Dashboard designer and SAS/GRAPH expert Robert Allison walks us through the thinking behind his latest dashboard – a sales throughput dashboard complete with LED meters. Thank you Robert!
Your readers may recall Stephen Few’s comments and his opinion that the display was poor :
“Enormous effort was dedicated to the creation of display widgets that look like controls that you might find on an old electronic control board, such as one for mixing sound. Most of the measures were designed to look like LED (liquid emitting diode) meters, with tall stacks of green, yellow, or red light horizontal bands of light set in a framework of burnished metal. Old audio mixers used LED meters because that was the state of the art, the best that technology could offer at the time, but a computer screen is capable of displays that are light years beyond and much easier to read than LED meters.”
Being a part-time DJ, with lots of audio equipment that has LED-meters – this “poor” dashboard always caught my eye, and I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to try to do a “decent” version of a dashboard that uses these retro LED-meters (with SAS/Graph, of course!). Well, I finally got around to it!
Hopefully my version is visually captivating *and* conveys the data in a fairly decent manner. You can try it out at http://robslink.com/SAS/democd37/throughput.htm.
Once I got into it, I found that the LED-meters aren’t really that bad a design. They’re actually a lot like a bullet graph. For example the red & yellow lines are like the ‘range’ colors behind the bullet bars, and the lighted section is like the bar (especially in my slightly-modified version). And, if I really wanted, I could add a “target” marker, making it even more like a bullet graph.
Here are my specific improvements, which hopefully make this an acceptable dashboard:
- Per the LED-meters … I made the lighted section of the LED-meters a *lot* brighter, and made it where you can distinctly see that the lighted section is a bar chart ‘bar’. Also, it took quite a bit of scrutinizing the values to determine that all the bars across the page were to the same scale, and that the scale went from 0-1000. Therefore, I added an axis to the left, showing the min & max values to make this more obvious.
- Rather than using a gauge to show the total number of orders, I just write the total number where the gauge was (and I write it *really* big!) This way, you can easily see that number, from many feet away (this could be useful if the dashboard is on display for a group, rather than being looked at by one user on their own screen).
- I couldn’t read the text in the original dashboard very easily (maybe it was a resized screen-capture?), so I made mine larger, with larger/bolder text.
- And, in case you still can’t read the values printed above the LED-meter bars, I added html charttip/hover-text so you can see the exact value that way. (I also added drilldown capability to the bars, although I don’t have any more-detailed data to really drill down to.) And in case you don’t know what ‘Jeop.’ means … you can hover over that bar, and find that this is the number of Orders that are in “Jeopardy” … html charttips are kinda handy!
- Rather than cluttering the dashboard with visually distracting select lists (and a rotary knob to select a time ‘period’ … which seems redundant with the select list for choosing beginning/ending date), I merely print the selected values on the dashboard, and let the user click on any of those values to take them to the selection screen to let them change those values.
- Why does a dashboard need an analog clock (with no numbers) cluttering the bottom/right? … I will assume that most Windows users have a clock somewhere on their screen, if they want one (personally, I keep the default digital clock at the bottom/right of my screen).
- And, rather than using a “burnished metal” look with reflective shading, I went with simpler solid colors. And I used black, rather than shades of dark green – this way, I have a higher contrast with the white text, making it easier to read, and there is no confusion between green LED bars and a green background.
Tags: SAS/GRAPH Dashboard, Sales Dashboard, Order Throughput Dashboard, LED Meter Dashboards