Dashboards As Navigation

When is a dashboard a dashboard? Recently we looked at the Dell IdeaStorm Dashboard and one of the comments was “How is this a dashboard? It might be a portal, but all it does is list links of other things to go look at. It actually contains precious little real information.” If you bring up that dashboard example, you’ll see that the dashboard consists of a panel of portlets with text and links. Here’s a small screenshot. Click the thumbnail of the dashboard to enlarge it to see the detail.

This Dell IdeaStorm Dashboard consists of text descriptions and links.

This Dell IdeaStorm Dashboard consists of text descriptions and links.

That comment got me to thinking. Is there such a thing as a “real” dashboard? What makes something a dashboard?

I personally have always considered navigation as a legitimate goal of a dashboard. By categorizing information into the various “buckets”, a dashboard consisting of text and links does add value. It summarizes information and leads to further analysis. Summary information can definitely be enough to encourage action.

The Dell dashboard shown above has a mix of “real information” along with links. It shows a line of a particular suggestion and other data values. What about a dashboard that has just links? Will it still offer value?

Let’s take a look at AgencyTool’s Web Design Dashboard. It is a dashboard of resource links. There is categorization of topics via the use of portlets. You can hover over the links and get a synopsis of the resource that the link will take you to, but the intent of this dashboard is clearly that of a navigation device.

The screengrab of the dashboard is big, so click on the thumbnail below to enlarge the dashboard.

An Example of a Navigation Dashboard. Do you consider this a "real" dashboard?

Here is a closeup of the hover over / tool tip technique to provide information about the link destination.

Hover over links on the dashboard to see the destination details

So the question is this:

While a dashboard is clearly a design paradigm that can be leveraged for the clarity that it can bring as a visual design pattern, must one have business metrics on it to be considered a business dashboard? Isn’t a dashboard layout simply enough to qualifiy it as a “real” dashboard?

My own thinking is that navigation and categorization can bring plenty of value to business users and that our definition of business dashboards must also include dashboards as a visual design pattern. Many custom applications being built today have a “dashboard” tab on it that acts both as a summary of key information and as a drill-down starting point / navigation panel.

I say that this example is indeed a “dashboard”. What do you think?

Tags: Definition of Dashboard, Dashboards as a Design Pattern

7 thoughts on “Dashboards As Navigation

  1. I still say it’s not a dashboard, I don’t care what they call it. It is a hierarchical list of links, which apparently direct the user to other pages of links. While it may be a valuable navigation aid, it does not show me any data.

  2. I’m with Jon on this one.

    The alternative is that “anything on a computer screen is a dashboard” and we’ll have to come up with a name for these information visualisation systems that we use, then that too will get misused and it will still be impossible to have any degree of clear meaning or definition.

  3. Its a dashboard – it acts both as a summary of key information and as a drill-down starting point / navigation panel – which is a function of multi-layered dashboards.
    All of the dashboards I have desgned & published over teh last two years use the same basic concept – here is the data and this link takes you further into it. I think that it is irrelevant whether the content is text or numeric – it shoud tell the stakeholder some informaiton.

  4. For sure I agree with Dashboard Pete that a dashboard can have either visual components such as graphs or text-only content. Many dashboards that I design have portlets containing text lists or data tables. These are valid representations of “real” information.

    I would go even further and say that this example is also a dashboard – even though it only contains links to resources. It uses the dashboard design pattern and is a visual categorization and presentation of information. Granted, it doesn’t give business management information, but I consider it a dashboard none the less.


  5. Yes, if a dashboard is defined as something that points you to information then it is, but that’s actually the definition of a table of contents.

    A dashboard fulfils an important function – it tells you what is happening.

    A table of contents does not tell you what is happening.

    It is not about whether the information is textual, it’s about the fact that the links page in the example gives no information that is either qualitative or quantitative.

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