Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Dashboards, Dials and Dilemmas

There was a bit of a debate going on about Dashboards - providing top end information for senior managers from database sources - on the JISCmail mailing list for Information Managers in the Further Education Sector over the last couple of days.

It's perhaps a bit unfortunate that the term Dashboard seems to goad vendors into designing their products with dials and speedometers and the like to emulate the dashboard of a car. Circular dials are great for seeing how fast you are travelling but not much good for comparing values, say, between departments of a college.

To illustrate: a pie chart...

Here we have 9 departments, which I have imaginatively named 1,2,3...9.

Is Department 3 bigger than Department 1? Is Department 4 bigger than Department 9? Few of us could make that call with a graphic such as this.

Here though, it is much easier to make a judgement and there is yet another way to make it clearer still.

Now I can immediately compare departments at a glance.

Dashboard may be an unfortunate term. Dials take up lots of space and a speedometer usually gives only one figure.

Stephen Few at Perceptual Edge makes the point very eloquently in this article with some brilliantly mystifying examples from commercially available dashboards!

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