Category Archives: Dashboarding

Everything related to performance & management dashboards.

Recommended reading for December

Recommended reading

December is always an interesting month. Analysts, software companies and journalists post a ton of predictions, reviews and opinions to celebrate the start of the new year. 2012 is not different. Here are a a few posts that I highly recommend reading.

Most influential visualizations

Tableau Software without a doubt knows a lot about data visualization techniques. That’s why I happily viewed one of their new presentations out on Slideshare. It’s called ‘The 5 most influential data visualizations of all time”. Some of the featured visualizations have been discussed by Stephen Few and Edward Tufte, but it’s well worth spending a few minutes reviewing and thinking about how they changed the course of time.

The statisticians at Fox News

Are you ready for some hilarious reading? Well, here it is. The good folks over at the Simply Statistics blog compiled a number of data visualizations that appeared on Fox News (don’t worry – this is NOT about politics). Most of the featured charts are flawed from a technical point of view, but it turns out that they do an excellent job of communicating the intended message (which can be very different from what the actual data says….). Read with a smile but don’t loose focus on the idea that there is an important message! Most of us strive to produce visualizations, dashboards and reports to provide an accurate portrait of reality. But we can also twist this around and do the opposite: confuse and mislead. You might also want to take a quick look at the comment section of that blog entry. That’s where the post starts getting political.

Simply statistics

One of the charts that is being discussed.

Nucleus Top Ten Predictions for 2013

Nucleus is one of those research houses that produces very interesting reports. I don’t always agree with the stuff that they write, but it is certainly amongst the most tangible in the industry. Their 2013 predictions don’t disappoint. And guess what – BI is on top of the list. The remaining predictions represent a mixture of different trends – most of which affect analytics to a certain degree. In any case, the free report is well worth a five minute investment. One of my favorite statements is: “It’s time to make sure HP has signed its organ donor card.” You can download the free report from the Nucleus website.

Nucleus predictions 2013

 

Related Posts:

Inspiration from Stephen Few

Greetings from San Francisco. I am back here to attend Osisoft’s vCampus developer conference. The conference kicked off with a true highlight: Stephen Few delivered one of the keynote presentations. Hopefully, all of you know Stephen and the awesome work he has done over the past years. Today’s presentation was content-rich and also very entertaining. There were a lot of smiling faces in the audience. I will write up a short summary of his messages over the weekend and share it on this blog.

Is this the information age?

Stephen Few started his presentation with a strong statement: We do not live in the information age…..yet. Instead, many of us are drowning in data and we struggle with making sense of the data. Part of the issue is that we are lacking ‘data-sensemaking’ skills. To highlight this point, Stephen Few showed a video. I had never seen it before. It’s funny but there is a strong message behind it: we do not understand how to deliver information properly.

Those concentric circles

Does your organization have a ‘concentric circle’ problem? I certainly know a lot of them. It’s time to change that. Take some time to evaluate whether your reports and dashboards are able to deliver real information.

Concentric circles

“Concentric circles” in the corporate world

 

Check back here in the next few days for a summary of Stephen Few’s presentation.

Related Posts:

Recommended reading: How to convert complex data into a story

The Analytics Communicator

Analytics professionals need to be communicators. Just being technically proficient is longer enough. It is not enough to slap a report or dashboard together on the go. Rather, we have the responsibility to help the business get information out of their data. This is especially true as data volumes continue to grow.  I wrote about this in a recent blog post.

The question though is how to best do this. Earlier this week, I came across an excellent blog post by web analytics guru Avinash Kaushik. His November 5th post provides a detailed example of how to convert a complex data set into a compelling story. I highly encourage you to spend some time reading this inspiring blog post.

 

Avinash Kaushik

 

 

Related Posts:

A few thoughts about gauge charts

Gauge charts

A few days ago, I had a discussion about gauge charts. A colleague and I had reviewed a collection of operational dashboards. Some of them contained large sets of gauge charts. Those dashboards were the most ineffective. At the risk of repeating myself, here are some thoughts about gauge charts.

  • Gauge charts are not necessarily very effective at communicating information. Other chart types such as bar or bullet graphs are usually easier to read.
  • Gauge charts waste a lot of space. Dashboards should not require a user to scroll through its content. That would require them to use more working memory than we have. We therefore need to utilize the limited space we have in the most effective manner. Given the fact the gauges are not superior to other charts, why waste so much space.

