To analyze or to impress: what is your goal when creating a dashboard?
Dashboards are incredibly useful to track, at a glance, the most important business metrics, KPIs and relevant data points for our organization. The question is, what is most important in a dashboard? Data or visuals? Let’s take a look.
Unattractive data or killer – but pointless – visuals
It’s very common to see that dashboards present very standard visualizations: at best, the only customization they might have is the company logo or the fonts. Therefore, even if the dashboard has been recently designed and implemented, the final result can be visually unattractive. This is a very common scenario for companies or departments dedicated to the thorough analysis of data where dashboards are built upon user requests. These users are most invested in data and analysis, and they rarely demand changes or updates on the dashboard’s look & feel. When company dashboards favor data over visuals, they are at risk of being unfairly labeled as old school or even low quality, even if the data analysis is great.
On the other hand, we find ourselves as well on the other side of the coin: killer visuals but which offer nothing new to the analysis or understanding of the data. This is very a very common demand from project sponsors, who want to impress their managers or users with striking graphics and therefore dedicate many man-hours to the development and maintenance of these visuals. The problem with this approach is that they first identify the visualization and then define what data can fit in, often resulting in very attractive graphics that make an insignificant contribution to the understanding of information. A classic example is the use of maps, which onscreen can be very attractive but may not contribute: if the geographical representation of information does not add to the analysis … what good is a map?
Before the question Data or Visuals? We must remember that the data and our analytic capacity should always be the basis of our dashboards, but we must not neglect the design as long as it helps us to better understand the information.
A joint work
To develop a powerful dashboard, it is important that us, professionals of information visualization, design high quality products both at data level and at visual level, always remembering that the main goal is to help our users make smart business decisions. If users and professionals work together to develop powerful graphics based on robust information that supports them, it can be not only valuable for decision-making, but also valuable for the company’s expenses. A well-designed dashboard, with a clear objective, can cost much less than a dashboard made on the fly. In order to do this, it is essential that users lose the fear of innovating and develop their critical capacity to make decisions about the visualization of information, in order to adapt themselves to the needs and evolution of their busine