Tough Love: Microsoft makes Power BI dashboards awful and difficult on mobile. 

Hey there.

My daughter and I have been watching the Star Wars TV series Andor recently, and it has got me thinking about story-centric design.


Andor isn’t a typical Star Wars show.

It’s not about jedis, or lightsabers. I don’t think they’re even mentioned. Vader isn’t mentioned, either. The Emperor is mentioned once, I think (we still have a couple episodes to go).

The point of the show is it’s about the regular people (like us! no magical powers!) who, in fits and starts, against overwhelming odds, plan and finance a rebellion that brings down the Empire.

That’s what you see. The creators of the show has focused the plot to what the story is about and doesn’t let everything else going on in the galaxy (and there’s SO much of it) distract and take away from the story. It’s a small story, within a much larger context. Everyone is already aware of the context, so there’s no sense spending time on it and distracting from the core narrative.

And this, in a roundabout way brings me to the point of this post… that the mobile version of your dashboard should be the Andor of Star Wars.

It should be focused, user-friendly, and free from distractions, and it’s very very RARE to see a mobile version of a dashboard that has these qualities, and it’s mostly Microsoft’s fault. The ENTIRE infrastructure around mobile Power BI reports is not designed for users, at all.

(heck, that’s a big complaint I have about Power BI and those who develop with it in general)

Strap yourself in… we’re about to go on a journey and take everything mobile apart.

What does Microsoft give us for mobile? Not a hell of a lot.

Let’s start off by looking at one of Microsoft’s “sample” dashboards that they provide on their “Learn” site. This is what one of the pages looks like on their “Customer Profitablity” dashboard:

I am NOT a fan of this sample dashboard, and if you’ve been reading my posts a while (or have worked with me in the past) you probably know this already.

In fact, maybe I’ll base a future edition of People-Friendly Power BI just on the screenshot above… considering I can see 10 design and layout deficiencies immediately just from a quick look at that screenshot…

Let’s pretend this is our dashboard… and that we’ve published it to the Power BI service and made it available to our colleagues or other stakeholders.

Want to see what they see when they open it up on their phones?

Everything is very small, very hard to read, and hard to interact with. You can try tapping on a data point with a finger and hope you hit the right one (or even navigate to other pages using the miniscule page controls at the very bottom.

Now, let’s see how this looks if we flip our phone sideways and make people look at your dashboard that way (you’re already making them do extra work just to try and see anything in your report):


It’s not really ANY better, is it? It’s *slightly* larger, but it’s still hard to read anything or tap on anything. There IS a *zoom* feature on the lower right … but again, WHY are you making your viewers do Extra Work just to see the data? A Power BI report on a phone is horrible.

Now, Microsoft *does* have a Power BI app for phones (for both Apple and Android, and probably the Microsoft phone… if that’s still a thing?), and guess what this report looks like using their app.. their app built for phones?

Basically the same right? The navigation buttons along the bottom are a bit more usable now, but otherwise, this report is just as unusable even within the official Microsoft Power BI app!

Know someone who would love to read about making Power BI more user-friendly?


All right… next step is “Optimizing this report for mobile” which is a tool you can use in Power BI Desktop to make customize each page of your report so it’ll look better on a phone. You can make a “mobile” view and move stuff around to fit into a portrait-orientation phone view. Here’s what it looks like:

So, this is a little better… our visuals are a bit more usable now (and we now have to scroll down to see the whole report), and while it’s still not easy to tap on things to get things like tooltips popping up, we’re getting there.

FYI, even IF you have mobile-optimized your report in Power BI Desktop, the above view will ONLY show up in the Power BI app. It’ll STILL look small and cruddy if someone accesses your report without the app.

Design for your medium and your user

So, with all that said, the main issue with this dashboard right now is that it’s NOT a dashboard anymore. A dashboard should be a quick at-a-glance look at high level insights. This is no longer at a glance. This requires scrolling… and there’s not even very many visuals on this dashboard page.

We are using a different medium here. Someone isn’t sitting down at their laptop (or desktop) computer and accessing this mobile report. They are on their phone and maybe need a few bits of data to do their job or make a decision while on the go. They don’t NEED everything on their phone.

