10 Power BI Report Visualization Best Practices

Power BI is a powerful analytics and data visualization tool that you can use to communicate insights and highlight your business’ problems and successes using your data.  It can provide the 10,000-foot level view on your business, or dig deep into the weeds to see what is going on with individual transactions. Before I jump right in, be sure to check out our latest webinar on Data Visualization Best Practices with Power BI where you will learn how to visualize your #data with Power BI’s interactive, drag-and-drop reports & dashboards!

Like any tool, Power BI’s effectiveness depends on how well it is used.

Here are key considerations and recommendations for building out your report/dashboard both before you begin, as well as during the iterative process where you prepare your report prime time.

One last thing…Power BI has the ability to create both reports and dashboards.  For the purposes of this post, I will refer exclusively to the final product as a report.

1.      Identify the Audience

Before you can design your report, you need to identify the intended audience.  Generally, a report should not attempt to be all things to all people.

There are 3 primary groups that I like to think about when designing a report, each with specific needs you need to consider before you begin.

1.       Executives and Management ·         Want to know the state of things at the 10,000’ level

·         Need to identify immediate trouble-spots and success

·         Need enough information to ask follow-up questions, but not be mired in detail

·         Information is typically presented at the Annual / Quarterly / Monthly level

2.       Business Users ·         Need to know what is going on now

·         Information is typically presented at the Monthly / Weekly / Daily level

3.       Data Analysts ·         Want to know the story behind the visualization

·         Often want to see the lowest level of granularity

·         Want spreadsheets, spreadsheets, and more spreadsheets

2.      Implement a Standard and Consistent Layout

You can’t just put anything anywhere. Good graphic design and photography have accepted rules. The main rules for layouts is a concept referred to as the Rule of Thirds.  Simply put – this divides your canvas into a nine-part grid, like this:

Other basic rules for layout are:

  • Objects on your report should be in alignment
  • Objects on your report should be proportional to each other
  • Use of white space and separation between objects should be uniform

This is what a  sample report looks like when we apply those rules:


3.      Integrate Corporate Branding

This blog is about look and feel of your report.  The good news is that you might not have to overthink how you want things to look.  Most organizations have already invested in branding – where possible you should tailor your report to the look and feel already in place for your organization.

Specific things to consider:

  • Does your business have a defined colour palette?
  • How about a corporate logo?
  • What about a standardized font (certainly not the Comic Sans MS you were considering…right?)?

4.      Create Interesting Report Backgrounds

Take your report to the next level of design and design a background.  Tools like PowerPoint or Adobe Illustrator can be used to enhance your layout with custom graphics, banners and headers.

This is another place where corporate branding can be a differentiator between a run-of-the-mill report and something that will catch the VP of Technology’s eye.

Backgrounds can be used to:

  • Add headers and footers to your report
  • Add other framing objects (i.e. a container that you can use to wrap around a chart or graph)

5.      Pick the Right Visualization for the job (just say no to Pie)

We could spend a whole blog on this topic alone.

Consider what data story your charts, graphs, maps, and tables need to tell, and how you can select the right visualization for the job.

The right visualization should immediately communicate its intended purpose with little to no effort being required by the user.  If you need to jump around from the chart to the legend to figure out what colour maps to which section – you have picked the wrong chart type.

OK, Viz has created a handy guide for helping with this task.

A special word about Pie Charts…
I know most of you like pie, who doesn’t like pie? Well, pie is good for eating, but not great for telling a story about your data.

Which of the following charts is more effective at communicating the story?

Each of these charts is taking up the same amount of real estate, but one of them immediately tells you what is going on with sales by channel, the other…well, it looks like it might be good to eat.

Rule of thumb:

  • If you need to compare more than 3 or 4 items, skip the pie chart and pick an alternative (e.g. sorted bar chart)

6.      Emphasize the Important Content

I suggested that you integrate corporate branding into your report. But there are exceptions to every rule. . . this is one. Just because your corporate colours are 50 different shades of grey, doesn’t mean you can’t add a splash of colour where and as necessary.

Consider adding colour or changing font sizes to the following:

  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Charts that display increases or decreases in performance
  • Showing changes in value using colour saturation

7.      Implement Less Slicers and More Interactivity

Sometimes users request the ability to slice and dice a Power BI report by all measure of different slicers.  Slicers have their place, but their use should be limited. Instead, you should utilize report technology to allow for interactivity between report objects.

  • Don’t use more than 4 slicers in one report
  • Implement interactivity between your report objects

8.      Become a Drill Master (through & down)

I mentioned that a report can’t be all things to all people.  Well, the good news is there are exceptions to that rule.  Power BI provides excellent ways of providing analysis beyond the initial view of the report.

Drill Down

Implement drill-down capabilities on:

  • natural hierarchies that exist in your data (e.g. Date / Location / Corporate Structure)
  • new hierarchies that you create in your report

Drill Through

Drill through allows you to navigate from one report page to another based on a selected value. For example, a bar chart displays injury counts by part of body, but you want to see the details behind that chart; simple solution: drill through to a report page that has the list of all injuries down to the injury event.

9.      Think outside the box (Custom Visualizations)

Power BI comes with some great out of the box visualizations that can create a fantastic report with minimal effort.  Done well, these add a bit of sexy functionality that engage the users and have them returning to the report over and over again.

There are currently hundreds of custom visuals available for Power BI. Here are a couple of examples:

Synoptic Panel by OK Vix (Body Part Chart) Liquid Fill Guage

10. Consistency…Consistency…Consistency…

So, you are all done.  The report is built, and now you are ready to show it to your boss or client.  But are you really done?

I have laid out nine best practices for report creation.  Before you are done make sure this quick checklist is triple-checked, and get the most out of Power BI’s visuals

☐ ☐ ☐ Report is targeted to a specific audience
☐ ☐ ☐ Objects are all aligned and proportionally Sized (Rule of Thirds)
☐ ☐ ☐ Fonts are consistent across and within objects (Branding)
☐ ☐ ☐ Implement a Report Background
☐ ☐ ☐ Visualizations are appropriate for the data they are displaying
☐ ☐ ☐ Emphasis colours and font sizes are used sparingly but with purpose
☐ ☐ ☐ Interactivity between widgets is set appropriately (filter or portion)
☐ ☐ ☐ Drill up, drill down and drill through all function as expected
☐ ☐ ☐ Consider Custom Visualization




About the Author:

Dave Jaycock
As a BI lead, Dave's role has included interfacing with clients to gather requirements and assist in the architecture and design of design Business Intelligence solutions. Dave has experience developing end to end BI solutions including data warehouse ETL procedures, semantic layer, and front end reporting solutions.