We experience dashboards with information every day in different applications that we use. Have you seen a scoreboard that looked hideous? Have you met one who has not informed you, the spectator, but confused you about what he is trying to say? Or have you seen one that attracted you because of its visual appeal and informative character? In these moments, you’ve probably thought about what makes a dashboard efficient or inefficient.
In this article, we discuss some of the key ideas that data visualization experts have shared on dashboards in the hope that it will help you recognize a good dashboard from a bad one. And when you create dashboards, the policies here help you communicate with dashboards more efficiently.
Definition of a dashboard by Stephen Few
Let’s start with defining what a dashboard is. Stephen Few, the leading expert on information Dashboards, defines a Dashboard as follows:
“A Dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives; consolidated and organized on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance.”- Stephen Few, Information Dashboard Design: effective visual data communication.
Now it’s a bite. Let’s distill it to the most important words:
- Visual display – this does not mean that all dashboards must have graphics. A dashboard can be just as effective with text information in the form of KPIs. However, all dashboards are seen by people, and a good understanding of human visual perception is important when creating dashboards.
- Most Important Information-Dashboards that follow banal and unnecessary information are doomed to failure even before someone consults them. All dashboards show the information that interests the viewer.
- Goals-each Dashboard has a goal. Whether it’s informing a viewer, getting them to take an action, or initiating an automated action in another application, there’s a goal.
- Single screen-this is questionable in today’s mobile world, where screen sizes vary from small smartphones to large mural screens. Nevertheless, the idea of presenting information succinctly is true.
- At a glance-a dashboard should not let the viewer jump through hoops to understand what he has to say. He must present the information clearly and invite the viewer to explore more if he wishes.
Here’s a dashboard from Stephen Few that’s a great example of what an effective dashboard looks like:
Let’s now move on to the process of creating an efficient dashboard. Let’s start with the discussion of what are the three types of dashboards.
Dashboards for different target groups
One way to classify dashboards is by the audience for which they are intended. Accordingly, dashboards can be divided into three types:
- Executive Dashboards – also known as “Strategic dashboards”, these dashboards are consulted by the management of an organization. Their goal is to inform managers about how a company follows its strategic goals. You answer the question ” How are we as an organization?’It is common for these dashboards to have the most important KPIs indicators, in addition to some charts with historical data, to give KPIs context. Based on what the KPI numbers are, executives can
You want to drill to collect more Details about the situation. Due to the hierarchy of data, it is important that these dashboards follow Ben Shneiderman’s mantra: “first preview, zoom and filter, then details on request.”
- Analytical Dashboards-Analytical dashboards are used by business analysts who focus on acquiring knowledge from data. The analyst examines historical data to identify trends and reasons for performance fluctuations. They also try to predict future performance based on a variety of internal and external factors. The analyst who looks at these dashboards asks the question ” How can we achieve and exceed organizational goals?’Analysts using these dashboards are equipped with special training, so analytical dashboards need to include advanced interactive features that allow them to benefit more from the data. It follows that these Dashboards are not used by all employees.
- Operational Dashboards these Dashboards are used by industry managers and employees in the first line. It helps employees of a particular department be aware of goals for the team and for the company. He answers the question ” Do we follow the goals of our department for today?’Operational dashboards contain only a subset of a company’s data that is relevant to the ongoing work. Due to the focus of these dashboards, they often contain low latency and even real-time data. Because of their importance in fulfilling everyday tasks, operational dashboards should be able to explore the most detailed details.
Dashboards for different departments
Since a dashboard must contain the “most important information”, it is important to define which information is most important for a particular service. Here are some important steps for specific departments:
- Manufacturing-manufactured units, units by product type, unit cost, scheduled orders, plant waste.
- Sales-Leads, won offers, Lost offers, Average transaction value, Average transaction time, Sales per person, Sales per region, Sales per product.
- Marketing-awareness, visits, downloads, Leads, cost per Lead, cost of customer acquisition, bounce rate.
- Support-Total number of tickets, open tickets, average turnaround time (TAT), Customer satisfaction (C-SAT), tickets solved in SLA, closed tickets per person, % of first answer problems fixed.
- HR attrition rate, Interview completion rate, Average hiring time,vacancies by department, payroll.
These measures serve as guidelines for what could be most important for each department. However, before you create a dashboard, you need to take the time to figure out what’s important to the viewer of your dashboard.
Now that we know what a Dashboard is, what types of Dashboards, and which metrics they contain, let’s look at one of the most important design principles that can create a Dashboard or break.
There are many principles that need to be observed when creating dashboards, but if there is one that is different from the others, then it is the principle of the data ink report
The data-ink ratio is a concept introduced by Edward Tufte, one of the leading experts in the field of data visualization. In his 1983 book the Visual Display of Quantitative Information, he says “ ” a large part of the ink on a diagram should represent data information, with the ink changing as the data changes. The data-ink is the non-erasable core of a graph, the non-redundant ink arranged in response to the variation of the figures presented.”
Below is an example of the same data presented with two diagrams-one with a low data-ink ratio and the other with a high ratio. You will find that the one with a high data-ink ratio is much more attractive and the story behind the data communicates more clearly.
With dashboards, just like with websites, less is more.
Armed with this insight, you are now ready to use effective dashboards to solve the problems rather than confuse viewers.
Do you often create dashboards with information? Which ideas have the biggest impact on your dashboards?