This isn’t a dashboard anymore. You user can’t see everything on a page at the same time anymore. This is now a series of charts, mainly looked at on their own. If someone needs to compare one metric with another, it’s probably not going to work on mobile without a chart built with that specific purpose in mind

The ideal way to fix this is to make a report that is designed for mobile first. This will likely require a separate report being built with page sizes that match a phone screen ratio. While Microsoft does allow for formatting changes when setting up a mobile report, it’s not enough to make something actually usable.

Think about what your favorite apps look like on your phone. Maybe it’s facebook, maybe it’s instagram, maybe it’s Gmail, maybe it’s a banking app. NONE of them look like the desktop versions of their websites do they? They are ALL simpler, basic, and easy to use.

Your manager and CEO and Board and customers don’t want dashboards they have to figure out. Make your dashboards people-friendly!

Get rid of (most of the) stuff.

If you have a ton of data and visuals in there (or just make people use the default desktop version, there’s a ton of distractions, everything is too small, and you’re gonna lose people. No one will like viewing your work on their phone.

Talk to your viewers. Find out what they actually need from the mobile version while they are on the go. They likely only need some key numbers or a “snapshot” graph of where things are at present, or if a certain value (or values) are increasing or decreasing.

They likely don’t need to see 2 years of historical breakdown about a metric, or a map of what’s happening with a product/client/widget across the entire United States (or any country), or excessive detail.

Think (and breathe and care) about accessibility

After you figure out what you TRULY need in a mobile version of a Power BI report, you then have to think about accessibility.

Everything is smaller on a phone. Text is smaller. Maps are smaller. Data points are smaller. Data Labels are smaller. While you may be young and have perfect eyesight, a lot of your colleagues may have vision challenges, or just need help. Your manager is likely older than you. Senior management may be in the 50s or 60s.

You want them to LOVE the reports you build them, and they’re gonna need to see things on their phones too. You may be tempted to add a lot of stuff to a mobile report to impress your boss, but guess what? They already hired you because they know you know your stuff. For a mobile report they need key facts. That’s it.

Wow them with the non-mobile report, if you need to. Do not do it on mobile. It’ll make your report harder to use on their phones.

Reduce the Interactivity, the bells, the whistles.. this isn’t the circus!

On Mobile, get rid of the Tooltips and Drill-Through filters. They are hard to access and interact with. If drilling down into data is needed on mobile, put it on a new page and put a big ol’ navigation button to that page so they can see it and access it easily.

Technology Accessibility

Finally – think about your users and the capacity they have for accessing content on their phones.

There are many places in the world (and even large expanses here in North America) with very poor cell service. There are even more places with poor wifi.

If you’ve made a mobile report with tons of visuals and content and data to download, it’s going to take a looooong time for your viewer to access it. So keep your reports as simple as possible. It’ll speed up loading time and your report will be used more.

Let’s summarize!

– Power BI reports look awful on phones. They’re small and inaccessible. Do not live with the defaults Power BI provides. They’re horrible. If your viewers need to view reports on their phone, BUILD them something that will work on their phone.


– Design a version of your report specifically for mobile, bringing in only the key essentials your dashboard users need while they are on the go. You need to TALK to your viewers and find out what they need.


– On mobile, your dashboard is in a different format. Design for that new format. It’s now impossible for a viewer to look more than 2 charts at once. Tell your data stories one chart at a time.


– Accessibility is always important, but even MORE important on mobile. Design for people with vision challenges and/or technology / wifi access issues.

Do these things, and even within the horrible mobile infrastructure surrounding Power BI reports, your report users will like what you do.

Why I used to hate Power BI and how that has made me a better teacher.

(NOTE: This post was originally written in November 2022)

Hey there,

I’m in New Orleans this week at the American Evaluation Society conference. I’m mainly here to teach a Power BI Crash Course workshop to Evaluation professionals who have never used it before. I named it “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, because I strive to make (and teach) dashboards that are fantastic and easy for users, and also because it’s an awesome name.

