Power BI dashboard design: charts and color

In this post I am going to discuss how to design a dashboard in Power BI. What makes a good dashboard work? I think a good dashboard tells you immediately how you are doing. Not just "show me the numbers". KPI's are just as important. What is a measure without a target?

What is BI? Is it not to turn data into information, so that you can act on it? So that you can steer your company to do better? A good dashboard is a call for action. How do you call for action effectively? One of the ways to do it is to use colors sparingly so that when you do use them, they stand out.

I think it is best to not just choose the colors of your company brand. If you make a report with the company colors, you are getting a nice layout, but what do those colors mean? Not so much except that you can tell it's a report for company XYZ, which should be obvious if you work at company XYZ.

I prefer to use a color as an indication for what is going on. To grab your attention.

Example 1

In this chart, staying under the norm is good. Green is often seen as "positive", so the current month is marked green. In this example, the past is interesting to display, but we do not want to use a signal color for the past. You cannot act on the past. We use a lot of gray to make the green standout. It tells you: we are on the right track. By making all colors gray except for the thing you want to stand out, you can tell what is going on and where your eyes should focus on.


Example 2

In this example we use a signal color for the past too. Do you notice how the usage of green distracts from the current week which is a red? This suggest we are doing great overall even though at this time, we are doing not so great. It is up to you to decide what you want to communicate. If you are a sports team showing the rank during the season, only the current position would be important. In sales, having 30 weeks of outstanding sales above the target and the current week selling slightly under, it would make sense to show the signal color for the past.

How to do this in Power BI

  1. insert a line and stacked column chart into your report.
  2. Create a measure for the goal
  3. Insert the goal measure for the line values
  4. create a measure for what you want to measure compared to the goal, sales for example
  5. create two extra measures, Sales_above and Sales_below with the following dax: Sales_above:=if([sales] >= [sales_target]; [sales];blank())
    Sales_below:=if([sales] < [sales_target]; [sales];blank())
  6. insert the two measures into the column values.
  7. Assign the color you want for above and under
  8. pick a neutral color for the other report elements

When not to use gray

Obviously you cannot apply this for every chart. Piecharts showing several categories can be hard to read without color. But, it would be distracting if you have a dashboard with a colorful piechart and other charts that use gray + signal colors. In this case, to maximize the effect of signal colors, try replacing a piechart with a barchart with gray (or another neutral color) bars. This will keep the focus on the signal colors and not distract you.

Principal BI consultant at Rubicon

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  1. Nice trick with the colors. I would choose other colors though (maybe light and dark grey) as these are not friendly for the colorblind.

    • Jesse Gorter

      You can always ask what signal colors would work best. I think green and red are quite common. Maybe blue and orange? 🙂

  2. Mustafa Erdogan

    This is very usefull, thanks for sharing the trick!

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