Power BI Governance: Report Design Strategy

By: Data Team | October 13, 2020

After you have your dataset and workspace delivery strategies established, it’s a good time to focus on creating reusable, consistently branded, and well laid-out reports. These reports should have a user-friendly design and supporting documentation. Your design strategy can greatly impact your end user report experience and impact the amount of time needed to manage your reports.

In this blog, we will take a high-level look at what you can strive for within your organization. Your goal should be to develop a set of report design best practices within your IT department and different business units. Ultimately, you want to ensure that the resources you develop in this report design strategy are made available in your Center of Excellence and to your end users for re-use and guidance when building Power BI reports

Develop Re-Usability

In developing your Power BI report design strategy, we highly recommend focusing on re-usability – including templated files, brand standards, and background layouts. PBIT file templates can save you a lot of time because they save your data source connection details, theming, and your report page layouts. Templates are a great way to give your end users a head start when creating reports.

Consistent Branding and Themes

When designing re-usable Power BI reports, it’s important to create a consistent branding strategy. Using the theme builder in Power BI desktop allows you to align a color palette to your organization’s brand standards, and keeps a consistent look and feel with your visual settings. Creating a theme file(s) should create consistent branding that can be used across reports in your organization.

Templated Backgrounds

Creating templated backgrounds can save report creation time and improve the user experience. You can create your background design within PowerPoint, save that background as an image file, and then upload it into Power BI Desktop. Then you can use that background repeatedly as a template in future reports. A great blog post by Chris Hamill on creating Power BI backgrounds in PowerPoint can be found here.

Additionally, Power BI is continuing to add PowerPoint features (like the shadow feature) into the Power BI Desktop tool. We believe Microsoft is just getting started integrating the PowerPoint design capabilities with Power BI Desktop.

Report Best-Practices Related to Layout

Ideally, you want a standardized layout for your reports. All your report pages do not need to look the same (your dataset and business requirements will ultimately decide your visualization choices), but some things to think about include titles, KPI card layout, and limiting slicers.

We’re a big fan of using titles in our report pages – so long as the titles aren’t long and don’t have a large font size. Report real estate is limited, so it’s vital to prioritize the visualizations and data that will tell the story that you’re trying to convey to your end users. However, having a distinct title in the upper left-hand corner of your report page tells users what data they’re looking at right away when consuming your report.

KPI Card Layout
For titles and KPI card layout, create a best practice that works for you and your organization. We’ve had success with always putting KPIs at the top or left-hand side of a report page and then limiting slicers.

Limiting Slicers
When we’re leading Power BI trainings, we often tell attendees, “Limit your slicers on a page to four or five at most.” The rest of the attributes you want to slice by can go in the filter pane or be accessible via the interactive filtering within the Power BI report visuals. Keep those features in mind in your report design.

If you want to dig into report design a little more, we recommend this great report design guideline produced by Miguel Myers. He’s a member of one of the Power BI teams at Microsoft.

Include Supporting Documentation

Ultimately the data model is most important in your Power BI report design. But it’s important to realize that even if you have a well dimensionally modeled dataset, you need to visualize the data and be able tell a story to your end users. While visualization selection is important, there’s one more item that shouldn’t be skipped: supporting documentation. It can often help end users consume your reports and help them gain actionable insights from your data. Below you will find a couple examples of useful supporting documentation you should create.

README Report Pages
Don’t be afraid to include README-type report pages. They can be hidden or incorporated via tooltips and buttons, so they don’t take up much space in your report pages. This type of documentation could be the starting pages in your report that a user reads before diving into the meat and potatoes of your data and visualizations.

A great example of this type of documentation can be seen in this Power BI report example.

Documentation Links
Another way you can include documentation is through app links. Within the new app navigation experience, you can include documentation links. Example of documentation you can link in an app would be a SharePoint page or a file saved on a Teams site. Those resources can be used to include a more detailed explanation of how your report pages are configured.

Other Usability Features

Tooltips to Explain Report Features
Whether you’re using tooltips in a page or a button, you can include messages that will pop up on your screen when you hover over them. Often, that sentence or two of clarification can help a user understand what your visual is communicating. Tooltips can also be used to call out the different features that are available in that visual, like drill-through filtering.

Once again, Chris Hamill provides a great example on how to do this in this blog post.

Disable Unused Visual Header Icons
The new visual header experience in Power BI desktop provides a lot of options for formatting and exploring your visualizations. Enabling all these options can cause confusion for end users. It’s important to disable visual header icons not used or are not relevant in the visual. Microsoft has released several new options in the visual header section that you should consider disabling if you’re not actually using them. Developing a set of best practices in your organization around report design will allow for you and your end users to create consistent and re-usable reports.

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