Big Dashboard Alerts

How prominent should alerts be on our business intelligence dashboards? One might be tempted to say right away that alerts and alarms should always be as big as possible. Well, keep in mind that digital dashboards are challenged to reflect the shades of grey that exist in the business and political environments in which they are built. We have to balance between the “Did you know?” advisories, the “Better check this out.” alarm, and the “OMG, shut down the reactor!” error alert.

Digital dashboards are small canvases that reflect the daily mayhem of our businesses. The more we jam onto that canvas, the harder it is to notice any one thing in particular. Will we notice little alert icons on our busy dashboards?

Does this mean we should put less on our dashboards? Recently, I’ve been installing apps on my iPhone and have noticed the very different approaches to using the screen space.

Here is a screenshot of a one-button application. The screen is literally filled with one big action button:

one button application

Imagine a big honking red alert icon that comes up on your dashboard when you need to stop what your’re doing and tend to an emergency situation. Too “big” for my taste, but you get the point.

Of course, we have to get into the business of parsing the subtleties behind various alert levels. For a humorous look at dashboard alerts, check out this video. Click on the image to go over to Dashboards.TV to see the video.

Dashboard Alerts Video

Isn’t that a great video?

Here is a good post about dashboard alerts from the smart folks at Juice Analytics:

Dashboard Alerts Checklist

Here are some icons for your use in creating “big” dashboard alerts.

Red BallGreen BallYellow BallGrey BallBlue Ball

Red SquareGreen SquareYellow SquareGrey SquareBlue Square

Red TriangleGreen TriangleYellow TriangleGrey TriangleBlue Triangle

Tags: Dashboard Alert icons

When a Dashboard Goes Red

Dashboard Design Topic: Using Colors for Business Dashboard Alerts

You hear about a problem so you log on to your business dashboard looking for red alerts among your KPIs and metrics. Not an uncommon use case, right? Your dashboard should clearly alert you to the conditions most requiring attention. Well, let’s spend this post talking about how to display alert conditions.

First off, think about the “heirarchy of alerts” that exist in your organization. There are, of course, the low-level everyday advisory types of alerts. “Did you know?” style alerting includes announcements and reminders such as service advisories. Then there are more of the health status indications. These are what we think of when we want to report on the state of KPIs and metrics. The real challenge here is to design the alerts such that they stand out on your busy dashboard.

We’ll address some of the principles behind the effective design of alerts, but first I’d like you to visit this post for a humorous look at the idea of the “heirarchy of alerts“.

Getting back to designing alerts on dashboards, take a look at the “Red Alerts” in this graphic below. There are 7 of them:

Dashboard Icons Picking out the Red Alerts

Now take a look at the 7 Red Alerts in this graphic:

Easy to Pick out the Red Alerts

This visual design exercise simply shows that when you reduce visual “noise”, the “signal” becomes much easier to understand.

Let’s illustrate this principal with a great example contributed by Dashboard Spy reader Mike Gaffney, a talented software architect and dashboard designer at BoxTone, a company that monitors mobile application service levels. In his blog post titled The BoxTone Dashboard and the Blackberry Outage, Mike shares his view that dashboards must use strong color values only to indicate alert states:

If you quickly glance at the dashboard in its normal state (version 1) and the dashboard in its “alert” state (version 2), you should immediately notice that version 2 stands out more. It stands out more because of the careful and restrained use of colors.

Unlike many other dashboards, the BoxTone Dashboard uses highly saturated colors only when there is a problem. Edward Tufte’s, Envisioning Information (1990), has a chapter entitled “Color and Information” which provides an excellent overview on the use of color. When everything is normal, the BoxTone Dashboard looks, well … normal.

Our users are highly intelligent people. They do not need bright green check marks to make them feel good about themselves. They bought BoxTone to tell them when something is wrong. And when something is wrong, they want to know what it is and quickly!

A single bright red dot on a calm page screams out and demands the user’s immediate attention. On February 11, 2008 (date of the RIM Blackberry Outage), this technique is what allowed our users to know instantly that the problem was a global one.

Here are some screenshots showing what Mike is talking about.

Here is the BoxTone dashboard in it’s normal state. Click on the dashboard screenshot to enlarge the dashboard.

boxtone blackberry monitoring dashboard

Now take a look at the dashboard in an alert condition:

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