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Designing Dashboards for Mobile

Designing Dashboards for Mobile

An assessment of the leading data visualisation tools in respect to their out-of-the-box ability to provide dashboards for mobile use

Exercise: To compare how Tableau and Microsoft PowerBI perform in respect to mobile usage – how the two products handle the design aspects as well as their ability to provide responsive sizing for different devices and screen sizes.

The original dashboard was designed in Tableau Desktop using the daily average inter-bank currency exchange rates taken from the Exchange Rates API published by the European Central Bank. This dashboard was then recreated in PowerBI using the same data.

It is important to note that this exercise and the demonstration of the embedded dashboards is restricted by the functionality of publicly embedded visualisations for either tool. When published to either a dedicated company server, or hosted by the cloud applications of either (Tableau Online or PowerBI Service) both can be viewed using the dedicated mobile apps which enhances the user experience in respect to interactivity, whilst PowerBI becomes fully adaptive presenting the different device specific designs automatically (which it is not able to do in the public domain).

In addition, both products have regular updates so what is not possible at the point of writing this piece may become possible within a couple of months. Also worth bearing in mind, is that with enough resources looking into any problem, a solution or work around can usually be found. This exercise was done without utilising any hacks or workarounds to demonstrate out-of-the-box software capability and replicate a ‘standard’ designer experience.

The dashboards created during this exercise are included below:

1. Tableau dashboard designed for all viewing from all devices.
2. PowerBI dashboard for viewing from PC & tablet.
3. PowerBI Mobile specific dashboard.

View all 3 on different devices to compare and contrast. The first 2 dashboards are best viewed by selecting the full screen option in the bottom right of each dashboard, in order to assess how well the views resize.

A summary of our findings during this exercise is included after the dashboards so keep scrolling down for more information.

Design Interface
PowerBI Specific mobile layout view available within PowerBI, enabling user to design a different view for mobile phones using the elements from the desktop view. This functionality can only be accessed via the PowerBI mobile app and an associated licence for PowerBI service, so is not possible to experience in the public domain.
Tableau Designer able to view and modify the layout of the dashboard for viewing on a large number of different devices including tablets and phones. Once done, a single instance will responsively re-size for any browser size or device.
Design Limitations
PowerBI User can select which elements of the desktop view to include in the mobile view, but is not able to add anything that is not used in the main dashboard. A separate dashboard for mobile phone use needs to be created to overcome this limitation.
Tableau Did not come across any software limits on the design layout for different devices during this exercise. The designer is able to have different elements in desktop, tablet & phone layouts.
Mobile Apps
PowerBI PowerBI For Mobile app needs to be downloaded to view dashboards & reports defined in the mobile layout if hoping for single instance.
Tableau Tableau mobile app is available to optimise interactions with dashboards on a private server, or if hosted in the cloud via Tableau Online. It is not an absolute requirement, so it's possible to view designs publicly shared via Tableau Public without the app (as demonstrated here).
Design Considerations
PowerBI Map zooming works beautifully with mouse control in desktop view but is much more difficult from a tablet. Addition of the +/- zoom buttons helps to control the zooming action and enable the user to select a country in tablet view.
In mobile view the country icons are so small that selecting a country is difficult with fingertips and consequently does not work effectively. The design was changed in the mobile view to provide a currency selector, but it was not possible to use the existing desktop view and the amended mobile view in the same report, so 2 separate versions of the dashboard were created.
Tableau An initial design with countries shown as yellow dots looked great in desktop, but the map lines became invisible on smaller devices. Map design was changed to show country shape outlines which look better on smaller devices and are easier to select with fingertip as the target is larger.
Interactive tooltips are a fantastic feature in desktop dashboard design allowing additional information to be present, whilst keeping the original view clean and uncluttered. However, in the mobile view, each chart is so reduced in size that selecting a single data point is hard and once selected, the tooltips obscure the chart rather than add detail to it.

Conclusions:  The huge variety of devices and operating systems currently in circulation makes creation of a single dashboard for all users an interesting challenge. Moreover, experience shows it will involve a certain amount of testing on multiple devices to arrive at a successful outcome.  But despite this challenge, the technology is evolving and is constantly progressing in terms of responsive controls and flexible screen sizing.

In both tools, it is possible to design one dashboard for the desktop environment that also works well on a tablet, without the need for re-sizing – providing the dashboard functionality is not too complex and fingertip controls are considered in the design process. Effective dashboard design for mobile phone viewing is quite distinct from standard dashboard design and should be approached differently; simplifying the number and type of visual elements and limiting the number of interactive features and filters to ensure they are large enough to interact with. 

Overall, Tableau offers greater flexibility in designing specific views for specific devices within one fully responsive dashboard, with the designer having full control over which elements to be utilised for each of the sizes catered for and no need to retain elements across each iteration. However, PowerBI users can overcome some of the current design limitations by utilising an adaptive approach and designing separate dashboards for desktop and mobile viewers, which if viewing via a licenced account the users device will be automatically be detected and the appropriate design then presented.

If you would like to learn more about responsive sizing, designing for mobile usage, or either Tableau or PowerBI, please contact us.

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