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  • Steve Hulmes

Are your reports/dashboards robust and intuitive to read?

When you've had your head buried in the details of the data it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees and this can compromise your ability to design reports that are easily comprehensible and convey a message to the intended audience.

This is compounded by the power of modern software, which enables you to go from raw data to summarised tables (e.g pivot tables) within a couple of clicks of mouse. While this can speed up the process, it promotes a bottom-up approach to report design bypassing a conscious thought process that could otherwise empower analysts to create robust, coherent  and reader-friendly reports.

So, how can you make sure you don’t fall into this trap?

I advocate an approach in my workshops that aids analysts in designing reports that are not only robust and coherent but also intuitive. I refer to this as the ‘top-down needs-based hierarchical’ approach (very snappy, Steve!). There are several key elements to this approach but there is one fundamental step that prevents the replication of the pitfalls associated with the bottom-up approach, encouraging analysts to adopt a different perspective on design.

What is this fundamental step? 

Before you even consider throwing your data into a spreadsheet/dashboard app….

Step away from the data and brainstorm what questions the report needs to answer without touching software.

Put yourself in the viewers shoes and consider what are the key questions that they need answering through the report. (Even more effective when done collaboratively with stakeholders rather than making isolated assumptions).

Whilst there are several other elements to the ‘top-down’ approach this first step will compel you to pull yourself out of the detail and adopt a stakeholder, mile-high perspective on the design. 

After producing the final report or dashboard, revisit the identified questions, and assess whether the answers are readily apparent and quickly conveyed. It may take a couple of iterations of re-thinking and refinement to settle on a final report but this will ultimately result in a more considered solution for your audience - one that delivers the answers to their questions quickly and coherently. 

If you’d like to find out more about how to develop effective, impactful reports then why not consider participating in my interactive ‘Impactful Reporting’ workshop. Click here for further details.

However, if you’d like to discuss a more bespoke solution to your analysts’ development needs, let's have a no obligation chat to see whether Sophic can help. Just email Steve at

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