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Friday, September 19, 2008

Notes on Information Dashboard Design

Previously, I'd written about Tufte's great book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. While Tufte is the master of how to visualize information, what I needed was a way to put together several pieces of information to communicate business progress. To do this, I had to go past the chart and into the dashboard territory.

Dashboards are essentially short collections of key information presented visually for maximum absorption with minimal effort. One of my favorite books on the topic of dashboard design is Steven Few's Information Dashboard Design. Here are my notes on Few's book for anyone who is interested.

Note: I'm going to break my notes up into several blog posts because the book covers a lot of ground and I don't want to make one ginormous post that covers everything.

Information Dashboard Design Notes 1--introduction to dashboards

Chapter 1

"A dashboard's success as a medium of communication is a product of design" (p. 4).

Dashboard definition: "A dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives, consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance." (p.34)

Main points of the definition:
  • Visual = emphasis on graphics
  • Specific info for one or more objectives = KPIs (primarily)
  • Single computer screen or view = easy to digest all at once
  • Monitor at a glance = abbreviated
Supporting points:
  • Small, intuitive display
  • Customized to meet the objective

Chapter 2

Roles of Dashboards:
The "executive dashboard"
Real-time required
Performance at high level
Richly historical
Shows activities and events
Forecasting is good
Real-time not required
Simple display for quick response
Extremely simple display (not subtle)
Drill-down interaction very good
Connect to detailed info
Real-time data not required
Show Causes

Interaction not required
Rich Display

Showing Info on Dashboards:

Show info as:
  1. Totals*** Most important
  2. Averages
  3. Distribution
  4. Correlation
Common time frames:
  1. Year to date
  2. Week to date
  3. Quarter to date
  4. Yesterday
  5. Month to date
  6. Today
Trends are comparisons
  • By time (sales now vs. sales in the past)
  • By objective (sales vs. goals)
  • By prediction (sales vs. forecast)
  • By average / norm (sales vs. average sales)
  • By comparison (sales A vs. sales B)
  • By related metrics (sales vs. leads)
Evaluations are important. Flag the good and the bad somehow. Use colors or mark up.

Including other info is sometimes useful--"Top Issues", schedules, upcoming tasks, etc. These can add a context for the info.

Chapter 3

13 types of mistakes
  • Too big / off-screen data
  • Not enough context
  • Excessive detail
  • Wrong type of measurement (i.e. counts instead of percentage)
  • Wrong type of display (bars vs. trend lines) "The truth is, I never recommend the use of pie charts." (p.59)
  • Meaningless variety
  • Poor chart design (see Tufte)
  • Inaccurate or misleading measures (scales)
  • Poor arrangement (important things need to be prominent)
  • Poor or lack of highlighting
  • Useless decoration
  • Color problems (red = bad)
  • Just plain ugly
After Chapter 3, Few gets into the research on visual perception of information and how much data you can stuff into an eyeball. So, until next time...

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