The other day, I was having a discussion with some colleagues about whether it’s good to include images and background images in dashboards versus keeping the background clear or just using blocks of colour.  There was no conclusive winner in the discussion, and we agreed that images can play a really useful role in your dashboard design.  However, there are some key guidelines and caveats:

  • Make sure your background image doesn’t detract the reader’s eye away from the dashboard content.  You want your reader to be looking at the metrics and not admiring the photograph used.
  • Shapes or patterns in the image can obscure or hide content in your dashboard, make sure your image isn’t too “busy”.
  • Don’t use images where the main colours conflict with the other visualizations.
  • If using images or icons make sure they add value or context to your visualization and don’t misuse icons.

When using an image as the background you want the metrics to be the first thing the reader sees, not the image.  Look at the following dashboard as an example.  The background image on the right is too clear and commands too much of your attention, also the straight lines of the windows can distort the series labels on the donut chart and the y-axis labels on the column chart  A solution could be to add a blur effect to your image (the left side of the dashboard).  Slide the comparison bar across and you’ve got the same image with a blur applied.  The text is more readable, and I am drawn to the dashboard metrics rather than the image.  The blurring of the image has turned it away from being a picture and more into an abstract background pattern.

You can slide the white bar left and right to compare the two dashboards.

You do, however, need to be careful to ensure the image colours and visualizations do not conflict.  Look at the following example where the background pattern is obscuring the dashboard content:

You can slide the white bar left and right to compare the two dashboards.

Colour Wheel
We will be doing another post soon on colour theory, however as a quick hat-tip to the future blog, selecting complementary colours from the colour wheel (ie colours opposite each other) will usually lead to a more aesthetically pleasing colour mix.  This can be seen on the right dashboard which is using blue and orange (complamentary) colours.

Image courtesy of
This is not to say all images are bad.  Infographics rely heavily on the use of images to help portray complex metrics and themes and to add context.

Another powerful use of images is to add context to your dashboard.  The visualization to the right from Tableau uses images to clearly portray the subject matter of the data being shown.

Click to see the full interactive visualization on Tableau public



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>