Dashboard Eye Candy

Yes, I know that good information visualization practice and dashboard design calls for effective use of screen real estate with clear and simple devices such as sparklines and bullet graphs. Easy to read and interpret, these charts, combined with a monotone color scheme (after all, we have to keep the mind on the data and use color sparingly to call attention to the errant metric and the wayward KPI!), have become a “best practice” design for data-heavy business dashboards.

Take a look at this sparkline dashboard (designed by Stephen Few and featured in his book Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data and implemented by Andreas Lipphardt of BonaVista – see “An Excel-based IT Dashboard) and you’ll recognize “the look”.

And see also the sales dashboard (also designed by Few and discussed in his book – this version implemented by Robert Allison using SAS/GRAPH).

Excel Dashboard for CIO

Stephen Few Sales Dashboard by Robert Allison

Yes, these information dashboards are packed with great data visualizations and make effective use of the dashboard layout. Gratituitous graphics are minimized. Utility and user understanding of the meaning of the information is maximized.

But, heck, don’t you ever get tired of the flatness and just sometimes want to ogle a shiny, big-ass 3D gauge like this one?

Dashboard Gauge by XtraGauge

In the mood for some more in this vein? Here are some more digital instrumentation/gauge style dashboard interface elements:

Dashboard Gauge by Dundas

Gauge by Dundas

Assortment of dot net Dashboard Gauges (see more dashboard dials, gauges and charts for .Net from Perpetuumsoft)

The question is when to choose what level of eye candy for dashboards. Is it always “wrong” to go with the shiny gizmo? How about when the project sponsor says “Make the gauges bigger”?

Is the answer to take a blended approach as Dundas does in this HR metrics dashboard? Does this strike the proper balance?

dundas dashboard for HR metrics

Update: The comments posted regarding balancing eye candy with information visualization best practices set me off on a search for a product that I saw a while back. Click on the more link to see what I found:

Here is a video you should watch. While not exactly applicable to dashboard end users, it’s a suite of design tools that have helped clients deal with their graphic design gurus. Maybe we can come up with something like this for dashboard eye candy devotee!


Tags: Striking a balance between the practical and the eye candy, Big Dashboard Gauges, Dashboard Design, Eye Candy vs. Data Visualization

11 thoughts on “Dashboard Eye Candy

  1. Gauges are great in a car. The driver only needs to track a few critical things. They need to watch them constantly, so they are big.

    And there’s the myth. Three gauges allow you to effectively understand what is happening with your car, so people are stupid enough to imagine that four or five gauges might tell them everything they need to know to run their business.

    The problem is that it is a very attractive myth, because let’s face it, who doesn’t want life and work to be easier and more straightforward than it really can be if you’re going to do a good job.

    And that’s why good dashboards get it in the neck – because they tell the truth and they draw attention to exceptions. “Oh look, it looks like running this business is difficult. Let’s blame the computer”.

  2. I’ve lately had the thought that it might be nice to add a button to the dashboard that you can toggle on/off to change the same dashboard between “fancy” (3d/shiny/fancy), and “practical”.

    And then it would be neat to have a way to monitor the dashboards, and see which view was more popular – and maybe monitor it over time to see if people maybe start off with the fancy view, but then over time switch over to the practical view(?)

  3. I used to joke with my programmers that I would add the following business requirement:

    Detect the IP of the dashboard user and if it’s the project sponsor or his team, show the version with the big honking flashing lights that they wanted. Else, show the reasonable version that actually works better.

    Seriously, I’ve had to yield to some rather unreasonable requests from “important” users on the design committee.

    Who else has to design by committee?


  4. Currently in that position.

    Have been asked to duplicate dashboard design so there is a dumbed down one for people who can’t afford to take the time to consider more than one or two factors in their decision making.

  5. The only acceptable “balance” between useful dashboard presentation and eye candy is 100% useful, 0% eye candy.

    If you need to make it simple for some dumb executive, hold the glitter, and simply put the word “Buy” or “Sell” onto a PowerPoint slide.

  6. I know, and I wish that was allowed. Unfortunately we all work for someone, and I find more and more that it is important to choose my battles carefully.

    I think in the case of my company, we’ve got 80% useful, 20% eye candy, where the 20% is use of colour – that’s a philosophical thing – they want to see the green as well as the rest because they want to celebrate the victories.

    I don’t agree, but I understand (let’s face it, with the financial markets the way they are at the moment, any bit of green is good news).

  7. Guys – thanks for your comments. I’ve updated the post with a product I found that you can give to your business users that really want that extra “wow!” in their dashboard designs.

    Finally, the business users can get what they want when they need it!

    Check out the video at the bottom of the post above.

    The Dashboard Spy

  8. That’s a very interesting one – they’ve clearly read and understood the likes of Stephen Few and have taken what he’s said to heart regarding bullet charts, use of colour etc, and yet the big-ass gauges are there for the more “bling” users.

    I’d want a toggle at the top to switch between “useful” and “chavvy”.

    For the Americans, “chav” sums up a lot – for more info, review some of these: http://www.google.co.uk/search?source=ig&hl=en&rlz=&q=chav&meta=

    For those who can’t be bothered and want a translation, try crossing “trailer park” with Vegas.

  9. Pingback: 4 Principles of Digital Dashboard Gauges

  10. Pingback: Gauges for Excel and Powerpoint Dashboards | The Dashboard Spy

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