Dashboards often need to present a large amount of information in a limited amount of space. If the information isn't organized well, with appropriate placement of information based on importance and desired viewing sequence, along with a visual design that segregates data into meaningful groups without fragmenting it into a confusing labyrinth, the result is a cluttered mess. Most examples of dashboards found on the Web are composed of a small amount of data to avoid the need for skilled visual design, but they still often manage to look cluttered and thrown together. The goal is not simply to make the dashboard look good, but to arrange the data in a manner that fits the way it's used. The most important data ought to be prominent. Data that require immediate attention ought to stand out. Data that should be compared ought to be arranged and visually designed to encourage comparisons.
The dashboard in Figure 3-26 illustrates some of the problems often associated with poor arrangement of data. Notice first of all that the most prominent position on this dashboardthe top leftis used to display the vendor's logo and navigational controls. What a waste of prime real estate! As you scan down the screen, the next information that you see is a gauge that presents the average order size. It's possible that average order size might be someone's primary interest, but it's unlikely that, of all the information that appears on this dashboard, this is the most important. As I'll discuss in Chapter 5, Eloquence Through Simplicity, the least prominent real estate on the screen is the lower-right corner. However, in this example the large amount of space taken up by the graphs that present "Computers Returns Across Models," as well as the larger font sizes used in this section, tends to draw attention to data that seems tangential to the rest. This dashboard lacks an appropriate visual sequence and balance based on the nature and importance of the data. Notice also that the bright red bands of color above each section of the display, where the titles appear in white, are far more eye-catching than is necessary to declare the meanings of the individual displays. This visually segments the space to an unnecessary degree. Lastly, note that the similarity of the line graphs that display order size and profit trends invites our eyes to compare them. This is probably a useful comparison, but the positional separation and side-by-side rather than over-under arrangement of the two graphs makes close comparison difficult. As this example illustrates, you can't just throw information onto the screen wherever you can make it fit and expect the dashboard to do its job effectively.
Figure 3-26. This dashboard exemplifies poorly arranged data.