I forgot to take a photo of the crowd of 53 people in my workshop (It went very well and I forgot to take a photo – I think everyone had a great time and learned a lot), but here’s a photo I took yesterday when I was snooping around to check out my workshop room.

(they actually moved us to a new room twice the size of this one to fit us all. We would have been on top of one another in this small room shown below.)

No description available.

All 53 people in this workshop were brand new to Power BI. They were all trying something new.


I LOVE people who are up to trying something new. LOVE them.

And, I’m here for them. Every Single One of them. I am here to make every single one of them not only love what Power BI can do, but give them the knowledge and techniques to make useful and easy dashboards using it.

I used to work in an Evaluation and Research department. Evaluators are awesome. They are the professionals that measure when and if programs, projects, and actions have merit, value, and significance. Basically, they answer the question of “Is this thing worth doing?”

So, they are not technology experts… they may have some data skills, but it’s not the main purpose of their job… they are brand new to Power BI and it has to be easy for them to GET how to use it.

That brings me to the main point of this post:

I used to HATE Power BI

… and that hate has MADE me a BETTER teacher.

When I started using Power BI, I was busy with a thousand different things (as we all are at all stages of our lives) in addition to learning Power BI.

I didn’t have the time or the energy to devote 100% of myself to learning the nitty-gritty technical details and data geekiness that Power BI “experts” know. I needed to make charts and dashboards, and fast.


Learn how to make Power BI People-Friendly. In your email. Once a month. Easy-peasy.



I couldn’t make it work. I’d throw data into Power BI and try to visualize it and I’d get mysterious jargony error messages that had no relation to the english language. If my data was formatted incorrectly did I get an error message that said that? NO. If I put a continuous data variable in a place that should have a categorical one, was there any error message at all? NO.

Things just didn’t work and there was no explanation. I hated it.

Additionally, every online resource by Microsoft (and others), and every how-to YouTube video on Power BI was basically equally inaccessible. Every one of them assumed that their viewers had used Power BI at least a bit and understood the basic nuts and bolts. I hated those too.


I eventually muddled through, and now not only make dashboards that are loved by users, but have started hacking functionality in Power BI that no one else has figured out yet.

BUT, I have not forgotten how much I hated Power BI when I started using it.

It wasn’t totally Power BI’s fault… it was the fault of the documentation and the Power BI lessons out there. They were not accessible. They were not easy. They were not user-friendly.

Power BI doesn’t have to be hard or scary or frustrating or &#!%$*!! It CAN be EASY…

My responsibility as a teacher of people new to Power BI is to make it easy.


Very few people have the time and energy to devote 100% of themselves to learning a new piece of software, and more importantly, they should NOT have to.

When I teach, I teach for my audience. If you’re brand new to Power BI, I make it make sense for you. If you already have some experience with it, I teach you some more advanced things, using what you already know as a starting point.

This is why I get amazing feedback from students when I teach. Feedback like “Joe’s expertise, patience, kindness, and attention were instrumental to my development”.

I get this feedback because I won’t let myself forget how much I hated Power BI when I started using it. That hate has made me better.


So, whether you need to learn Power BI or Excel or some other piece of software (or anything, really), look for the teachers that make it accessible. Look at their testimonials. Talk to their formal students. Make sure they haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a complete newbie.

If you’re a teacher, do what I do. Think about your students’ perspective. It’s just like thinking about your end-user if you’re creating a dashboard, or one chart, or a report, or a memo, or ANYTHING. Think about your user.

Some teachers think that teaching is about showing how smart they are. It isn’t. It’s about their students.

Remember that, and you can’t go wrong.


Need to know more about how I teach Power BI? How I totally customize Power BI training for every group I teach? Why I get so many glowing testimonials?

Get in touch with me. I love to teach people new things.

You can reply to this email (or comment below if you’re not reading this in your email.)

Email me at joe@traversdata.com




Follow me on Instagram @travers.data

Connect with me on LinkedIn @traversdata

Dashboards: Hot, Desirable, and a Useless Mess?


Hey there!

What do you think of when I say the phrase “data dashboard” to you?

