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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.

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.

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“.