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4 Ways to Improve Your Power BI Reports

Technology

Sep 6, 2023 - 6 minute read

3413 Blog 4 Ways To Improve Your Power BI Reports 416X300
Injae Park BI Tech Lead

A Swedish-Korean Business Intelligence Technical Lead specialising in Power BI and Azure. Recently honoured with the Microsoft MVP recognition, Injae is an avid contributor of Power BI content on platforms like YouTube and LinkedIn. 

See all Injae's posts

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Table of contents

  1. Embracing Simplicity
  2. Data Storytelling
  3. Proper Use of Colour
  4. Interactivity
  5. Final Thoughts 

There are three core skills that define a Senior Power BI developer: a robust technical skillset, the ability to gather requirements from stakeholders, and proficiency in data storytelling. While this is a rough generalisation, the quality of reporting would indeed differ between a junior or citizen developer and a senior developer — but the gap is not as big as you would expect.  

Often, a professional-looking report can fall short in terms of presentation, particularly in the UI aspect. This trend is observable across all levels of seniority. Drawing from my analysis of nearly a thousand Power BI reports as part of a volunteering experience, I have identified four simple ways to improve any report. Additionally, I will outline corresponding techniques that can be effectively employed.

1. Embracing Simplicity

In the world of data visualisation, simplicity often equates to clarity. While Power BI offers 41 visuals out of the box, the true power of a report often lies in its straightforwardness. By embracing simplicity, we ensure that the core message of the report is easily digestible. Overloading your report with excessive visuals or data points can overwhelm the viewer (known as cognitive overload), leading to confusion or misinterpretation. On the other hand, a streamlined and focused report, free from unnecessary clutter, directs the viewer's attention to the most critical insights. In essence, by simplifying our Power BI reports, we enhance their effectiveness, ensuring that the data tells a clear and compelling story that drives informed decision-making. 

Simplicity can be achieved through various techniques, including: 

Focus on the purpose
Before diving into the design phase of a Power BI report, it's essential to clearly define its purpose. What is the primary message or insight you wish to convey? By having a clear objective, you can ensure that every element of your report aligns with this goal, eliminating any information that doesn't serve this purpose. Starting with a clear intent is the first step towards a simplified and effective report. This principle applies even to each page of the report, as every page is visual real estate that needs to be effectively managed. 

Select the correct visual 
A simple bar chart or line graph, when designed thoughtfully, can convey more than a complex custom visual laden with data. This could mean consolidating multiple data points into one bar chart or simply using the most appropriate chart for the intended use, such as a gauge for progression or bar charts for comparison. Sometimes the most effective chart is the simplest one to understand. 
 
Be generous with white spaces 
White space refers to the gaps between visuals and the margins in your report. While often overlooked, it plays a pivotal role in enhancing readability and reducing visual clutter. By incorporating breathing room between visuals, data points, and text, white space allows the viewer's eyes to navigate the report with ease, focusing on the essential elements without distraction. This intentional use of empty space not only elevates the overall aesthetic but also reinforces the report's core message, ensuring that the data speaks for itself in a clear and unobstructed environment. 

2. Data Storytelling

Even though I emphasise this is a crucial skill for a senior developer, data storytelling holds significance at every level. A common mistake made by beginners is to simply put all the important information on one page. While this seems like an appropriate approach, every dashboard should tell a story, guiding the viewer from one data point to the next in a logical flow.  

Consider a retail dashboard, where the primary KPI could be monthly sales. By placing a bold, large visual at the top-left corner showcasing this figure, you ensure it grabs attention immediately. Subsequent visuals can then offer breakdowns by region, product, or salesperson. This hierarchical approach ensures that the viewer's journey across the dashboard is both logical and informative, spotlighting key insights while providing a comprehensive overview. 

The advantage lies in enabling end users not only to understand the individual data points but also to grasp the broader context, which is essential for making strategic decisions or meeting business objectives. 