Take a look at this example. Three of those bar charts fit into the space that is occupied by the gauge. Is the gauge more effective than the bar? I don’t think so. (By the way, the yellow lines indicate the range of the value.)

gauge chart

Two charts. Both convey the same information. Which one do you prefer?

Why then?

Most analytics professionals would probably agree with me that gauges are not that great. But why do we see them in so many dashboards then? I think the answer is pretty simple: People want to see them! The general level of knowledge about data visualization is still relatively low. Managers are therefore inclined to pick the chart types that look cool. Unfortunately, too many analytics professionals still shy away from pushing back on those requirements or they also lack knowledge. The lack of knowledge is also responsible that most software vendors feature gauges in their marketing materials (customers are asking for them).

Education

It’s up to us analytics professionals to educate business users about gauge charts. Let’s start that process today! Also, look at your dashboards. Where do you have the ability to clean them up?

 

Related Posts:

5 lessons for using dashboard colors appropriately – Part 2

Selecting dashboard colors

Last week, I wrote about the role of colors in photographs. A lot of the insights apply to the design of solid management dashboards and reports. Color choice does make a huge difference. So, let’s apply the ideas from the prior post and apply them to your performance dashboards, charts and reports:

Lesson 1 – Do we need colour?

Colors are nice. But do we really need them all the time? Many photographs are even more powerful in black and white. The lack of colors helps with accentuating the important things. Why not apply this to our dashboards and reports? Take a look at the example below. It works quite well without colors. (Keep in mind that color blind people would prefer this version.)

Cognos 10 Dashboard

Simple, concise, focused, uncluttered….I love this Cognos 10 sales dashboard

Lesson 2 – Avoid unintended messaging

Colors do send a signal. Red, for example, indicates something powerful or a potential danger. However, too many dashboards are designed without this basic idea in mind. Colors are often applied carelessly.  Take a look at the example below. I showed this basic chart to several controllers. Guess what they said: “Something must be wrong with the Northern region.” The red bars seem to indicate that there is something wrong here (red). And wait…there is also some good news (green).

Is there something wrong with the North?

If we apply lesson 1, we get the following chart. The new version is a lot easier to digest and it does not send signals that it shouldn’t.

No, just the usual revenue reporting.

So, make sure to use colors with the right intent. Reserve colors like red, green and yellow to indicate important items.

LESSON 3 – USE PALETTES

A dashboard or a report should be pleasing to the eye. People don’t like working with ugly things. Design matters. If you want to use colors, think about using pre-configured color palettes. Most BI packages have a bunch of pre-configured options (heck…we can even use the super-ugly Excel 97 scheme).  That is usually better than creating your own color scheme. You might want to stay away from some of the brighter options. These are quite distracting.

A few Cognos 10 palettes

LESSON 4 – AVOID SENSORY OVERLOAD

Too much color is not good. Look at this simple example below. Everything is color-coded. This is too much. I personally find it very hard to look at these types of tables.

Colorful dashboard

We can reduce the colors to deliver a better experience. Let’s just highlight those items that require our attention. Much better, huh? Keep in mind – this is just a simple example. Imagine a larger color-explosion dashboard. Not pretty. When designing a report or dashboard we should think about the rule ‘Less is more’.

Color coded table

LESSON 5 – People do like colors

Much has been written about the use of colors in dashboards. Many people argue that the simple black and white approach is the most effective one (see the example above). I personally like that style as it helps me focus on the content. However, experience has shown that inexperienced business users do not necessarily go for that style. I have worked with various executives who demanded ‘something more colorful’. From a change management perspective, I am therefore no longer opposed to using color carefully in those cases. But that does not mean we should go crazy. Over time, people typically learn to appreciate the simpler style.

Cognos Active Report Dashboard

Your reports and dashboards

Pay attention to colors! It makes a big difference. It’s not all that difficult.So, why don’t you look at some of your reports and dashboard today. Assess whether the color choices are good. Have fun!

Related Posts:

Dashboard color – Yes, it does matter! The basics – Part 1

 

Dashboard color?

Have you ever paid much attention to dashboard color and its effect on people? Colors are very powerful but very few of us actively leverage that to create awesome performance dashboards and reports. Just take a look at some examples that are floating around many organizations. Screens often induce headaches and are more colorful than a David Hockney painting. The result? Business people either do not effectively find the information that they need or they simply disregard an object because it looks terrible. Let’s face it – Dashboard color does matter!A bad dashboard!

