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Dashboards: how to content to users shifting attention

With dashboard design its important to not overdo it, but to keep a balance between elements that try to get users shifting attention. There are various methods to address this.

Visual Highlighting: Information Visualization

While its best practice to display the most important information in the top left corner within a dashboard and provide users with an overview, the relative importance of this information may change over time. This may lead to the conclusion that we as designers should move the information in a different location, which is not what we should be doing.

Opponent-Process Theory of human vision

The opponent-process theory was proposed in 1982 by German physiologist Edwald Hering. In his theory he explains that our ability to perceive color is under the control of three opposing systems which are generated by the three different photoreceptor cells found in the retina of the human eye.

Experiencing color

The ability to experience color can help us in a variety of ways. Colours convey meaning, connect, communicate functions, and help us to distinguish information.

Design features that make or break a dashboard design

Certain design features should be avoided to improve the meaningfulness of a dashboards. Here are some of the good and bad practices.

Advantages of dashboards

Designers use dashboards to represent raw data in a visual form that is helpful and supports immediate recognition and extraction of information that is most important.

Generation effect

The generation effect relates to a phenomenon observed with the ability to better retain information for content that was generated by users themselves.

Using schemata to improve usability

Schemata are existing knowledge that users develop. These are developed through established norms that designers create. Users learn these schemata and recognize them as patterns. This has the advantage that users can skim a display faster and with less effort, as they are familiar with the schemata. Because this method requires less cognitive effort, users can focus their energy on displays and values that do need more attention.

How to select effective display media

There are several key considerations to make when identifyign the most effective and appropriate display for use in a dashboard.

Designers must answer these three essential questions:

  • How big is the display?
  • Who are the users or intended audience?
  • Which display method communicates most effectively and without sacrificing meaningfulness?

In addition to these three essential questions, additional considerations have to be taken into account in order to inform the decision making in the design:

  • What is the message the dashboard communicates?
  • What data and how must the data be presented in order to communicate this message clearly?
  • Should the data be presented for global information processing (images, graphics), or serial processing (text, numbers), or through a combination of both?

Five examples of non-data pixels in dashboard design

The data-ink ratio is a term and design principle coined by Edward Tufte. Tufte refers to the amount of ink required to print points that represent relevant and meaningful data in a graphical display. Data ink in itself is the visual information, the core that represents the data, and that cannot be erased without loss of meaning.