prospects and then into clients.

You can see how you can use a metric, a bar chart and colours to create context. Let’s walk through what we see here.

The first thing you notice is the colours. One KPI is orange: we missed it, but we got close. One is green: we achieved our target. The last one is red: the international colour of failure. Even if I don’t see the number, I get the context: We still have some work to achieve the targets.

Next, you notice the large numbers. Cold hard data. Yours could say Product views, Checkout starts, Transactions. Or: Landings, Downloads, Contact forms. You get the idea. The example is far from perfect since 1.537.358 is very hard to remember, so in the ideal world, I would change that to 1.5M. Less information means easier retention.

The bar chart provides some more refined detail and context. Let’s look at the green one again. Our target is shown at the bottom: 1.5M impressions. The chart extends slightly over the target line. We’re visually communicating that we slightly overachieved that target. The orange one we can see just falls short. The red one isn’t even close to achieving the target.

Finally, the combination of the three KPI’s provides context as well. This campaign isn’t bad, but it’s not running as we planned either. We don’t get enough clicks, even though we’re showing more ads to fewer people than we anticipated. The combination implies that the clicks are where the issue is.

That sparks their interest. So now we get to the next step in this framework: The thirty-second details.

30 seconds: Details about your KPI’s

We have a few more questions. That’s where the next big block comes in. In 30 seconds, we are going to scan through some more detailed information about our KPI’s. The goal here is to answer the question: Why did we achieve this result.

Segment them into slices that are relevant to your audience. Sometimes you’re comparing ad networks, traffic channels, content topics, business units. Whatever you need to show to provide extra clarity to your main KPI’s at the top. Here’s an example:

It takes a little bit longer to unpack these two graphs.

The left graph is showing an evolution of impressions by network. It’s showing the last 13 months. That means you can always compare the previous month’s results with the same month the previous year.

I always turn the network split off by default when I’m working in Klipfolio. It makes the graph easier to digest when you enter, and if you’re curious, it only takes a click to show or hide each network.

The graph tells a story of fluctuating campaigns. Let’s create a little bit more context. We’ll add a second graph underneath the first one.

I get to see that the cost has large up and downswings too. That means that the impressions rise when the spending increases too. Our campaigns aren’t erratic, they’re on controlled budgets. There’s more performance in them if we unleash them from their budget constraints.

Now we get even more context. The left graph shows our performance through time. The right graph offers our performance to our targets.

Remember when the 3 seconds KPI’s showed an orange “almost there” bar? Here we get to see who under-performed. Snapchat achieved the target we set out for it. Instagram over-performed, but we didn’t get the Facebook impressions we wanted.

Why is that? Well, the answer is underneath. We didn’t spend enough on Facebook to get those impressions. We overspent a little bit on Instagram. Snapchat not only achieved the impressions we wanted, but it also did it for less than we wanted to spend there.

Without even looking at numbers, you get a feel for what’s going on here in 30 seconds. This section sets up a few questions that you can’t answer with these graphs. That’s where the next part of our dashboard comes into play.

300 seconds: Nitty-gritty information

We piqued interest with our first two sections; now it’s time to deliver a data-nerd pay-off. The 300 seconds part of our dashboard isn’t something we scan. It provides detailed information on what we saw in the graphs above. The goal here is to let people analyse the results we reported on.

This section is often the entire & only report media agencies send. They’re asking too much of their clients to find the conclusions on their own. That’s why you need to create context as we did with our 3-30 seconds graphs. Delivering the raw data is great to conclude, but your job is to inform me (3 seconds). To guide me to the conclusions you want me to find (30 seconds), and then to let me see them (300 seconds).

We need to show a lot of data; that means we need to use a table. Depending on how many details you’re offering, you’ll want to include filter options too. It’s important not to overwhelm your stakeholders. There are many details, so make them bite-sized.

In this example, I’m showing all the ads that ran that month. I’m also giving stakeholders two filter options: To see only one network and to see only one target audience. That means they can see all ads across all networks that ran to a similar target.

I presented them with a broad picture of what happened; they can now dive into the details. All the metrics are there, sliced to what they need to know. Most dashboard programs allow sorting columns one way or the other. That helps to find top & bottom performers.

You could go one step further and highlight interesting points in the table. Think of a heat map to show what’s popular—highlighting stand-out performers by adding a small dot or giving them another colour. Make sure you chose only one highlight. The best advice I ever got was: “When you try to mark everything as important, nothing is important”.

Another tip for this section is to add a few notes. That ensures your point isn’t lost if your stakeholder misinterprets the dashboard. Tell them where they can find the data that backs your claim up.

Help people see to help them remember.

People remember more when they see or find the conclusion themselves. They will even find it more plausible when they see it. Easing them into the numbers helps you tell a better story that’s easier to remember.

I like the 3-30-300 framework because it helps you get started. Anything goes when you’re designing a dashboard from scratch. It’s easy to add graphs and not think of the story you need to tell. Without this framework, you run the risk of ending up with pretty pictures but no context. That’s a missed opportunity to make an impact.

I forgot to write down who presented this session at MeasureCamp Amsterdam. I’d love to give them the credit they’re due, so if you know: Get in touch, and I’ll update this article.

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