What Is a Dashboard?

What Is a Dashboard?


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Updated on December 29, 2023.

Dashboard is one of those buzzy startup terms that’s been around for a very long time. While different dashboards look radically different from one another, a dashboard is fundamentally a view that summarizes data, typically through visualizations or statistics. Dashboards not only answer questions but also encourage data exploration.

Nowadays, most SaaS applications ship with a dashboard page. In some cases, the dashboard may be the application’s homepage and the primary offering; in others, the dashboard is a feature for users to understand and optimize their use of the product.

What’s the Difference Between a Dashboard and a Report?

Dashboards and reports are often used interchangeably, but are technically distinct things.

The fundamental purpose of a dashboard is to enable users to openly explore data and answer many questions in one place. By extension, different users may use the same dashboard in radically different ways. Dashboards are about organizing chaos, creating one location of truth across the entire application.

Reports, meanwhile, are a bit more constrained and focused. Reports tend to zoom in on a specific table, trend, and/or time period. While dashboards can answer many questions in one place, reports usually focus on just one question.

These are obviously not hard and fast rules. Some reports, like those generated by Explo, offer interactive features that look and behave like mini-dashboards. And some dashboards, like a report, may simplify data if the target audience has limited data curiosity. At the end of the day, what matters is teams have the right tooling to answer key questions through data.

Why Do We Care About Dashboards?

Dashboards have been popular since the beginning of the internet, and with good reason. Humans often struggle with raw data; it takes a lot of effort to filter, organize, and condense data into meaningful, actionable takeaways. In that sense, dashboards are like an opinionated spreadsheet; they make it possible to understand and answer important data-driven questions quickly.

Today, data is one of the biggest levers behind business decisions. Especially now, businesses err on being risk-averse; data helps take wild hunches and turn them into informed opinions. Oftentimes, we’ll read about competitors winning market share because they more effectively leveraged data to design growth strategies. Typically, that’s made possible not by a Dropbox of Excel spreadsheets, but organized personalized dashboards visualizing data pertinent to the business.

What Kinds of Dashboards Are There?

When thinking about how to categorize dashboards, there are various groupings available. Dashboards can be grouped by industry, by the underlying technology, and by the style-of-use. Check out the list of dashboard types at the bottom.

Dashboards by industry

Given data is used in almost every industry, the term dashboard can connote to different things in different verticals. Some popular industries that are heavy users of dashboards include HR products, Marketplace products, Sales products, and DevOps products.

Regardless, any industry may use a dashboard. For instance, a product to manage book publishing might have a dashboard detailing book sales, readership, and other data pertinent to the space. A product to manage photography might detail storage usage and views per photo.

Dashboards by technology

Dashboards have fundamentally two jobs—pulling data from a data source and visualizing that data. For pulling data, dashboards typically connect to databases such as PostgreSQL and mySQL or data warehouses like Snowflake or ClickHouse. They often use languages like SQL or GraphQL to accomplish.

Meanwhile, for the visuals, in-house dashboards may use frameworks like React, D3, or Highcharts. Products like React and D3 offer more barebones functionality for managing data state; meanwhile products like Highcharts provide Javascript-powered visualization presets.

Conversely, self-service dashboards are growing in popularity over in-house dashboards. A self-service dashboard is a dashboard that’s accelerated by pre-built UI components and database connectors. Self-service dashboards aren’t necessarily no-code; SQL and Javascript is still written to transform and organize data. But they dramatically expedite the process of designing and implementing dashboards by extending reusable components for common database features such as charts, filters, and tables. A popular product for self-service internal tools is Retool. Likewise, a popular product for self-service dashboards for customer-use is Explo.

Dashboards by style-of-use

There are two different ways that dashboards can be used—as a primary product or an advisory feature.

Some dashboards serve as a primary product. An example of this is Pry.co, which offers dashboards for financials, like runway, burn, and projected growth. The only reason that users access those products is to utilize the dashboard.

Conversely, many dashboards exist as an advisory feature—they help answer questions on how to improve usage of the product that they are attached to. Most of Explo’s customers fall into this bucket. For instance, CommandBar’s dashboard informs their customers on how their CommandBar implementation is going, detailing usage metrics. Another great example is Spekit, an employee education tool, which ships with a dashboard detailing adoption rates.

What Goes on a Dashboard?

There are various components that make-up dashboards. While the list is technically endless, as many dashboards have custom components, there are some common ones.

  • Data Table. A spreadsheet like representation of data in a row-column format.
  • KPI Chart. Core statistics that represent a company’s general performance.
  • Bar Chart. A graph that represents categorical data using bars.
  • Line Chart. A graph that represents a series of data, often over time.
  • Area Chart. A graph that combines a line graph and a bar chart by stacking series of data.
  • Pie Chart. A graph that represents categorical data proportionately.
  • Funnel. A diagram that represents various stages of a process and drop-off.
  • Heat Map. A diagram that represents data in a spatial area, typically geographic.
  • Spider Chart. Popular in video games like Pokemon, a chart that presents multivariate data over multiple axes spanning from the same point.
  • Scatterplot Chart. A chart that shows the relationship between two variable by imposing dots on a 2D space.
  • Map. A diagram that organizes data by superimposing circles over a map or by color-coding a map split into geographic units like countries, states, or counties.
  • Box Plot. A diagram that represents the spread, skewness, and placement of numerical data through quartiles.

Additionally, dashboards typically extend various familiar UI components for user interactivity:

  • Collapsible lists
  • Dropdowns
  • Toggles
  • Dates
  • Switches
  • Text Inputs / Search boxes
  • Time dropdowns
  • Filter features
  • Export buttons
  • Images

List of Dashboard Types

Here's a laundry list of different dashboard types:


Dashboard utilization is essential for any business that collects a lot of data. And, for SaaS product companies, including a dashboard page dramatically helps customers better use their product.

If you want to implement dashboards in your product offering and don’t know where to start, contact Explo. We can guide you through various strategies for implementing a dashboard that best suits your users. If you want to get in touch, use our book a demo form.

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