Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dashboard Critique - Part Two

Work has finally died down enough to continue with the Dashboard Critique series that was started in Part One. If you remember, we were looking at this post from Dan, showing a company's Flash-based dashboard product.

In Part One, I talked about the left side of the dashboard, from the teeny-tiny column charts, to the mastery of white space misuse that was the Traffic Light "chart".

In this next part, I'm going to discuss the upper right corner of the dashboard. They're a little more boring in the scheme of things, but that just sets us up for the pure excitement of Part Three (tentative title: What is the most misleading chart ever, the cone chart or the 3-D ring?).

So here we go!


The first chart is this yawn-inducing spreadsheet on the top middle:

Now, this is an interesting case, because I'm not one to say that EVERYTHING must be in graphs and charts. This is definitely the best way to show this detail, which is probably on the dashboard because it's very important to this theoretical client. Let's assume this, for sake of argument!

Let's also cover the other good things. I like the immediate red visualization for high risk. I like that some of the entries seem to be links (again assuming they are links, and not just text with underlined font). It appears I can filter. The rows are colored gray/white, making them easy to follow.Now, the bad. In the spirit of this non-visualization, I'll do it in list form:
  1. The biggest issue - that tiny horizontal scroll bar. I think if I scrolled to all the way to the right, that 5% extra space would show the rest of the Response column. They should have tried to fit it all in one horizontal view, which seems possible with the current choices. Having both horizontal and vertical scroll bars is a pretty big no-no.
  2. Part of #1's issue is that maybe this is just too small a space for so much information. Twice the width would pretty much solve your issue, and make this readable. And allow some of the other issues I'll go into in the next points to be solved.
  3. I need a chart like this to see a lot of different things at once. This also applies vertically. That text wrapping is making every row super-wide, so I can only see 2 of 46 in this view. Take out text wrapping that interferes. You can substitute the text wrapping by letting me mouse over and see the full text, for example. And/or allow me to click to pull the entire chart into a pop-up window. You have to think smarter than default.
  4. We all work with spreadsheets and charts all the time nowadays. I need to be able to sort and filter by column headers.
  5. Speaking of, either give me good, sensical column sizes, or allow me to change the sizes myself. (Though please save my settings if that's the case...) Why is the Milestone column width the same as the Issue column width?
  6. Though charts don't need borders around every cell, this needs something more than what they have. Very narrow and light vertical column separation, for example. Or better control of the internal margins of the cells (you can change the default settings, you know...). Or use more horizontal centering of cell content that isn't a long sentence. Something. That Action column's text is practically covering up the Response column!
Overall, this is seeing a chart made with old Excel defaults. You know the pre-2007 versions, with crappy visualizations and colors, and terrible font choice by default (hello 1996!). 2007 versions may have brought those weird ribbons, but they really cleaned up their game. Anything made in 2003 Excel Default Style just looks archaic, doesn't it? Just look at that crap. Even that red is TOO red, ya know?

If you look worse than what comes in default Microsoft Office settings, you have a problem.


I'm going to get that embroidered on a pillow.


OK, this next one's gonna be easy. This is arguably the biggest visual punch of the dashboard, so it must be great, right? On the upper right corner:

It took me a while to figure out what this graph was trying to show us. I get it now - the "general budget trend" is at -$37,000 (uh oh!), and if negative it's in the red, and positive in the green. Simple. One number, is it positive or negative.

So why is it so big???

And, if it's so big, why is the Main Point Of All This, the where you are now (-$37,000), so small?

There's not much to say that isn't terribly obvious here. I'm guessing the makers of this demo dashboard figured they needed a non-gauge gauge here. But this is basically a horizontal gauge. Not that there's anything wrong with that! It's just so poorly executed in this case....

Now in Part 3, we will be talking about the gauge on this dashboard, so they'll be plenty of time for that. My main problem with gauges is that they show so little for so much space. Though this graph sure proves that it can be worse!

Now, there's something to be said for a non-circular display (an issue with gauges), especially for postive/negative financials. And the real estate this should take up is relatively small, compared to a gauge. So if they had slimmed down the height of this bar, and put about 3 or 4 in this module (say, last month's average, last year's average, etc. - whatever's important.)

Part Three's discussion of gauge's sure will be fun!


Moving on to, unfortunately, another yawner. This non-chart:

I've gotta say, this was another one that made me scratch my head as I tried to figure it out. And let me say, I still have absolutely no idea. Seriously. If you know what this is showing, let me know in the comments!

I'll tell you what it looks like went wrong here. The legend was so big, and the labels were so long (and shifted 180 degrees didn't give much room there), and the title, "Value of 0 = project on target", so long, that the actual visualization got smooshed and smooshed down into a tiny little space. I believe that might be a line chart, or perhaps an area chart? That's my best guess.

But wow, did this one screw up. (Remember, we got this out of marketing material for a data visualization company, believe it or not.)

Fix it. Change the legend to be in a box on the side, or remove it all together (have a button that will bring it up, add labels to the chart, add mouse-over tool tip info about what you're looking at - these are all non-default options that would be better. Just fix it, move things around, until you can actually see the data! Take the labels out of 180 degrees, and flip them to normal.

Oh, and those colors all look alike in the legend. You can't do that. Even if we could see the graph itself, this sure wouldn't be useful in any way.


I think what has surprised me in this world of dashboards, having been working with data visualization as much as I have as an analyst, is how much people take the default that's given to them. If you wouldn't put it in a presentation, then it shouldn't go in a dashboard. You should be able to fix size, colors, text, font, etc. in a dashboard as much as you can in standard-issue Excel.



I'll send pictures of my embroidered pillow when it's done.

Part Three, coming soon!

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