Top 5 Power BI Visualization Practices

Jul 29, 2021

Why do user-friendly reports matter?

We all strive for style in a substance-filled report. There are endlessly cool options for making a report or dashboard, but these should not be done at the (often unintentional) expense of user-friendliness. 

Power BI is constantly changing and adding new visuals and layouts, and as wonderful as these updates are, they can often confuse the user, thus making your report inefficient. 

Common problems users describe when reading a report include: 

  • Unintuitive layout and navigation. 
  • The report is too busy overall. 
  • Viewers have trouble interacting with the report. 

Nobody wants to make an inefficient report on purpose, but it can be difficult to find the perfect balance between functionality and style to make your viewers happy. 

Luckily, we’ve prepared the top 5 visualization practices to remember when building a report that guarantees user-friendliness. 
Keep in mind that the following is a recap of a past ZoomCharts webinar, and thus not a full-on detailed guide, but more of an explanation on why these points can do wonders for your reports. 
 
We’ll be covering: 

  • Layouts 
  • Navigation 
  • Visual switches 
  • Visual + report help sections 
  • Dynamic visual titles with card visuals 

1. Layouts 

First, look at publicly available resources such as powerbi.tips/tools/layouts for inspiration.

Designing a compelling layout for your Power BI report can be difficult, especially if you’re not necessarily the most artistic person. Whether it’s paid or freely available resources, make sure to look for ideas and find a layout that works for what you’re trying to achieve. 

When it comes to actually building your layout, there are multiple ways you can go about this.  

The most obvious solution: building shapes within Power BI itself

The most obvious one is to just build on the fly within the Power BI platform itself. The pros are that it’s easy, fast, and you just mix and match on the go. The cons are that your shapes will be recognized as elements. This means – clickability. If you lack quite a precise click, you could accidentally mess up your layout, for example, by accidentally making your shape go in front of your visual. 

A layout built with PowerPoint shapes on top of a Power BI base

Another way is to use PowerPoint. Yes, you read that right – PowerPoint. PowerPoint offers more shapes than Power BI, so you get more variety. Simply build a layout on a PowerPoint slide, save it as a picture, and use that as your bottom layer in Power BI. Granted, any image you input into Power BI will come with a border. You may not be able to see it, but there will be some additional padding. 

2. Navigation 

Default in-built navigation menu on the left-side of Power BI

Remember this now and forever – make your report easy to navigate or your user will naturally transition to something else. You don’t want to put in all that effort into making a report only for it to end up getting shelved. 
If your user doesn’t find it easy to navigate within your report, they’re likely to just revert to old methods such as Excel. So, prioritize making reports that will actually end up being used. 

Pop-up navigation menu at the bottom of an embedded report

Consider on what device or platform your user will be viewing your report – is the report embedded, an app, on desktop? What would work for each user? 
Once you figure that out, look for which elements can be used for navigation. Are the navigation buttons on the side? Is there a pop-up that allows the user to switch between each page? Ask your users how are they most likely to use your report. 

3. Visual switches 

Visual switches aren’t necessarily a common practice. But the extra effort in implementing them and making a visual switch for every visual type is worth it. 
They are a great way to allow the user more flexibility by changing and switching between views. They’re a great way to encourage extra insights for the user when reading a report. 

Individual visual switches grant more flexibility by letting the user pick an individual view that they want to be able to see

Visual switches also raise performance, as you only end up having to refresh the data for the visual, rather than switching pages and refreshing all page elements. 

4. Visual + report help sections 

This practice may seem very on the nose, but when you’re preparing a report for users of varying Power BI skill levels, it helps to make some things super obvious. 
Help sections and overlays can play a valuable part in explaining to the user what they’re looking at, what do certain buttons or elements do, etc. 

Example of a help overlay for your report

If you choose to make an overlay of separate help sections, focus on explaining what is going to be relevant to the end-user – navigation, master filters, visual switches, drill down options, and more. 

5. Dynamic visual titles with card visuals 

Instead of sticking with static titles, you can use card visuals as dynamic title systems, thus allowing your user more flexibility, and they can be implemented with any type of chart. 


Example of dynamic titles at work

Why would you do this? For starters, they help the user keep track of what page or level they’re showing. Nobody risks getting confused and clicking back and forth to take note of what the presenter selected. 

If you make sure to create a corresponding title with card visuals for each category, sub-level, date, and other various selections, your user doesn’t risk getting lost, and so the report immediately becomes more intuitive. 

So, these were the top 5 Power BI visualization practices in a nutshell. Following these guidelines will guarantee you more intuitive and user-friendly reports. 

Click here to see the demonstration report.

Click here to download the report file (.pbix) 

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