Making the Most of Mobile-Friendly Data Visualizations

Mobile use has skyrocketed, with activities that have traditionally been performed on the desktop now taking place on the go. Users are increasingly relying on mobile devices to send emails, track spending, view business dashboards, and more. By 2025, nearly three-fourths of internet users are expected to be mobile only.

As digital media consumption on mobile devices continues to increase, so too does the demand for mobile-friendly data visualization, not just for consumers but for enterprises as well. Amid accelerating change, companies are looking at innovative ways to market their brand, enable data-driven decisions, optimize business processes, and share information with employees and customers alike, and mobile-friendly graphics and visuals are increasingly the media of choice.

In response, leading data visualization software providers like Tableau and Power BI are now enabling users to build custom layouts for mobile devices. In working with clients across industries, we’ve identified the best practices that can help your organization make data visualization dashboards and reports as effective on mobile as they are on the desktop.

Pare it down

Space is at a premium for mobile-friendly data visualizations due to the smaller screens. Reduce the number of visuals included in a view or dashboard, focusing more narrowly on the key metrics that drive the business. Consider using key performance indicator (KPI) scorecards or tiles that highlight numbers, including more elaborate charts only when absolutely necessary.

Design for your audience

You need to know which device or set of devices—mobile phone or tablet—most of your target audience will use to view content. Looking at data on a tablet is a completely different experience than viewing it on a mobile phone. You’ll need to build separate layouts or versions for each.

Select a screen orientation

The choice of screen orientation – portrait or landscape – is an important one when designing mobile-friendly data visualizations. For the best user experience, design the layout so the user scrolls horizontally (landscape) or vertically (portrait)—but not both. For KPI scorecards with figures and bar charts or pie charts, vertical scrolling is ideal.

Leverage built-in capabilities of mobile devices

Most mobile devices already have features that are compatible with data visualizations, and mobile-friendly design can make the most of them. For example, users can take a screenshot and share the data visualization with the rest of the team. A layout that minimizes the number of screens involved in a visualization makes sharing easier. Another built-in feature of a touchscreen mobile device is the ability to pinch and zoom on a point or a section. Consider including instructions for how to manipulate the visualization using this capability.  

Consider position, size, and scale

Because different mobile phones have different screen sizes and screen resolutions, assign fixed positions to objects in a view instead of having them float in an arbitrary position. When it comes to scale, simply scaling down the chart or view for a mobile version is not always the best choice—it will depend on the type of content that is shown in the view.

These best practices provide a solid foundation, but don’t stop there: effective mobile-friendly data visualizations require you to continue building on what you’ve designed and developed. Ensure that you are regularly tracking user activity and gathering user feedback. Compare how users interact with the mobile vs. the full-size desktop or browser versions of the visualizations, for example through user activity and usage monitoring tools that measure data points such as the timestamp when a user logs in to the app, session duration, the time spent on each visualization, the number of clicks, and scrolling behavior. Data collected from these metrics can then be aggregated and analyzed to make regular changes to the visualizations based on user activity, helping ensure that your users find the content engaging, interesting, and informative.