Dashboard Development and Unleashing Creative Juices

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Ryan Goodman of Centigon Solutions wrote up his take on a recent discussion on LinkedIn that centered on the tension between data visualization that is “flashy” versus data visualization that rigorously adheres to the teachings of Tufte and Few.

The third point in Goodman’s take is worth quoting almost in its entirety, as it is both spot-on and eloquent:

Everyone has a creative side, but someone who has never picked up a design book with an emphasis on data visualization should not implement dashboards for their own company and certainly not as a consultant. Dashboard development is not the forum to unleash creative juices when the intent is to monitor business performance. Working with clients who have educated themselves have[sic] definitely facilitated more productive engagements. Reading a book does not make you an expert, but it does allow for more constructive discussions and a smoother delivery of a dashboard.

“The book” of choice (in my mind, and, I suspect, in Goodman’s) is Few’s Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data (which I’ve written about before). Data visualization is one of those areas where spending just an hour or two understanding some best practices, and, more importantly, why those are best practices, can drive a permanent and positive change in behavior, both for analytical-types with little visual design aptitude and for visual design-types with little analytical background.

Goodman goes on in his post to be somewhat ambivalent about tool vendors’ responsibility and culpability when it comes to data visualization misfires. On the one hand, he feels like Few is overly harsh when it comes to criticizing vendors whose demos illustrate worst practice visualizations (I agree with Few on this one). But, he also acknowledges that vendors need to “put their best foot forward to prove that their technology can deliver adequate dashboard execution as well as marketing sizzle.” I agree there, too.

3 Comments


  1. Tim, I read Ryan Goodman piece too. Stephen Few was good enough to let his community know about Ryan’s piece. I was not going to comment but, your quote of Ryan, “Everyone has a creative side, but someone who has never picked up a design book with an emphasis on data visualization should not implement dashboards for their own company and certainly not as a consultant. Dashboard development is not the forum to unleash creative juices when the intent is to monitor business performance.” is so true. However, the one element that tends to get overlooked when I hear or read about people discussing dashboards is the most important element – the measures. If you want to change performance, you need the right collection of measures. Quoting David Parmenter ( http://www.davidparmenter.com ), The Critical Success Factors determine the organizational health and vitality and where the organization needs to perform well. Key Result Indicators, Result Indicators, Performance Indicators, and Key Performance Indicators are the actual performance measures, which naturally cascade from these Critical Success Factors.

    The right measures coupled with the right data visualization tools truly creates a winning combination.

    @dmgerbino

  2. David — EXCELLENT point. The best visualization of the wrong metrics/performance measures is, probably, worse than poor visualization of the right metrics. Few really doesn’t address *how* to get to the right metrics — he throws down the gauntlet that a dashboard needs to be one page/screen, and he’s the thought leader in how to go from a metric to the best visualization of it.

    Nailing both in tandem is key. Thanks for the David Parmenter link — just added that to my feeds!

    And, yeah, I found the Goodman article via Few’s blog as well!

  3. Nice work on the new GA.I agree with many of the above comments, the start page from the old GA was great. I have mulilpte sites and need to be able to view on one page which site has had traffic changes. Especially the smaller sites which I don’t check up on unless there has been changes.Also, the data, page views, visits by day for this week vs last week with percentage increase and decrease I need to be able to view this in a report not just a graph.Links in Email alerts take me to the dashboard instead of straight to the custom alert page.Thanks

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