Lessons from photography

Business analytics professionals need to have a basic understanding of colors. At a very minimum, we all need to be aware of the fact that dashboard color plays a huge role in user acceptance. Honestly, I never paid much attention to this until I got serious about photography. To shoot better photographs you need to understand colors and their effect on eyes and mind. The purpose of this post is to share some of the basic ideas. The next post will apply these basics to the design of Business Analytics applications.

Powerful colors

What does color do? At the most basic level, it can send powerful signals. Think about the colors of a traffic light: Red means stop. Red indicates danger but also power (look at some of the world’s largest brands….they use red). Yellow is vigorous and insistent. Green means go. Green is also positive. Look at the photos below:

RED – Is somebody in trouble?

The warning sign above sends an aggressive and strong signal. Compare this to the photo below. Isn’t that positive?

GREEN – This is relaxing…almost Zen

MIXING COLORS But colors usually do not come isolated from each other. They go together. Some colors create harmony. Other combinations simply hurt. Others create a nice contrast. We should therefore be very careful about choosing the right colors. To understand how this works, look at the classic color wheel below. Basically all colors can be mixed through these six elements:

The famous color wheel

When you pick colors from opposing sides, you can create nice contrast (e.g. Blue and Yellow, Red and Cyan). Contrast makes things stand out. On the other hand, you could also create harmony by choosing colors that are right next to each other on the color wheel (Yellow-Green; Yellow-Red). See the examples below:

Harmony…..

Mixing colors therefore is not trivial. A little knowledge of the color wheel can help you achieve nice effects. Use the color wheel to your advantage! NO COLOR AT ALL Sometimes we don’t need colors at all. There are cases when a black and white photo works better. The lack of color allows us to bring out the nuances and it helps to focus on the important things. Take a look at the example below. The colors in the first photo do not really add a lot of value. Actually, they make the photo look dull and boring. The castle itself looks dull, too.

Dull. Simply dull.

Now look at the same photo as a black and white: Suddenly the amazing structure of the castle really stands out. The dull sky is now adding value as well. We can see the rain coming down and it really adds to the atmosphere.

Hey…I want to go there and see that castle!

Dashboard color

So much for the basics. But what about Business Analytics? Stay tuned for some lessons next week. That post will apply these basic insights to our management dashboards and reports. In the meantime, if you have a chance pay attention to colors over the next few days.

Related Posts:

How to confuse and distract your audience with poor visualizations

Excuse me?

We often talk about how to best visualize data so that the audience can quickly discover the most important information in often complex data sets. But we cannot forget that it is also possible to achieve exactly the opposite effect: You can also leverage visualizations to distract and confuse people. As a matter of fact, it is possible to create visuals that completely hide important messages. Why would you do that? I guess if you want to hide bad news….right?

A bad example

The other day I received the 2011 spending report of the town that I live in. The text was quite dense and it included a ton of public sector terms that I did not understand. The core of the report, however, was centered around a graphic that outlines the detailed spending. Without further due, here it is.

Poor visualization

What’s wrong with this chart? Boy….pretty much everything: Extreme 3D, poor font choice (I can’t read it…), technical language and the colors… The sum of the parts is also not correct (as compared to the narrative). Percentages are not correct either (poor rounding practices). To be honest with you – when I saw this report I immediately got the impression that our town hall is trying to hide something. After some analysis I am still confused and not quite sure what to think about this.

To be fair, I believe that our mayor and his team are highly qualified. His approval ratings are extremely high for good reason. But this sort of communication does leave a bad taste in my mouth. It just makes you wonder….

A better approach

3D pie charts are never a good choice. The data above is quite simple and one could either leverage a standard sorted bar graph, a stacked bar chart or a waterfall graph. Really depends on your own personal preference. Here is an example:

Stacked Bar Chart

Related Posts:

Dashboard Design Advice: Avoid eye contact at all cost!!!

Dashboard Design

When I watch interviews with international sports stars, I sometimes have to laugh. Every inch of their clothing is plastered with logos from sponsors. It’s usually impossible to see or remember even a single one of them amidst this smorgasbord. We can spot a similar overload problem in many dashboards and reports. Corporate logos and stock photographs are injected to “enhance” the visual appearance of the objects. This is bad enough but some pictures are worse than others. Two weeks ago I saw an example of that. Several reports and dashboards featured photos of beautiful eyes. It was supposed to be a metaphor for business insight. Such a shame – it simply did not work.

