Dashboard Spy Design Topic: No Eye Candy for the Google Apps Dashboard.
Google’s latest dashboard allows users to monitor the availability of the various Google Apps services such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Calendar, Google Video and Google Talk. The application health status dashboard was launched on February 26, 2009 as part of Google’s effort to increase transparency and communication with users of its Google Apps services.
Let’s take a quick look at the background behind the new Google Apps Dashboard and then focus on some elements of its user interface design.
The release of the Apps Status Dashboard follows the high profile outage of Gmail two days earlier when the email service was down for almost 3 hours. An analyst reported on the public outcry:
“The problem with services like Gmail is that every outage is highlighted in the press, and rightfully so,” said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., in an interview earlier this week. “The companies pitch these services as dependable and easy substitutes for higher-cost alternatives, but a widespread and long-lasting outage like this really hurts that claim. While some people might shrug off a failure like this, it can cause real hardships for some users and have an impact on their lives and businesses.”
In a Google Apps blog post, the rationale behind the Google Apps Status Dashboard was given as:
“We made a commitment last year to increase transparency and communication with Google Apps customers in several ways. We heard your feedback around the need for better communication when issues like Tuesday’s Gmail outage occur. The Google Apps Status Dashboard represents an additional layer of transparency that we believe will be particularly useful for our business users, and it’s also relevant to users of our consumer products.”
Here’s a screenshot of the Google Apps Status Dashboard. Use that link or click on the dashboard screenshot to get to the actual dashboard itself.
As you see, it’s a very straight-forward dashboard design with one main table. Each row represents a Google service with some simple icons indicating application health status. The meaning of four simple icons is displayed via a legend at the bottom of the table. The left most column shows today’s status with the subsequent columns showing the status of the previous 6 days. There is an “Older” link to toggle to last week’s data. Clicking on an icon brings you to a detail page that documents issues specific to the Google App.
Here is the data for Tuesday’s Gmail outage:
And here is a dashboard screen showing problems with Google Calendar:
Getting back to my original purpose for displaying this Google Apps dashboard, let’s take a look at this from the perspective of graphic design. [Click on the “More” link for that discussion]
As I noted in my post titled 5 Dashboard Trends for 2009, one of the hot topics in business intelligence dashboard design will be the continued discussion of the appropriate level of “eye candy” in dashboard design. We’ve had stimulating debates about dashboard eye candy in the past and thought it interesting that the lastest google dashboard argues strongly against gratiutous eye candy in its design.
While it make use of a number of icons, it uses practically no other design elements. Score one for the “no eye candy” crowd?
Google is famous for its lack of enthusiasm for excessive graphic design. Google’s interfaces are famous for their attention to user interface issues, but also notorious for it’s disregard for “decoration”. Check this post on Google’s Graphic Design.
Some points brought up:
Design is not merely decoration, but decoration is a part of design. And that’s the part that Google seems to take little to no interest in.
To be clear: In no way am I arguing that Google puts no thought at all into their user interfaces. To the contrary, clearly, they put an enormous amount of work into keeping their UIs clear and simple, and this work constitutes “design” in several ways. Simple UIs are much harder to design than complicated ones.
And in this excellent post about Google and the Tyranny of Design:
And yet, I think there’s something magnificent about Google’s lack of design. There’s something defiant, almost obtuse about its reluctance to indulge in the sort of oleaginous branding and design that is now the corporate norm. We’ve reached a point, in the homogenized West, where good graphic design is everywhere. The battle has been won: every business knows it needs good design —you don’t have to tell them anymore. It’s enshrined in the business schools, established in the corporate HQs. Even small businesses understand that good design is good for business. It’s a universal truth, like “customer service” and “value for money,” and all the other boardroom nostrums that drive modern commerce.
But the consequence of all this feel-good business is that design has become, more often than not, a badge of mediocrity.
So, what does this mean for dashboard design? Here we have a high-profile company launching a dashboard that clearly continues their design preference of ultra simplicity. Graphics are used only to provide meaning. There is no decoration – no gradients, no spinning icons, not even shaded pie charts.
Does this mean this proves that the low eye candy approach is best practice?
Or does this simply mean that Google can continue to buck the growing eye candy trend and just do what they want?
When it comes to your dashboard project where you have a business sponsor who wants lots of glitz and shiny design, or an IT team with out-of-the-box 3D gradients and Flash transitions and other goodies, do you just sigh and go with the eye candy?
The Dashboard Spy wants to know!
Hubert Lee AKA The Dashboard Spy is looking to increase his LinkedIN connections. Please connect with me to continue the discussion about business intelligence dashboards.