Information Dashboard Science & Design

Learn how to strategically design analytics dashboards to bring actionable insights to light. During this webinar recording, Senturus Co-Founder John Peterson explores the science behind creating effective dashboards, including the challenges, opportunities and human factors that come into play. Using this science as the basis, John gives his top 13 tips to optimize dashboard visualizations.


John Peterson
CEO and Co-Founder
Senturus, Inc.

John is the company’s thought leader and visionary. John directs the delivery of all projects with Senturus, providing the bridge of technical and business understanding.

Presentation outline

Preface: Common Questions

  • We want to implement Self-Service BI, how…?
  • We need to develop a Dashboard, what should…?
  • Do we really need a Data Warehouse?
  • What’s the Right tool for the job?

A Few Resources to Start Things Off

The Problem: Challenges, Opportunities & Human Factors

  • Today’s Recipe for Decision Making Support
    • Business Requirements inform Display & Visualization
    • Raw Data inform Display & Visualization, but requires much more Relative Time and Energy put into Transformation
  • Recipe for Better Decision Making
    • Business Requirements and Raw Data inform Display & Visualization, but each requires a more balanced, equal amount of Relative Time and Energy put into Transformation
  • Considerations
    • In the journey of the data from the sources to the information “consumer/user,” how much time and energy have you really focused on the final 24 inches?
  • The Vision Thing
    • When our eyes are open, our vision accounts for two-thirds of the electrical activity of the brain — a full 2 billion of the 3 billion firings per second, and50% of our neural tissue is directly or indirectly related to vision (Source: Neuroanatomist R.S. Fixot, 1957)
    • More of our neurons are dedicated to vision than the other four senses combined, and olfactory cortex is losing ground to the visual cortex. About 60 percent of our smell-related genes have been permanently damaged in this neural arbitrage(Source: John Medina, Brain Rules, 2015)
  • Example 1: Preattentive Processing
    • The unconscious accumulation of information from the environment
    • Prior to conscious perception, yet very powerful
  • Example 1: Preattentive Attributes
  • Example 2: Color Perception
    • The effect of contrast
  • Example 3: Memory Types
    • Sensory Memory: < 1 second
      • Ultra-short-term memory and decays or degrades very quickly, typically in the region of 200 – 500 milliseconds (1/5 – 1/2 second) after the perception of an item
    • Short-Term (Working) Memory: < 1 minute
      • Holds a small amount of information (typically around 7 items or even less) in mind in an active, readily available state for a short period of time (typically from 10 to 15 seconds, or sometimes up to a minute).
    • Long-Term Memory: life-time
      • Decays very little, but requires more “effort” to store & retrieve
  • Implications
    • Information display methods matter a lot
      • Color
      • Shape
      • Layout
      • Page size
      • Contrast & Context
    • Tapping into your brain’s innate capabilities will enhance information delivery efficacy
  • And What Gets Measured
    • “What gets measured gets managed.” (Source: Peter Drucker, 1954)
    • “If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.”(Source: Lord Kelvin, 1883)
    • “I chalked a big “6” on the floor, and then passed along without another word. When the night shift came in they saw the “6” and asked about it.”
    • (Source: Charles Schwab, US Steel, 1917)
    • “Metrics don’t just report results, they drive strategy.” (Source: Kaplan & Norton, 1992)
    • What is a Dashboard Really?
  • What is an Information Dashboard?
    • Definition
      • A dashboard is an information display that people use to rapidly monitor current conditions that potentially require an immediate response to fulfill a specific role. (Source: Stephen Few, revised 2015)
      • Dashboards display information that matters, is updated frequently, requires a timely response. (Source: Stephen Few, 2015)
  • Other Display Types (Source: Stephen Few, 2015)
    • Lookup Report, for lookup
    • Explanatory Report, for narrative
    • Infographic, for narrative
    • Live Presentation, for narrative
    • Dashboard, for monitoring
    • Analytical Application, for guided data analysis
    • EDA Tool, for exploratory data analysis
    • Predictive Model, for predictive analysis
  • More Implications
    • A person’s role really matters
  • Layout matters
    • Particularly if it exceeds one page
    • Efficient use of space is critical
  • Filtering, interactivity state changes actually reduce dashboard effectiveness
  • Choice of what to display is crucial
  • So is how you display it

Putting It All Together: Do’s and Don’ts

  • Different Strokes for Different Folks: Consider “Role-specific” Dashboards
    • Example: Store Dashboard vs. District Dashboard
    • Who exactly is the audience?
    • What specific decisions do managers need to make with the data?
    • “One size fits all” rarely fits anyone well
    • Filtering (especially when not persistent and obvious) destroys “situation awareness”
    • Consider modular approach, but beware of lack of
      • Maintainability, consistency, company priority
  • Don’t Waste Space: Stick to One Screen
    • Use appropriate graph types and layout
    • Real-life example from US Patent & Trademark Office vs. Award winning dashboard (Perceptual Edge, 2012)
    • Personalized Surf Report
  • Simple and Clean is Best
    • Watch your data-ink (or data-pixel) ratio
    • If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority
  • Be Very Careful with Color
    • Powerful but dangerous
  • Avoid Gratuitous Graph Types
    • Nice eye-candy, but not good information
    • Beware of vendor provided templates
  • Focus on Leading (vs. Lagging) indicators
    • Don’t drive via the rear view mirror
      • Unique visitors vs. past financials
      • Emails opened
      • New customers signed up
      • Events attended
      • Samples requested
      • Contracts in process
  • Integrate Context
    • Relative to what? Metrics versus:
      • Last year
      • Plan
      • Forecast
      • Rolling average
      • Competition
      • Industry averages/standards
  • Use Ratios, Variances, Moving Averages, and Trends
    • Help identify the issues
  • Provide Drill-to-Detail Interactivity
    • And conditional formatting
  • Consider your Delivery Platform(s)
  • Beware of Mockups
    • Requirements tend to harden
    • Watch out for amateurs acting like pros
    • Focus on core requirements instead
      • Metrics and measures
      • Dimensionality
  • Prototype Early and Often
    • Before major development, be sure to:
      • Explore the data
      • Unearth requirements
      • Test preferences
      • Test tools
      • Sell the concept
  • John Peterson’s Management Level Rework Theorem
    • Beware of copious, often contradictory, feedback
    • Number of rework iterations = Number of levels of management in the review loop
    • Corollary:Cost and duration of project is directly proportional to levels of management involved
  • The Good News: Parting Thoughts
    • The tools are better than ever
      • More powerful
      • More flexible
      • More built-in (best practices)
      • More modular
    • The need for good information is more pressing than ever
    • There are now some (but not lots of) good examples in use
    • Go forth and visualize!

Additional Resources

Connect with Senturus

Sign up to be notified about our upcoming events

Back to top