How to make Google Data Studio look less like… Data Studio

From the Data Studio Design Toolkit and also using data from Supermetrics

If you’re starting a dashboard or data visualization project, you’ll eventually hear about Data Studio. It’s a powerful free tool for combining different data sources and building interactive dashboards.

A snapshot of the Data Studio interface.

If you need to rapidly develop a dashboard prototype, Data Studio is arguably the best option available. You can go from a spreadsheet to an interactive online dashboard in hours, not days.

Being able to rapidly develop dashboards is a powerful skill. People seem to engage with dashboards in a unique way. They capture our interest far more effectively than raw data or spreadsheets. It’s one of the most effective ways to turn data into an actionable narrative about your business.

The challenge some users face is figuring out how to build something that is both actionable and looks great. Data Studio makes it easy to put charts on a page, but making those charts visually appealing is a separate skill.

From the Data Studio Design Toolkit and also using data from Supermetrics

Here are my top tips for making dashboards that look so good people will ask you if they were built by a team of developers and designers.

1 — Think of Data Studio’s design features like PowerPoint.
It’s easy to get distracted by all of Data Studio’s data features, but if you look closely it has many of the same design features you would use in an application like Powerpoint.

By combining rectangles, circles, images and lines, you can build a really wide range of visual designs.

The easiest way to learn this skill is by getting a sample template and pulling it apart to see how each section is created. I’ve got comprehensive set of dashboards available on byMarketers.com or you can join my email list (here) where I send out free sample templates each month.

2 — If you have a design element you can’t make with the default shapes, then you can import it as an image

PNG, SVG and GIF files have transparent backgrounds. This means that you can create designs in a vector or image editor, export them in a PNG/SVG/GIF format, and add them in Data Studio.

For example, if I want some cool shapes or icons in my dashboard I can make them in photoshop and then paste it right into Data Studio

3 — Follow the AAE system (Always. Align. Everything)

I start with a card layout in a grid pattern. Essentially block out each section using a series of rectangles with equal spacing.

The basic idea here is a principle that I call AAE (Always Align Everything). Try to maintain similar widths and lengths to related sections. Make sure you always use the distribution and alignment tools (found under the ‘Arrange’ tab).

4 — Use your own color palette

The default themes and colors in Data Studio are instantly recognizable and everything made with them looks very similar.

Default color palette

So instead I suggest that people take the time to find their own set of colors. It’s an easy way to make your report stand out and feel more customized.

If your brand has a style guide, that’s a great place to start. If not, you can borrow the colors from your website or PPT decks. Alternatively you can check out all the free templates in the Data Studio template gallery to find some inspiration.

5 — Less is more

When you’re building a report in Data Studio it can be tempting to cram as much data as possible on to one page.

The problem is that your users/audience probably won’t know how to interpret all that data. Where do they start? Which metrics matter the most? Humans have a limited capacity to interpret large amounts of complex data.

So think about your data like a narrative. What metrics help to tell your story? Where does the reader need more explanation?

From the Data Studio Design Toolkit and also using data from Supermetrics

In this example, I start with the top level metric: site visits. Then I give a basic explanation and show the metric plotted over time because I know people want to know if it’s trending up or down. Finally, I’m anticipating the audience’s next question. Where are these new visitors landing on my site? What are they doing? To begin answering that question I include a table showing activity on each of the site’s pages.

It would be easy to cram this page with a ton of metrics and tables but if I did that the user wouldn’t know where to look next. Instead I keep it short and sweet.

With those 5 principles you should be able to start building dashboards that look more professional and better leverage your data! If you have any questions then comment down below. I’ll take the time to reply and I love hearing about what other people are doing with Data Studio.

From the Data Studio Design Toolkit and also using data from Supermetrics

Brought to you by The Data Studio Toolkit — The Data Studio Toolkit gives you a set of copy-pasteable dashboards and UI elements that will make your own reports stand out. In this toolkit you get 6 dashboards (3 light and 3 dark themed) along with colors, guidelines/tips/tricks and UI elements in 7 different colors.

If you’re connecting multiple data sources to Data Studio you’ll eventually cross paths with Supermetrics. They allow you to connect to a ton of new data into Data Studio, Google Sheets, or Excel. One way to support my writing is by using our affiliate link if you decide to use their service → Supermetrics

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Josh Cottrell-Schloemer

Josh Cottrell-Schloemer

Building data-focused products. Startups acquired=1. Hobby = making Google Data Studio & Excel beautiful.