Focal Point: Eyes

Decoration hardly ever motivates people to effectively consume information. On the contrary, photos and logos usually steals attention and waste valuable space. And human eyes are especially ill-suited as embellishment for reports or dashboards. Here is why: Eyes demand people’s attention (this is called visual weight) and they rank before anything else when we look at a photograph, a picture or a dashboard. Our eyes automatically gravitate towards that part. It’s like a magnet – eyes attract eye contact. And that pretty much explains why we should not include photos of eyes in our dashboards or reports. Take a look at the example below.Dashboard Logo

Notice how you keep jumping back to look at the eyes. This is a simple example, of course. Imagine if this was a full-screen dashboard. Your eyes would constantly flip back and forth between content and those blue eyes. Focus is lost. Plus there is the obvious question – why do we need to include the eyes here in the first place? They do not add any value whatsoever.

Let’s look at the better version.

Dashboard DesignNotice the difference? You are now able to focus on the chart. There is no distraction.

A lesson for report & dashboard design

Next time you design a report or dashboard, delete those logos and photos. Most of them do not add any value, anyway. The objective of proper report and dashboard design is to deliver information in the best possible way. Human eyes represent one of the biggest possible distractions. Images of eyes clearly have no space in report and dashboard design. Hence my advice for the day: Avoid eye contact at all cost!

Related Posts:

What my car taught me about designing a successful dashboard

A useful dashboard?

The other day, a former colleague sent me several screenshots of a ‘dashboarding solution’ a new team member had proposed to him. What I saw was wild: A set of complex, colorful and overloaded screens. Not just one screen, but a whole book of different pages. There were long tables mixed with colorful gauge charts. It took me a few minutes to understand what was happening. This was clearly not a dashboard but rather a poorly designed reporting application. A dashboard is meant to provide us with a quick overview of our most critical business information. It is not supposed to deliver us a 360 degree detailed view.

Unfortunately, too many dashboards are too complex these days. They fail to provide information at a glance. Overly complicated and saturated screens frustrate managers. To avoid project failure we should apply careful restraint during the dashboard design process. I have found that the dashboard in my car provides inspiration for that.

Dashboard

The car dashboard

Car dashboards are quite brilliant. They allow us to obtain critical information within a split of a second. How do they manage to do that? Here are some reasons why:

  • Simple – How long does it take to understand the dashboard of a new car? The answer is: It takes a few seconds. The car dashboards are deceptively simple. You don’t need the manual to understand how it works.
  • Compact – They are compact. There is a single screen. We don’t have to scroll through multiple screens to find out how fast we are going.
  • Uncluttered – Most car dashboards are super clean and uncluttered. Colors are carefully selected. There aren’t any logos. Every object has a clear purpose. It would be hard to take anything away.
  • Visual – Yes, they are visual. Visuals are easier to read than text. We do not find a table with our historical speed and RPM in the dashboard. Reading that would take too long and it would take the focus away from the road.
  • Important- Only the most important information is displayed.Everything serves a clear and distinct purpose. It would be almost impossible to take anything away.
  • Exceptions – Identifying problems is really simple – a red icon will immediately alert us. We don’t have to go digging for that critical information.
  • Entry point – Modern cars allow us to drill-down whenever there is an exception. But that is truly optional. The dashboard simple acts as the entry point and not more than that.

Your management dashboards

Next time you design a performance dashboard, think about this list. A lot of those qualities should also apply to your reports. It is our job as business analytics professionals to make it easy for managers and knowledge workers to turn data into information. But to do that, we need to pay attention to the design process.

Sales Dashboard

Related Posts:

An Easter Egg hunt with three charts

It’s that time of the year. Millions of kids are excited about hunting for Easter Eggs. Why not do the same here on the blog? Below are three charts. All of them are colored according to the season. But there are some problems with each one of the charts. Can spot them? Scroll down to see some comments….

Chart 1 – The Lollipop of Products

The Lollipop - Makes sense?

Chart 2 – The Pyramid of Deception

Pyramid Chart

The Pyramid - Admired for its shape and power

Chart 3 – Walk that line

Wrong Line Chart

The trend is your friend? Or maybe not?

Continue reading

Related Posts: