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Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data
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Dashboards have become popular in recent years as uniquely powerful tools for communicating important information at a glance. Although dashboards are potentially powerful, this potential is rarely realized. The greatest display technology in the world won't solve this if you fail to use effective visual design. And if a dashboard fails to tell you precisely what you need to know in an instant, you'll never use it, even if it's filled with cute gauges, meters, and traffic lights. Don't let your investment in dashboard technology go to waste.

This book will teach you the visual design skills you need to create dashboards that communicate clearly, rapidly, and compellingly. Information Dashboard Design will explain how to:

  • Avoid the thirteen mistakes common to dashboard design
  • Provide viewers with the information they need quickly and clearly
  • Apply what we now know about visual perception to the visual presentation of information
  • Minimize distractions, cliches, and unnecessary embellishments that create confusion
  • Organize business information to support meaning and usability
  • Create an aesthetically pleasing viewing experience
  • Maintain consistency of design to provide accurate interpretation
  • Optimize the power of dashboard technology by pairing it with visual effectiveness

Stephen Few has over 20 years of experience as an IT innovator, consultant, and educator. As Principal of the consultancy Perceptual Edge, Stephen focuses on data visualization for analyzing and communicating quantitative business information. He provides consulting and training services, speaks frequently at conferences, and teaches in the MBA program at the University of California in Berkeley. He is also the author of Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten.

Customer Reviews:

  • Essential Reading for Presenters of Data at all Organizations
    In this book, Mr. Few highlights the common design mistakes of dashboard design and provides tools to enable the audience to easily get the relevant information quickly.

    Stephen draws from psychology to define best practices for organizing business information in a way that elevates accurate interpretation. He promotes the use of Bar graphs for clearly displaying information, while demonstrating that our human parallel processing of our eyes and brains do not effectively interpret quantitative scale using pie charts or radar graphs.

    The book insightfully shares that Dashboard Design has different forms depending on the different role of which it will be used. Few classifies Information Dashboard into three types relative to the Role:

    *Strategic Purposes: The primary use today is the Executive Dashboard that provides a quick overview that decision makers need to monitor the health and opportunities of the business.

    *Analytical Purposes: Require more context behind the numbers, including meaningful comparisons, historical background and more specific performance evaluators.

    *Operational Purposes: Monitors Operations that are continuously changing and may require immediate attention. Operation Dashboards require the most specific and highest level of detail, but must also be clear and simple for the audience to understand quickly what needs to be done.

    Before this book, few people knew to differentiate Dashboard Design according to the role the information will be used for - Strategic, Analytical or Operational.

    Another key takeaway is to avoid fragmenting data sets that share relationships. Stephen argues grouping interrelated together on a single screen can tell a more complete story. Mr. Few says of Information Dashboards, "simultaneity of vision that it offers: the ability to see everything that you need at once. This enables comparisons that lead to insights-".

    Information Dashboard Design is a must read for presenters of information at all levels of the organization. Stephen Few provides practical lessons on how to raise audience comprehension of the data and make your meetings more valuable.

    Stephen Few has 20 years of expertise in the field of data visualization and is an MBA professor at Haas Business School, UC Berkeley.

    ...more info
  • Excellent Treatment of the Material
    This is an easy to read book which does a fantastic job of conveying the topic material. I strongly agree with Few's perspective and think that you wouldn't go wrong with a design that's in alignment with this book....more info
  • I started designing dashboards the next day
    I thought this book was phenomenal. I was able to put it to work on several projects the day after reading it. He has great examples and it is a quick, enjoyable read that you can start applying immediately....more info
  • a fun read.
    This book finished what the author started with `Show Me The Numbers'. While show me the numbers was very technical in when and how to craft tables and graphs, this book is slightly higher level and focuses on how to integrate the charts and graphs you've created in a highly usable dashboard.

    I would have appreciated a few more examples of well designed dashboards, but I suspect that there were only a couple examples for a reason. Rather than give me the fish, this book taught me to fish; and that's OK with me.
    ...more info
  • Excellent primer, could be more detailed, and with two shortcomings
    Stephen Few is a recognized expert in the area of the visual display of business intelligence information. This book serves as an excellent primer on the good principles of displaying information on dashboards, typically business intelligence dashboards, such that information is presented in a clear, understandable manner.

    Few expresses strong opinions, so it is likely that some will tend to disagree with his advice, often on emotional than on factual grounds. Especially so if one is a practitioner in this area.

    The book, to be clear, is well written, amply illustrated with examples, and at 223 pages, short enough to be read in one go. To truly grasp the effective principles of information dashboard design you would and should go back to the book from time to time to read up on specific sections.

    Despite everything that's good with this book, there are two shortcomings in my opinion.

