Category Data Visualization

Effective dashboards

An effective dashboard is the product not of cute gauges, meters and traffic lights, but rather of informed design: more science than art, more simplicity than dazzle. It is, above all else, about communication.

Steven Few, Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Communication of Visual Date, 2006

Using fragmentation to structure dashboard displays

A fragmentation method known in interface design is the use of tabs. Although fragmentation should be avoided, it can be useful in the design of dashboards.

Fragmentation of dashboard displays is permissible when:

  • the displays contain data sets, that are not related to each other, or do not require to be shown together, and
  • when adding those unrelated data items would otherwise clutter up the screen. 

When fragmentation is applied, it is necessary to apply appropriate labels on tabs to facilitate the recognition by readers. When applying labels it is important to not use abbreviations, or truncate labels, as this poses a burden on the reader’s cognitive workload, as they are forced to recall and use their memory.

When applying fragmentation methods, it is important to consider several compromises that might occur.

Fragmentation might negatively impact the viewing experience because additional interaction is required to access the information located in a distinct section. Such interactions could involve scrolling, or navigating to a different tab. Because additional interaction is required the important information cannot be extracted immediately, which slows down the user. It also forces users to go and search for the additional hidden information. It might happen that users completely overlook the additional information that is located somewhere else.

Using the Von Restorff effect to guide users

The Von Restorff Effect refers to our ability to remember items that stood out from the rest, or extract items that stand out from the rest of information with greater immediacy.

This effect occurs when readers scan, or remember a dashboard interface that applies some of the principles that support this phenomena, meaning things stand out as unusual.

As designers we can take advantage of this effect to direct a readers attention. The effect is achieved by various means and only when applied sparingly:

  1. Use of highlighting
  2. Use of heavier font weights
  3. Use of bold colors

Why is consistency in design so important to the viewing experience?

Consistency in design is important because it helps the readers understanding and interpretation of the data they are looking at. This in turn helps save time and energy, because the reader of the information doesn’t have to learn new ways of looking at data that is similar.

How to organize dashboards for the best results

Dashboards are used to display large amounts of data in a condensed way, so it can be immediately understood and interpreted by the intended audience. The design must help locating the necessary information quickly. One way of achieving this is by using spactial location, and creating a layout that supports the population of four to five distict areas on the screen.

When to represent data using graphics?

Graphics can very much enhance the ability to consume raw data in a fast and more efficient way. However, sometimes graphics are just too much and don’t really contribute to help the reader digest the content. A graphical or visual representation is only as useful as the methodology that was applied to engineer it. So when should you use graphics to represent your data, and what makes it good?

Five examples of poorly designed dashboards

The purpose of dashboards is to present large amounts of information in a condensed and visual way. Here are five examples of poorly designed dashboards, that break some or all of the prinsiples of good dashboard design.

How Steven Few defines dashboards

Steven Few is an expert in business intelligence and defines dashboards as:

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“.

Dashboard design – do’s and dont’s

When designing dashboards, designers play a certain role. A designer helps identify the information that should be displayed, so that the reader of the dashboard is presented with the information that is relevant to them or her.

How Ben Shneiderman defines information visualization

“Information visualization has emerged from research in human-computer interaction, computer science, graphics, visual design, psychology, and business methods. It is increasingly applied as a critical component in scientific research, digital libraries, data mining, financial data analysis, market studies, manufacturing production control, and drug discovery”.

Ben Shneiderman 2003