Preoccupation with superficial and functionally distracting visual characteristics of dashboards has led to a rash of visual design problems that undermine their usefulness. Thirteen visual design problems are frequently found in dashboards, including in the examples featured as exemplary by software vendors.
Exceeding the boundaries of a single screen
Supplying inadequate context for the data
Displaying excessive detail or precision
Choosing a deficient measure
Choosing inappropriate display media
Introducing meaningless variety
Using poorly designed display media
Encoding quantitative data inaccurately
Arranging the data poorly
Highlighting important data ineffectively or not at all
Cluttering the display with useless decoration
Misusing or overusing color
Designing an unattractive visual display
The fundamental challenge of dashboard design is the need to squeeze a great deal of information into a small amount of space, resulting in a display that is easily and immediately understandable. If this doesn't sound challenging, either you are an expert designer with extensive dashboard experience, or you are basking in the glow of naiveté. Attempt the task, and you will find that dashboards pose a unique data visualization challenge. And don't assume that you can look to your software vendor for helpif they have the necessary design talent, they're doing a great job of hiding it.
Sadly, it is easy to find many examples of the mistakes you should avoid by looking no further than the web sites of the software vendors themselves. Let's use some of these examples to examine design that doesn't work and learn why it doesn't.
Note: In almost every case, I've chosen to use actual examples from vendor web sites to illustrate dashboard design mistakes. In doing so, I am not saying that the software that produced the example is badI'm not commenting on the quality of the software one way or another. What I am saying is that the design practice is bad. This results primarily from vendors' lack of expertise in or inattention to visual design. These vendors should know better, but they've chosen to focus their energies on other aspects of their products, often highlighting glitzy visual features that actually undermine effective communication. I hope that seeing their work used to illustrate poor dashboard design will serve as a wake-up call to start paying attention to the features that really matter.
Clarifying the Vision
Variations in Dashboard Uses and Data
Thirteen Common Mistakes in Dashboard Design
Tapping into the Power of Visual Perception
Eloquence Through Simplicity
Effective Dashboard Display Media
Designing Dashboards for Usability
Putting It All Together