    1. The first is its silence on a fairly recent phenomenon; the increasing use of rich interactive visualizations and animations, typically presented via the Flash technology, in mainstream BI vendors' products. Good flash visualizations would need to combine not only the basics of information presentation, but also effective use of interactivity and animations. The ability to animate is so often taken as license to go wild with hyperactive animations, with bar graphs that shoot up like sprouts from the x axis, with lines that do a manic jig before settling down, or with pie charts that spin and jiggle till your eyes hurt. Academic papers such as "Animation: Can It Facilitate?" (Barbara Tversky, et al), "Animated Transitions in Statistical Data Graphics" (Jeffrey Heer, et al), and "Principles of Traditional Animation Applied to 3D Computer Animation" by John Lasseter (of Pixar fame) have covered this area, so a chapter or two on effective animations in a book such as this is overdue.

    2. The second is the lack of coverage on good design principles for small displays, like the ones found on smartphones. What works on a traditional 1024x768 sized monitor would not work on smartphone screens, which are usually only a tenth as large. This topic is important for two reasons. The first is that the emergence of the iPhone and its increasing acceptability as a viable enterprise smartphone means a greater delivery of visually rich interfaces on smartphones like the iPhone, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry. The second is that 3G speeds enable the delivery of rich content, several hundred kilobytes in size, in a reasonable amount of time.

    Flex became an acceptable enterprise application development only sometime in 2005/2006, and the iPhone released in 2007, and was opened up to third party developers only in early 2008. Hopefully, these will be addressed in a subsequent edition.

    The book is divided into basically three sections. The first section talks about the commonly made mistakes when designing dashboards. Thirteen mistakes are listed, some obvious and most painfully common like "Exceeding the boundaries of a single screen", "Introducing meaningless variety", "Arranging the data poorly", "Choosing a deficient measure", "Highlighting important data ineffectively or not at all", etc... Each listed mistake is illustrated with screenshots of actual dashboards, with suggested improvements or redesigns.

    This second section is a single chapter - "Tapping Into the Power of Visual Perception", where the cognitive underpinnings of how we perceive and process information are laid out, of how short term memory works, of pre-attentive processing of information and how information can be laid out and formatted such that pre-attentive processing kicks in, which is much faster than attentive, deliberate processing. "In Information Visualization: Perception for Design, Colin Ware suggests that the preattentive attributes of visual perception can be organized into four categories: color, form, spatial position, and motion."

    Those familiar with Few's writings will be well aware of his annoyance with pie charts and their uselessness in effectively conveying information. He writes, "The truth is, I never recommend the use of pie charts. The only thing they have going for them is the fact that everybody immediately knows when they see a pie chart that they are seeing parts of a whole (or ought to be). Beyond that, pie charts don't display quantitative data very effectively. As you'll see in Chapter 4, Tapping into the Power of Visual Perception, humans can't compare two-dimensional areas or angles very accurately--and these are the two means that pie charts use to encode quantitative data." ... "Humans tend to underestimate differences in 2-D areas, and hence you must be wary of using 2-D areas of different sizes to encode quantitative values--especially on a dashboard, where speed of interpretation is essential." He suggests that for most purposes bar charts are more effective.

    The final three chapters deal with advice and examples of creating effective dashboards. His advice is that "The best way to condense a broad spectrum of information to fit onto a dashboard is in the form of summaries and exceptions", and to "eliminate all unnecessary non-data pixels", and to "de-emphasize and regularize the non-data pixels that remain."

    Make no mistake - you aren't going to become a pundit in effective dashboard designing and visualizations after reading this book. But if you have to start, start here.

    Here are several additional excellent and highly recommended books:
    * The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition, Envisioning Information, both by Edward Tufte. These two books are as much informative and educational as they are a joy to read. Beautifully laid out and printed, with excellent graphics.
    * Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design by Jenifer Tidwell.
    * Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (2nd Edition)by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld
    * Visual Thinking: for Design (Morgan Kaufmann Series in Interactive Technologies)
    Information Visualization, Second Edition: Perception for Design (Interactive Technologies)
    * Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, 2nd Edition by Steve Krug
    * About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper...more info
  • Excellent insight!
    Stephen Few offers incredible insight into the world of visual perception and how to incorporate it into dashboard design. This book is appropriate for newbies to the field, seasoned professional, statistical math whizes, everyone!...more info
  • A Should read
    A should read for all dashboard designers as well as software engineers, who are programming all those new flashy features into their dashboard tools.

    Forget all the speedometers, pie charts, and 3-d charts and focus on conveying the message in a clear & concise format instead.
    Focus on the message and not colorful, but distracting dashboards.

    This book covers a lot of design fundamentals with a lot of examples. It does not cover how to select the KPIs to be displayed, but how to display KPIs, once they are chosen....more info
  • Disappointing
    I had high hopes when picking up this book. In the end I found little of use. Perhaps I was looking for more than an approach that was business oriented. Information displays for systems monitoring are a topic almost completely missed in the book.

    ...more info
  • Pretty, Nice
    99.9% of the content is derived from Tufte, but Tufte covers more. I feel that the content was "padded" and it takes a long time to get to the beef, but its there. $ for $ Tufte is the better buy, but the Examples of Good and Bad dashboard implementation are clear and usefull, and the book is well produced and has a great feel to it. But note this is about graphical design not dashboard Content design. I agree with author when he states that it's a little presumptious of him to claim to have invented bullet graphs, but he is the first to get them into print and he presents a definition of their construction which is useful. The most important thing I learnt is that there is an upcoming as yet unpublished edition from Tufte due in 2006 from which he references. I await that eagerly....more info
  • Great introduction to info dashboards
    This book is a great introduction to info dashboards: lots of pro- and counter-examples quicky convey the point of what makes a good information dashboard....more info
  • Lots of useful information
    I create lots of web programs and have always been interested in how to graphically present information to my clients using the least amount of non-data ink. After reading this book I went back and redesigned many of the user interfaces that I had created based on the principles presented in this book. Well worth the time and money....more info
  • Important Resource For Dashboard Designers/Developers
    What is a dashboard?

    No, I don't mean the dashboard of an automobile, but rather the dashboard as it relates to computers and people that use them. Quite simply, a dashboard is like an overview. It's a screen or a web page that displays relevant important content all in one handy place. Instead of having to click from one content area to the other, a user can quickly glance at a dashboard and gather all sorts of useful info without having to perform a lot of navigation. If you are a user of Quicken or Microsoft Money you will be very familiar with dashboards. These applications have used this technique for a long time, providing important financial information such as bills that are due or where money is going... information that you would like to be front and center, not having to click all over the place to get a quick snapshot of the data you want to see.

    What Stephen Few does in this book is provide the reader with a fantastic way to look at dashboards. Learn how to avoid mistakes such as making the user have to scroll when that is exactly NOT what you want them to do, providing information that isn't relevant, and/or using meters when graphs or charts would be more applicable. With a nice size to the book, vibrant colors, and great examples, this is a book that provides wonderful suggestions on how to improve design so that developers can create dashboards which are slick, smooth, and most of all... EFFICIENT.

    If you are designing or developing a dashboard to serve as an informational tool for your users or is the central focus point of what you are working on, you would be very wise to pick up 'Information Dashboard Design' to get the job done and done right.

    **** RECOMMENDED...more info
  • Buy this Book!
    This book is great, it gets to the point, tells you what you need to know, provides many examples and is entertaining at the same time. The people who are still fascinated by all the colors in their kids Crayola boxes probably would object to some of Few's points....more info
  • Beautiful book with plenty of design insight (and examples)...
    One of the system architecture ideas that has waxed and waned over the years is the concept of an Information Dashboard... a single screen of data that summarizes key data points for quick monitoring by executives. But just throwing a few graphs on the web page isn't necessarily the right thing to do. Stephen Few covers the subject of dashboard design in his book Information Dashboard Design : The Effective Visual Communication of Data.

    Contents: Clarifying the Vision; Variations in Dashboard Uses and Data; Thirteen Common Mistakes in Dashboard Design; Tapping Into the Power of Visual Perception; Eloquence Through Simplicity; Effective Dashboard Display Media; Designing Dashboards for Usability; Putting it All Together; Appendix; Index

    For someone like me (not a whiz when it comes to graphic design) to really like a book of this nature is saying something. I actually understood everything he was writing, and I didn't think this was some self-serving "listen to me because I'm an expert" volume. The book is printed on heavy paper stock and full color, so the examples don't lose any impact in the normal translation to black and white. Lavishly illustrated with examples both good and bad, it's easy to see why some things work and some don't. Even designs that I thought "looked" professional had significant drawbacks. For instance, colors should represent the same thing throughout the page. Don't make a pie chart with a red slice if you want red to represent a danger indicator somewhere else on the screen. Minimize the non-data pixels so the eyes don't have to work at interpreting data from "fluff" (like graph lines). And when you're choosing graphing formats, make sure you choose ones which are relevant to the data being displayed. Don't choose a pie chart when a bar graph makes an easier comparison. He even goes into color choices and how they cause the mind and eye to group things on the page. Normally I'd be reading material like this with a "says you!" attitude, but there wasn't a single instance where I thought he was pushing his own preferences instead of something that actually made sense and had some research behind it. I actually found myself thinking about some of my own application designs based on the material presented, as well as how I need to change a few things along the way.

    If you're not a graphically oriented person (like I'm not), this book is a lifesaver for your design and development efforts. It should remain close at hand as you do your web site design on a daily basis. And even if you *do* know what you're doing, you will likely become a whole lot better at it after reading Information Dashboard Design....more info
  • Great design principles
    This manual is a great resource for best practices and principles for designing dashboards. It doesn't matter if you buy or build, the material is golden. ...more info
  • Another Tech Book Killed by Frills and Filler
    There can be no doubt that the pages of this book contain some of the most original and decisive ideas about dashboard design of any book to come out on the market. Yet this strength cannot quite redeem it. This book is mostly pictures, figures, and graphs, many of which are not needed. The same could be said of dashboards in general. The prose is watered down and childlike, as if the author would spoon feed his ideas, one per chapter, to an infant audience. In the end I am forced to conclude that, like many tech books in HCI, a hard core text filled with complex ideas, lean, well-written chapters, and something like wit is both outside the reach of its authors and outside the bounds of contemporary techie marketing. This book may sell, but it does nothing to promote a sophisticated, confident HCI core at a time when awareness of the profession is still patchy. It will be a great day for HCI when its "Gurus" stop condescending to their audience....more info
  • Have some good ideas, but could be shorter with no loss of content.
    After reading this book I have the following positive points to make:

    .. It is very well designed, it is nice to look at it.

    .. Has some good ideas (but they are not original ones).

    .. In general, following its advice you will be able to do a better design of dashboards and management information systems screens.

    If I counted only this I would give it 5 stars, but, I think this book has some negative points. One of the points makes the author inconsistent with his own recommendations throughout the book.

    The book is about designing dashboards and the major line of thought is:
    - keep it simple, clean and objective.
    - Use the tools (graphics and tables) in a rational way.
    - don't use all the fancy features that software vendors put in their products for they will make your dashboard less effective.

    But the author when writing it, forgot part of his own teachings and produced a text that is very prolixic, too many words to explain simple concepts and ideas. Lacks objectivity.

    So, if you want to better understand the use of graphs, take a look at Naomi Robbins, "Creating More Effective Graphs". This book is very objective, simple and fast to read.

    The second flaw is that in the examples to show how to do a well designed dashboard, the author used two types of graphs that are not available in today's softwares. One type of graph was created by the author while writing this book (bullet graphs) and the other (sparkline) is the creation of Mr.Tufte, which will appear in a future book of his. It would be more useful to see examples with the typical tools available to design a dashboard.

    So, be prepared for a nice experience with pictures and graphs in a sea of words. It is an excellent book that will help design dashboards and the like. (So far is the best book on this topic).

    ...more info
  • drags you to read it!!
    Really interesting book...especially if you are looking around to find sth like this...I was really lost in looking for dashboards, but this book made an impact. I propose it to anyone that has any relationship with dashboards!!...more info
  • Easy to read and simple to understand
    This book is very nicely written in easy to understand manner. The format and layout of the content itself communicates importance of visual aspects at core.
    Usage of colors and presentation of data are eye openers for BI Professionals like me. I mean, most of these years after seeing all those animated charts and sweet looking dashboards (from all big BI vendors), the real meaning was somewhere had been lost. I think this book is must read for everyone who needs to present data, and not only for people who design Dashboard.
    THIS IS PRACTICAL!...more info
  • Very informative
    Excellent resource to provide guidance on information dashboard design. Not a step-by-step book, nor a recipe book. I found it very useful in initiating discussions on the subject with management. Would highly recommend!...more info
  • Clear, concise, and cleanly designed and presented.
    This is a good book for those who need a better understanding of what constitutes a quality (visual) information dashboard. It doesn't get bogged down in useless details, focusing instead on the primary design factors (e.g. use of grapics, layout and space, text typeface and emphasis) which will help you to create a USEFUL and used info dashboard. The book itself is well designed (as one would expect) and the author's tone is casual and concise. Ample illustrations and images provide examples of the Dos and Don'ts so you can readily understand the design guidelines the author advocates.

    Most of the book focuses on the visual aspects of info presentation with some useful forays into areas such as proper requirements/measurements gathering and different user types. Little of the book is on the "back-end" or deep business needs/uses of informational dashboards.

    I think the book is well written, wise, and should be required reading for any developer who finds themselves working on an information dashboard or other data presentation project. Readers looking for more business case background or data-wrestling info will need other books but should consider reading this one to make sure all their hardwork doesn't result in a turd of a final presentation/project deliverable....more info
  • Great Book for Analysts
    This is truly a great resource for Analysts who are working with Data Visualization Models. I also recommend a tool called Xcelsius from Business Objects for Data Visualization.

    Its a fun and easy software that transforms your everyday Excel spreadsheets into persuasive presentations and dynamic business dashboards, and then share them easily via Microsoft PowerPoint, Word, or the Web. Download CX Now In 5 minutes you will transform a dull spreadsheet into an interactive and persuasive PowerPoint presentation. Move a slider, and watch your column chart change. Push a button, and see your projected sales for the next three years. It's that easy. Don't bore another audience with the same old static presentations.

    Visit: for more....more info