Techniques that are worth applying here include: 

Visual consistency 
To ensure a clear data story, visual consistency is key. Using consistent colours, fonts, and chart types across a report in Power BI guarantees that the viewer's focus remains fixed on the data narrative. This idea could be further broken down into two Gestalt Principles — similarity and proximity. Items that share similarities should exhibit likeness, and elements in close proximity should exhibit a relationship.  
 
Providing context 
When presented with a number, the first question on an end user’s mind would be to understand its context. What is the timeframe? How does it compare to the previous period? How close is it to the target values? Context can be provided through an array of elements available in Power BI, ranging from visuals to conditional formatting. By offering viewers supplementary information at relevant points, the data story becomes more comprehensive and self-evident. 

3. Proper Use of Colour

There are so many features in Power BI that allow for aesthetic colour choices. From custom themes to visual level formatting, these are all powerful tools, capable of reflecting branding and emphasising key points. However, maintaining consistency in colour selection — such as using blue for user engagement metrics and a contrasting orange for user acquisition — can intuitively guide the viewer's interpretation. 

In a value-driven report, you may choose to only use grey monotones and a highlighting colour to direct the user’s focus. This aspect of report building is often overlooked, but a dashboard designed to guide the user’s attention to the most important data facilitates efficiency and informed decision-making. Your audience might not have the time to delve deep into every data point. Use Power BI's highlighting features to draw attention to crucial findings. Whether it's a spike in sales or an anomaly in user behaviour, ensure that these insights are front and centre. 

A few colour concepts to consider are: 

Colour hierarchy
Gradients are so common in dashboards because they are a simple way of establishing a colour hierarchy. Employ bold or saturated colours for primary data points or areas of focus, and utilise muted or lighter shades for secondary or background information. This strategy directs the viewer's attention to the most pivotal aspects of the visualisation. 

Consider colour blindness
Few oversights are as unfortunate as creating conditional formatting that’s unintelligible to colour vision-impaired users. It is thus important to use colour palettes that are distinguishable to those with colour vision deficiencies. Prioritising accessibility is straightforward — for instance, adding icon arrows showing up or down as an inclusive aspect of conditional formatting instead of relying solely on colour. 

4. Interactivity

The biggest mistake you can make when creating Power BI reports is to make them static. One of Power BI's best features is its interactivity. By incorporating interactive elements, you can transform your dashboard from a static visual to an interactive exploration tool. 
 
Some of these interactive features encompass: 

Drilldowns  
Power BI's interactive charts allow users to delve deeper into data layers with ease. Drilldowns can be used to segment data to a lower granularity, right in the visual itself. While many end users might know this feature from the matrix visual, it can be applied to most visuals. 
 
Drillthroughs 
Drillthroughs work differently — by right-clicking an interesting data point, a report could be set up to navigate the end user to a filtered, contextual page only revealing information about the selected point. This could be something like moving from monthly to daily sales or investigating a specific product group, offering a richer analysis while enabling user-driven exploration. 
 
Custom tooltips  
Tooltips in Power BI aren’t just simple text boxes that appear upon hovering; they serve as mini-reports in themselves. Users can have customised tooltips to display additional information or insights related to a data point, offering context without cluttering the main visual. 

Final Thoughts 

While these tips can greatly improve the quality and appeal of a report, you may notice that they chiefly pertain to enhancing the user experience. This is because the success of a report depends on user adoption and effectively fulfilling business objectives — both centred around empowering the report’s end users.  
 
Although this article focuses on the front end, the importance of the data quality, DAX and M-Query, and other aspects of the architecture shouldn’t be overlooked in favour of a great front-end experience. By adopting a holistic approach that encompasses both front-end enhancements and back-end foundations, you are more likely to succeed, whether you start a Power BI project on your own or work with multiple developers

2988 HC Digital Transformation 476X381
Injae Park BI Tech Lead

A Swedish-Korean Business Intelligence Technical Lead specialising in Power BI and Azure. Recently honoured with the Microsoft MVP recognition, Injae is an avid contributor of Power BI content on platforms like YouTube and LinkedIn. 

See all Injae's posts

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