Scorecards and Dashboards – Is there a Difference?

Is there really a difference between a scorecard and a dashboard? I’m of the opinion that it’s only a matter of syntax or semantics. I think that dashboard is a wonderful term that includes all manners of scorecards, performance measurements and other sorts of at-a-glance kpi and metric info.

But I do get the point that the term dashboard has become somewhat diluted. I always point out the term “Dashboard” will become the “Homepage” replacement. I can’t think of anything better than a dashboard to put on the homepage. What software application wouldn’t benefit from having a dashboard as homepage?

One person that takes the viewpoint that there is indeed a difference between “dashboard” and “scorecard” wrote an article titled “WHAT IS the Difference Between Performance Management Scorecards and Dashboards?” You can view it here.

Here is the illustration they use. Take a look at this simple health dashboard:

health performance dashboard

Here is what they use it to illustrate:

Imagine that we have a dashboard that displays 3 health metrics: weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol for the person below. Let’s call him healthy Henry. A well designed dashboard can be an extremely powerful and critical tool for any business. However, there are limitations. We can see Henry’s weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol, but we have no context to put it in. We don’t know if the numbers are bad or good. OK, we know they are pretty bad; but are they bad for Henry? We also don’t know if they are trending up or down, or if there is a target number and how close or far from that target Henry is. It’s possible that Henry is improving or simply staying the same. It is also impossible to derive exactly where the problems are coming from. This is the problem with a dashboard, there is no context.

Performance management scorecards look at the world differently. A performance scorecard is a representation of the progress over time. The key difference is that they provide context into where the metric comes from, using something called a KPI (key performance indicator.) KPIs can be stand-alone numbers or calculations derived from other numbers. The important factor is that they show the user not just the “What’” but the “How” and “Why.” Let’s go back to Henry and look at his Scorecard.


We can see how well Henry is doing this week relative to last week and overall relative to his goal. For example, Henry only ate 14 burgers this week, compared to 18 last week. Although he has not yet reached his goal of only 5 burgers per week, we can see from the green color coding under “progress” that he is improving. However Henry was called into his son’s principal’s office 4 times this week, which is worse than last week, thus the red color code.

This chart also illustrates which KPI inputs into which metric on the dashboard. For example Burgers Eaten affects Weight and Cholesterol, while Yoga affects Weight and Blood Pressure. In this manner, a health manager, or any manager, can use these tools to decide which metrics are important to the desired outcome.

kpi metrics scorecard

Now apply this to a business. For example, the manager of a customer service operations might care about Productivity and Quality. KPIs that could be used as determining factors include throughput (# of items processed/calls taken), adherence to schedule (% time in production vs. schedule), and items flagged for rework (not done correctly the first time.)

In this way, a manager can make better management decisions by focusing on the KPIs that matter. Then the manager can use the Dashboard for period check-ins, and the Performance Management Scorecard for more strategic decisions. When Dashboards and Scorecards are used correctly, the health of the business, and Henry, can improve.

So, what do you think? I like the story about Henry, but I’m not really sure it makes the point of there being a real difference between scorecard and dashboard. To me, a dashboard can indeed contain performance measures shown over time. Look at the hundreds of successful dashboard examples found on the Dashboard Spy blog.

Free Chart Icons for Your Business Intelligence Dashboard

Chart and Graph Icons

Click here for some very attractive (and free) icons for use in your business intelligence applications.

There’s nothing like cheesy icons and graphics to spoil the professional look of your dashboard. Give the icons some thought and use well.

Here’s a tip: Try to use icons from the same icon set to ensure a unified look. If you have to go outside of the set of icons, be sure to select ones that are complimentary in some way. It could be color or perspective or other trait. Just make sure that all your icons look like they belong together.

Good luck with your dashboard design.

Identifying Fonts

Sometimes during the design of dashboards and other business intelligence systems we find ourselves puzzling over what a certain type font is. Perhaps a client gives us an existing logo or graphic and we need to update something in it. Our preference is always to preserve the look and feel if possible and so we try and locate the exact font that was used.

I wanted to share in this post the “What the Font” resource that has become famous for helping people figure out exactly what the font is going on. It’s available at this url:

Be sure to take a look at the hints about how to format the image for best results.

Hope you graphic artists working on enterprise software projects find this helpful!

Hubert Lee
The Dashboard Spy

Data Visualization Student Challenge

I just came across this data visualization contest held by the U.S. Department of Transportation. I missed the whole thing. Did any of you hear about this? The idea was very interesting. Too bad it didn’t receive more publicity.

