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I’ve been using Dashboard Design (formerly known as Xcelsius) on and off since version 4.x (circa 2055). While I was mainly focused on functionality with a little bit of design, more recently I’ve come to appreciate the importance of good visual design. There’s no point in trying to add new design tips since there is a strong body of work out there by established experts. I’m just going to highlight some of the useful tips I’ve learned from Stephen Few’s book “Information Dashboard Design” and the User Interface Guidelines: Dashboard Design document, which is available on SAP Design Guild:

 

1. Reduce the non-data pixels, by eliminating unnecessary non-data pixels and de-emphasizing the remaining non-data pixels.

 

  • Graphics that are just for decoration
  • Borders to separate sections when white space would suffice
  • Use of gradient colors when solid colors would do
  • Grid lines in bar graphs when white space would suffice

 

2. Enhance data pixels by eliminating unnecessary data pixels and highlighting most important data pixels

 

  • Remove data that is less relevant
  • Condense data by summaries and exceptions
  • Emphasize important data by visual attributes like color intensity, size, line width
  • Emphasize important data by its position on the dashboard:  top-left and center are sections with greatest emphasis

 

3. Group KPIs Logically – For example, by component or KPI type, such as availability or performance. Spatially separate different groups if they are in one panel.

 

4. Keep to Single Screen – By fitting the dashboard onto a single screen, you allow a quick overview at a glance.

 

5. Use Appropriate Themes – Use an appropriate theme which defines the visual design of the components, like fonts and colors and deviate from its default settings only when necessary.

 

6. Use Few Selectors – Use as few pure selectors as possible (e.g. radio button, combo box, or tab strip

 

7. Use a Compact Design – Use a compact design to gain space for additional valuable information:

 

  • Avoid gauges (speedometers) – Provide as much useful information as possible but avoid unnecessary data or decoration.
  • Often forms or tables serve the same purpose as a Cartesian chart but require less space:
  • Use Linear Gauges instead of Speedometers – Linear display of measures is better than radial display since lengths can be evaluated more easily than angles and less space is required.

 

 

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2 Comments

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  1. Andreas J.A. Schneider
    Great blog, too many blogs/articles center around glitzy, flashy dashboards, where function does not matter ;-(

    Instead, dashboards should show the relevant KPIs at a glance (=single screen) to obtain a certain objective (=business strategy, e.g. improve quality or customer service).

    I recommend articles by:
    – Stephen Few (whose book got me started on the most interesting topic of “Information Visualization” a couple of years ago), who invented the bullet chart
    – Prof. E.R. Tufte, a pioneer in this area who invented sparklines and coined the term of non-data ink
    – Prof. Hichert

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  2. Lars Schubert
    Great post! Really a good summary for how to build easy-to-read dashboards.
    We developed an addon for Xcelsius, which supports all the tips you mentioned – especially those of Prof. Hichert as we are a german company :-).
    Please have a look at
    http://www.graphomate.com/demos.html
    All diagrams in the dashboards can be built in Xcelsius with our addon within minutes.
    Sorry for providing only a german version, we are working on the english site …

    the best, Lars

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