Dashboards: What They’re Good For and How to Build One
Dashboards. Chances are you’ve heard of them, but you’ve never bothered to build one yourself. You might not even know what they’re good for.
In this tutorial we’re going to walk you through building your very own realtime dashboard. We’ll show you examples of things you can track, and we’ll help you avoid common pitfalls. When you’re done, you can even have a permanently mounted display on your wall.
How and Why to Build a Dashboard
Building Your Dashboard
We’re going to be using Dash because it’s simple and has a great UX. You can get a lot of mileage with a free account, but if you want extras like themes, you’ll have to upgrade to Pro.
Signing up for Dash is fairly painless. Just go to the signup page, enter your email, and you’re in. You’ll eventually want to click on the link in their confirmation email to fully unlock your free account, but that can wait for later.
Creating a Dashboard
After signing up, you’ll see a big “Add Dashboard” button. Click it. Then give your dashboard a name, maybe a description, and click “Create”.
You’re now looking at a blank dashboard canvas, so let’s add some widgets. Clicking on the blue “+” icon in the upper left corner will show the add widget menu.
This is where things get interesting. You can choose from dozens of pre-built widgets for things like Google Analytics, Chartbeat, Pingdom, Github, appFigures, and Twitter. If you want to get fancy, you can even add API-powered custom charts, tables, and gauges.
We want to create a website monitoring dashboard, so we’ll add a few pre-built Google Analytics widgets. We’ll track the number of people currently on our site, and the number of visits over time, and who is sending traffic to us. Dash uses a freeform canvas, so you can drag and resize things just like Keynote.
We’ll also add a couple Pingdom widgets to track both our current response time and our historical uptime across multiple sites. Finally, we’ll add Twitter and Instagram search widgets to watch social media for specific phrases.
When you’re done editing, Dash will automatically resize your dashboard to fit whatever screen you’re viewing it on.
And that’s it! You’ve just built a dashboard that shows how your website is currently doing as well as how performance has been in the past. The widgets will continue to update automatically with your latest data whenever you’re viewing it.
Displaying Your Dashboard
If you just want to view dashboards on your computer or phone, you can stop here. Where’s the fun in that, though? Wouldn’t you rather see your dashboard hanging on your wall?
Choosing a Darker Theme
Light colored dashboards look great in web browsers, but they can be a little overwhelming on a TV. Let’s switch our dashboard to a dark theme.
Choosing the Right Adapter
There are several different ways to get your dashboard onto a TV. If you have an Apple TV, you can use Airplay on either a Mac or an iOS device. The main problem with this approach is that you can’t do anything else with your device while it’s showing your dashboard.
Amazon Fire TV is similar to Apple TV, but only works with Android. Again, it requires a dedicated device to power your dashboard.
For us, the way to go is Google Chromecast. It only costs $30, is easy to set up, and can be used on any computer with a Chrome browser.
Installing the Hardware
The first step is to plug the Chromecast into your TV. It requires an HDMI port and power. We were able to use the TV’s built-in USB port for power, which eliminated the need for extra cables.
Installing the Software
Next we need to send the dashboard to the TV. Google makes a browser plugin that “casts” the content of a browser tab to your Chromecast. If you have multiple displays with multiple Chromecasts, you can even power them all with multiple tabs.
The final product is a great looking dashboard that you can hang on the wall in your office. It shows you realtime status updates so you never have to worry about missing critical website information.