You probably think of either a dashboard you use regularly, or one that you’ve seen that made an impression on you. Either of them (or both) were probably jam-packed full of data and visuals and tables, right? Some pie graphs… some line charts. Tons of stuff.



Data dashboards are great for that, right? Just being able to have a ton of information right there for anyone to sift through and explore. THROW ALL THE DATA IN THERE!!!

This is the big draw of dashboards. This is why everyone wants them.



It’s also the #1 reason why most dashboards are TERRIBLE.

They are a HOT MESS.


Think of a dashboard again… FILLED with data.

Now, imagine that you are trying to find one bit of insight from one of these complicated dashboards. The insight isn’t immediately evident because there’s so much data being shown. You probably have to filter something, and then filter another thing, and then filter yet something else to find a key number or insight you are looking for. Like, how many widgets were sold in a certain area in a certain time period, by a certain salesperson.

It’s a Hot Mess. It may look impressive, but it’s a functional mess. Hard to use, hard to find key bits of data, hard to love.

Your users will end up either ignoring your report completely or if they can’t ignore it, they just hate using it.

Most dashboards try to be a jack of all trades, and become a king or queen of NONE.

They do an okaaaay job at a bunch of things, but you don’t want to make something that someone describes as “okaaaaaaay…” You want to make something that knocks their socks off with awesomeness. Like, knock their socks into the next county with ease and speed.

Make your dashboards easy to read, and easy to use. You don’t *need* everything in one view. A dashboard can have a ton of data coming into it without hitting the viewer over the head with it.

Make that dashboard quick to use and easy to use.

People want quick. People LOVE easy.


Want to know how to make easy and quick dashboards that drive right to the point for your viewers?

Get in touch with me. I love to teach people new things.

You can reply to this email (or comment below if you’re not reading this in your email.)

Email me at joe@traversdata.com




Follow me on Instagram @travers.data

Connect with me on LinkedIn @traversdata

Dealing with a Data Source Dilemma

When to use Direct Query and when to use Import (and scheduled refresh)

Hey Power people,

We’re gonna start off this newsletter real nice and easy and talk about a basic Data Source dilemma. I recently solved some report loading issues on a large report (which was not originally built by me) with a simple data source change and making the data model more efficient.

In fact, most editions of this newsletter will deal with real world challenges in making Power BI easier for people who use it. I’m not talking about those of us who make Power BI reports… I’m talking about the regular folks who may interact with a Power BI report once a day to help them do their jobs.

People-friendly Power BI is all about putting our users first so they LOVE the reports we make for them.


This week (our first edition!), let’s start where our Power BI reports start – the data source for your report.

Specifically, let’s discuss if you should use Direct Query (where your report connects directly to your data source) or Import (where it imports a copy of your data source).

Using Direct Query has advantages – if your data source is constantly updating, your report will also constantly update. That’s awesome, right? Yes. However, having this awesomeness comes with a tradeoff. Having your Power BI report directly connected with your data means it has to interact and do calculations with it any time your users load your report, filter your report, basically do anything with your report.

This takes tiiiiiiime.



The more data your report is connecting directly with (even if you don’t use all the data in your report – a subject for another issue of this newsletter), the more it is going to slooooow down. It has to possibly connect and filter and calculate with tons of columns, and thousands (or millions) of rows of data.

Guess what? Your dashboard users will hate this. They. Will. Hate. It.

A data dashboard that takes 5, 6, 7 seconds (or longer!) to change and update EVERY time something is clicked? Each slicer? Each table row you want to expand?

They. Will. Hate. It, and YOU will hear about it.


What do you do, hotshot? What do you do?



Well, knowing what your users need is your secret weapon here.
 If your users don’t need up-to-the-second data in your report, you can use the Import option to connect to your data source, and then set up auto-refreshes throughout the day, where your report will check the data and bring in any updates (you can set these up for every hour between 9am-5pm, for instance).

This way, your users still see updated data, and they’ll know that it’ll update every hour (be sure and tell them!) and most importantly, their report will be FAST.

They will LOVE you.


Have a question or a comment? Leave one by clicking this here button.

You can also find me at traversdata.com and on LinkedIn.

Have a great one. Talk to you soon!

Best,

Joe.