Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dashboard design rules, the do's and don'ts

If you are going to build dashboards you need to read the book: Information Dashboard Design written by Stephen Few. Dashboards are very popular because they can be very powerful. However, this potential is rarely realized. A dashboard should directly tell you what you need to know. If that is not the case the dashboard will never be used again. This book will teach you the visual design skills you need to have to create dashboards that communicate clearly, rapidly and compellingly. It will explain how to:
  • Avoid the thirteen mistakes common to dashboard design
  • Provide viewers with the information they need quickly and clearly
  • Apply what we know about visual perception to the visual presentation of information
  • Minimize distractions, cliches, and unneccessary embellishments that create confusion
  • Organize business information to support meaning and usability
  • Create an aesthetically pleasing viewing experience
  • Maintain consistency of design to provide accurate interpretation
  • Optimize the power of dashboard technology by pairing it with visual effectiviness
The book start with the definition of a dashboard. Without knowing the definition you do not know what to build.

Visual display
the most important information needed to achieve on or more objectives
fits entirely on a single computer screen
so it can be
monitored at a glance

I will tell some observations I had when I read the book with a lot of pleasure.
  • We do not see with our eyes. We see with our brains. If you need to think how to read the data, you have not used the best display media.
  • Dashboards display information needed to achieve objectives. What do you prefer? 1) Nice fancy dashboard which is not be re-used. 2) Functional dashboard which help you to reach your goal
  • A dashboard fits on a single computer screen. No scroll bars etc.
  • Colors have a function. Do not use them because it looks nice. Colors should tell something for instance to grab attention .
  • Blank space is better than meaningless decoration. Do not use pictures, logos'. It is a waste of valuable space. If you need to use a logo, make it small and visually subtle, and place it somewhere out of the way.
  • Use gridlines will care. Mostly the do nothing but distract from the data.  
  • Think about what you want to show or compare. Based on that you need to choose the best display media. Do not use a pie chart because it looks nice. Mostly a bar graph is much better.
  • 3D Graphs are nice but 2D are easier to read and understand.
  • Dashboards are used to monitor information at a glance. Information is abbreviated in the form of summaries or exceptions.
  • Numbers should not be center-justified in the columns. Right-justified is easier to compare when scanning up and down a column.
  • The drop shadows on a graph are visual fluff. These elements serve only to distract.
  • In general Keep It Simple.
To test your dashboard design skills you can do the Graph Design IQ Test on the website of the writer Stephen Few.

Enjoy reading the book and do not forget to do the Graph Design IQ Test

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