Best practice guide for Power BI users – Part 3: Designing Reports

In this blogpost I’m going to talk about how to design an effective Power BI report.  While report designing is a highly subjective area, I will try to make it more generalize as much as possible and point out common mistakes I have seen in different reports. If you are new to Power BI, I also recommend you to have a look at Power BI gallery. It contains lots of beautiful reports developed by community and you can get a good understanding about how to improve your report designing skills.

Power BI Gallery: https://community.powerbi.com/t5/Data-Stories-Gallery/bd-p/DataStoriesGallery

Previous related articles:

Part 1:https://asankap.wordpress.com/2020/04/18/best-practice-guide-for-power-bi-users-part-1/

Part 2: https://asankap.wordpress.com/2020/04/21/best-practice-guide-for-power-bi-users-part-2/

Characteristics of an effective report

What makes a report an effective report? That is a tricky question. Let’s try to understand it from both a business user and a developer perspective. I believe an effective report should have following characteristics.

Accuracy

  • This is one of the key aspects of a report. A report should represent data accurately. Although data is accurate, improper representation can make inaccurate impression to the business users. In Power BI, this can be related to how filters are implemented, how interaction between visuals works, scale of the axis, condition format etc. Small things like showing last data refreshed date in a report helps a lot to improve the accuracy of a report.

Clarity

  • A report should provide a clear view of data. Business user should not spend lot of time to understand how a report works. A clear report means business users do not have to perform unwanted maximizing/minimizing charts, zooming in/out and slicing/dicing etc.

Consistency

  • Consistency plays a big role when developing a report. Once business user gets used to filters, colours, layout and images within a report page, it makes easy to go between reports/ report pages if same look and feel is maintained across all reports/ pages.

Extendibility

  • A report should be able to accommodate change-requests coming from the business users.  It can be adding more data sources, adding more analysis or visuals to the report etc. Any changes should not break existing analysis and should be able to handle with minimum effort.

User-friendliness

  • Always remember who the end users of your report are. They are business users, not IT people. Therefore, your report should be self-explanatory and should be able to navigate and analyze. Adding bookmarks, right visualisations and drill though, drilldown capabilities always help you to enhance user-friendliness of your report.

Corporate look and feel

  • Your report must go with the existing corporate look and feel of the business user’s organisation.  You can achieve this by creating a colour theme which uses colours of organisations logo as main colours of the theme. Additionally, you can request good quality logo images, banners from business users which are used across the organisation. If possible, try to incorporate font styles used within the organisation to your custom Power BI theme.

Logical layout

  • Layout of a report should be logical. Remember how human eye works when it sees something on a screen. Our eye follows F pattern or Z pattern when looking at the content of a web page. It is said when the content is mostly textual it follow F pattern and if the content is mostly visual, it follows Z pattern. In both cases, our eye focus to the left top corner first. Check the image bellow and spot red areas. In your report page, Red areas should have most important information such as summery values in a card, important breakdowns in a bar chart like wise. Blue areas should have least important information such as a breakdown in a pie/donut chart.
Untitled Diagram 2

What are the things you need to consider when designing a Power BI report?

Project Structure

When it comes to structuring your reports, it is recommended to have one Power BI Model for one data mart. You can build all reports making live connections to the data model. This way all the calculations, formatting and source data mashup will be in once place and it will be consistent across all reports. This helps you to achieve extensibility of the report. Refer the image below.

Untitled Diagram

Report design

Within an organization, all the reports should have consistent look and feel and colour theme unless business user request otherwise. Beginning of the project, colour theme, fonts, layout must be decided and should be applied across all the reports.

Reports/Sheet/Visualization naming

Each report must be named based on the analysis done with it. Business user must be able to understand the content of a report by looking at its name. Example: Customer Churn Analysis

Similarly, report pages should be named based on overall analysis it’s done. You can use the title of report sheet as the name of the sheet. Example: Churn Summery, Churn by Product Detail Analysis. Avoid using default page names in Power BI such as Sheet1, Sheet2, etc.

Each visual must be named based on analysis it performs. Example: Product breakdown by Sales, Top 50 Customers by Sales. While sometimes Power BI generate a title to visual by fields it has, it is always better to use custom title which can be identified by business user easily.

Visual layout

It is recommended to use report design layout from the beginning of the project and same layout must be used across the organization unless business user request otherwise. Placing visuals in correct location and order is very important.

Filter layout

As a best practice, it is recommended to use left most corner and right top corner as filter area in Power BI canvas. As humans read from top to bottom and left to right, start top right corner for most important slicers and rest can go from top to bottom in left side of the panel.

Background image

Personally, I don’t recommend to using a background image as it adds unwanted complexity to the report. However, you can still use a background which helps with branding for the customer. However, note that a background image can cause unclearness in visuals and values. Therefore, try to keep the image transparent as much as possible and test the clearness for most used themes as end user might ask to change theme at any time during the implementation.

Company logo

It is recommended to get company logo from business user rather than downloading it from internet. Request an image with exact size and format at the beginning of the project. Place to logo in left top corner of the canvas unless the client specified otherwise.

Default filters

It is recommended to set default values for a filter when possible. If filers are kept in non-selected status, it could cause performance issue and hit to source systems as Power BI try to extract large data volume every time a business user opens a report. Try to implement dynamic Year and Month Filter using DAX and set it as default filter for Year and Month.

Disable unwanted interaction

Interactions is a powerful feature in Power BI. However, interactions should only be used when it’s required and meaningful. I personally believe that you should disable all the interactions and then enable one by one after checking whether it provides valuable information to business users. Unwanted interaction can cause performance issues and can provide wrong information to business users.

Well, that’s it for this post. In next post I will discuss more about best practices in version controlling and release management in Power BI. Thank you for reading and stay safe. Cheers!!

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