Check it out at:

It’s worth visiting the site and looking at the finalists and winners.

Here’s a quick snapshot of a couple of the entries.

Our business intelligence dashboard tax dollars at work!

Hubert Lee
The Dashboard Spy

Design Elements for Dashboard Applications

Available as a free download for a limited time, the “Inspire” Backend Admin Template is presented as a PSD (photoshop) file. Even if you can’t personally open a PSD file, you should download this very helpful template for your development team or user interface designer. They’ll love you for it.

Here’s the link:

And here’s some screenshots of the graphic design elements the UI Kit contains:

Displaying Dashboard Screenshots with Lightbox Popups

Screenshots of business dashboards are heavily used in dashboard documentation such as help files and user documentation. Especially with business intelligence dashboards, a picture is worth 1000 words of description. With all that goes on with complex dashboard layouts and screen regions, there is simply no way to describe a dashboard screen without the use of screen capture.

Take a look at this layout and note the use of a lightbox-based technology to pop up large dashboard screenshots when you click on the matching thumbnail. Use this link to give it a try for yourself.

Dashboard thumbnail popups

dashboard screenshot popup

I rather like this design solution and how it lets you browse to what you want while using minimal space. The large “plus sign” graphic works well to inform the user that they should click on the image to magnify it. I could also see the use of a magnifying glass icon instead of the plus sign.

Of course this design solution is suitable for screen-based this place and not paper-based support documents or paper-based manuals.

No Nonsense Color Guide

Dashboard Spy Resource Tip: The No Nonsense Guide to Using The Right Colors. (Via Kajabi)

This handy guide to color usage comes from the folks at Kajabi. They claim that research reveals that 93% of our decision-making comes from how something looks. 85% of that group say that “color” is the reason they chose a certain product.

I find these guidelines to be a good summary of color characteristics.

Check out the graphic below.

If you want a higher resolution version for your reference, use this link:

The Meaning of Colors

no nonsense guide to using the right color

Dashboard Design Reference

Dashboard Spy Readers: This excellent design reference makes a great crash course in user interface design for business dashboard applications. I’ll show you where to download it but first let me share the table of contents:

  • Human Factors: The Theory Behind Interface Design
  • Design Principles
  • Advance Organizers
  • Affordances
  • Chunking
  • Aesthetic – Usability Effect
  • Physical Constraints
  • Psychological Constraints
  • Entry Point
  • Figure-Ground Relationship
  • Fitts’ Law
  • Hick’s Law
  • Flexibility-Usability Tradeoff
  • Navigation Hierarchies
  • Hierarchy of Needs
  • Interface Design
  • Schneiderman’s Rules for Interface Design
  • The Myth of the Metaphor
  • Images
  • Perception
  • Gestalt Laws of Organization
  • Color Theory
  • Color Applied
  • Graphic Design
  • Light Source
  • The Phi Ratio (Golden Mean)
  • Language and Fonts

Download the guide here: Dashboard Design Reference

Dashboard Design Reference

Here’s a snippet of the excellent content:

Human Factors: the Theory Behind Interface Design

The study of human interaction with technology, known as “Human Factors,” approaches design issues based on the use, rather than the potential, of the end product. By using principles determined through this study of Human Factors to guide their interface designs, designers can focus on what the client needs, rather than what the technology will allow. This is important because the control interface is the point of access to the AV system and the most critical element in determining success.

The study of Human Factors stems from three fundamental “laws”.

Moore’s Law: The growth of technology is a function of time; there will be more technology tomorrow than there is today.

Buxton’s Law of Promised Functionality: The functionality promised by technology will grow proportionally with Moore’s Law; there is going to be more functionality promised or offered tomorrow, than there is today.

God’s Law (Buxton’s interpretation): Human capacity is limited and does not increase over time; our neurons do not fire faster, our memory doesn’t increase in capacity, and we do not learn or think faster as time progresses. In fact, for individuals the opposite is true (Buxton 2001).

The interpretation of these “laws” is best described by Human Factors’ proponent and author, Alan Cooper, who concludes that when we combine a computer with anything, we create yet another computer with even greater complexity (Cooper 1999). While engineers may increase features to remain competitive, the human capacity to control technology remains constant and limited. This paper reviews some of the philosophies embraced by Human Factors’ proponents, expands upon their guidelines and extrapolates applicable elements to AV control interface design.

Check out the reference.

Hubert Lee
The Dashboard Spy