Quiz Results Dashboard

Business intelligence dashboards are usually serious affairs, with plenty of ominous red lights, tons of squiggly lines and stuffy disclaimers in tiny text. So, it’s always nice when a Dashboard Spy reader sends in a dashboard with a bit of whimsy.

Aaron Lyon (monkeymatic.com) is a skilled designer that was tasked to provide a leaderboard that tracked the results of a quiz. He came up with a design for a real-time scoreboard that is both entertaining and intuitive.

A software company held a sales kickoff conference where 300 sales reps submitted SMS messages via mobile phones to answer quiz questions. Points were tallied by an administrator and entered into an HTML admin screen. The data was displayed on a real-time results dashboard that was shown on large video screens at the conference. Aaron leveraged a “Grand Prix Leaderboard” motif to great effect as you see here:

Quiz Results Leaderboard

The Formula 1 cars move across the screen as the results are received and tallied. A fun dashboard!

Tags: dashboard design, Survey results dashboard, flash dashboard, excel dashboard.

Bling My Dashboard

Here’s a proposal for a new dashboarding technique that lets your dashboard users control the amount of “eye candy” that they see on thier dashboards and scorecards. How about a “bling” button that you can use to “turn up” the graphic volume of your business dashboards? Imagine being able to toggle back and forth between a minimally styled chart and a more lavish approach to graphing?

The idea comes from SAS dashboarding guru, Robert Allison, who has done some unique work in this area. Take a look at these two versions of his Oil Refinery Production dashboard. Note the “Bling Button” at the top of these dashboards that you use to toggle the amount of eye candy. Robert’s commentary follows the charts.

This is the dashboard eye candy version of the graphs:

Business Intelligence Dashboard with Eye Candy

If the eye candy is too much for you, just click the “Un-bling My Dashboard” button!

Dashboard without bling

Robert sent in the following as an explanation. Click on the “Read More” link to view the rest of this post.
Continue reading

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

A Beautiful Dashboard Journey

Business dashboard projects are often journeys rather than simple implementations. It’s a journey through a world of choices between the right metrics, the technologies, the data collection challenges and data visualization techniques. Sometimes it feels to us dashboard designers that BI is an exotic land in which our challenge is to find (or create) the right path for our users.

Enjoy the journey of exploration of your business intelligence choices, because, as I hope you agree, it’s the most rewarding part. As Don Williams Jr (American novelist and poet) said, “The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”

You don’t have to take the journey alone. There are plenty of us out in the world of business intelligence visualization that can help guide you. Maybe our advice can smooth your way. The gems that we share perhaps can save you fruitless trips down the wrong paths and steer you away from problem areas. This has been the goal of The Dashboard Spy’s efforts to document business dashboards as I come across them out in the wild. I hope my efforts have helped.

Sometimes we meet fellow travellers on our journeys of discovery that act so graciously and share information of such value that we should stop everyone else and tell them at once about what we’ve found. The purpose of today’s post is to do exactly that.

Tim Wilson, aka Gilligan, has put together a series of three wonderful posts that detail his year-long journey of envisioning, researching, designing and building a corporate dashboard for his company to use in performance management. Everyone involved in business intelligence dashboards must read this tale of a beautiful dashboard journey in which Tim so carefully details his discoveries and shares the struggles and rewards of his dashboard design efforts.

  1. Dashboard Design: An Iterative Tale Part 1
  2. Dashboard Design: An Iterative Tale Part 2
  3. Dashboard Design: An Iterative Tale Part 3

Of course, I said earlier that the journey and not the destination should be the focus, but let me jump right to the destination and show you the screenshot of where Tim ended up. It’s an Excel Dashboard created with Excel 2003 without any addons.

Excel 2003 Dashboard

Here are a couple of observations from Tim:

Some of the keys that make this work:

  • Heavy focus on Few’s Tufte-derived “data-pixel ratio” –- asking the question for everything on the dashboard: “If it’s not white space, does it have a real purpose for being on the dashboard?” And, only including elements where the answer is, “Yes.”
  • Recognition that all metrics aren’t equal –- I seriously beefed up the most critical, end-of-the-day metrics (almost too much – there’s a plan for the one bar chart to be scaled down in the future once a couple other metrics are available)
  • The exact number of what we did six months ago isn’t important -– I added sparklines (with targets when available) so that the only specific number shown is the month-to-date value for the metric; the sparkline shows how the metric has been trending relative to target
  • Pro-rating the targets -– it made for formulas that were a bit hairier, but each target line now assumes a linear growth over the course of the month; the target on Day 5 of a 30-day month is 1/6 of the total target for the month
  • Simplification of alerts -– instead of red/yellow/green…we went to red/not red; this really makes the trouble spots jump out.

Be sure to spend some time with each of Tim’s 3 posts. They contain lots of lessons learned.

Tim – thanks for the great effort. This is a wonderful tale of a beautiful dashboard journey. I’m adding you to top of The Dashboard Spy’s Big List of Dashboard Experts.

Tags: Excel Dashboard, Sparklines, Excel Dashboard Design, Data Visualization, Corporate Dashboards

The Uber Art of Dashboards

The “art of dashboards”? Sounds trite and a stretch, but let the Dashboard Spy explain. We’ve heard it said that art is the expression of ideas, right? That it is a form of communication between people. One in which the artist understands and uses to his or her advantage the sensibilities of the audience to both inform opinion and shape ideas.

Well, that certainly sounds like what we do every day with business intelligence, doesn’t it? Business dashboards have the ability to not only to report metrics and KPIs, but to do so in a manner that shapes opinion, influences action and strikes varying tones of urgency. BI metrics may be cut and dry (and that is a debatable statement), but the communication of the meaning of the metrics is an art.

Business dashboarding is a highly visual medium. One that relies on basic human perceptions and principles of cognition. It is also an information-dense medium, in which the nuances of information presentation are tied closely with the ability of the dashboard designers to competently capture and express the metrics and their meaning. A screen full of icons, red/green/yellow indicators, pie charts, bar graphs, blinking alerts and data tables may only obfuscate the true message when presented wrong. We’ve all seen poorly designed dashboards that assault the business user to the point of numbness.

The reason I’m on this riff on the art of dashboards is because of some very interesting materials that a Dashboards By Example reader shared with me. Want to see some artifacts of a dashboard design team that clearly knows the art of expression through a business dashboard? Thanks to Andres, the solution architect at UberBI, a start-up company that produces business dashboards, we have this look at some wireframes, screenshots and even an interactive demo.

Take a look at this great hand-drawn wireframe:

business dashboard wireframe from Uber

And here’s an example of a final look and feel of the interface:

Sales Dashboard - Flash Dashboards from Uber

Gorgeous work, isn’t it?

We’ll detail some of the project infromation but first, let’s take a look at more project artifacts:

Continue reading

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:

Continue reading