Effective Visualizations for Your Dashboards

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“A picture is worth a thousand words.” The confluence of our understanding of how the human brain processes visual information and advances in visualization technology have led to a world where data and information visualizations are everywhere in the form of charts and graphs, infographics, dashboards, gauges, presentation graphics, photos, animations, and more. Done well, visualizations can provide insight and understanding in a fraction of the time it takes to read reports or pour over tables of numbers. But done poorly, they can lead to confusion and frustration. Poorly designed graphics will be ignored at best, or worse, misinterpreted.

Let’s talk specifically about business dashboards. Information presentation in dashboards needs to be based on, first and foremost, the needs of the viewers. What is the objective of the dashboard? Why are people looking at it and what do they hope to learn? What action do viewers expect to be able to take as a result of viewing this information?

Once you get your objectives worked out, you’ll make decisions about the content of your dashboards—what numbers, what KPIs, what roll-ups— in the context of these requirements. And finally, you’ll need to decide the best way to present this data using appropriate visualizations that provide insight at a glance. A poor choice of graphic representation can perplex or even mislead your viewer. For instance, you wouldn’t use a pie chart to show a trend over time and you wouldn’t use a line chart to show what percentages of market share you and your competitors have. Here are some of the more common visualizations being used today along with a short description of how to use each one.

Line Graph
Track changes over time, trends

Sparklines
Provide a story in a glance, however, do not provide precise data–can provide additional information with limit lines or boxes or single data points

Bar Graph
Facts, multiple instances of a measure, can use multiple bars for comparison data, discrete data, categorical data

Stacked Bar Graph
Showing bar appropriate data in component parts

Combination Line and Bar Graph
When some data is discrete and you want to overlay with a trend such as monthly expenses shown using bars overlayed with a total revenue trend line, can be used with two different scales—one on the left and one on the right—when overlaying the data will reveal a relationship

Area Graph
Track changes over time for one or more groups, show component parts of a trend like revenue over time by product

XY Graph or Scattergraph
To show relationship between pairs of data, great for identifying outliers

Treemap and Bubble Map
Use size and color to show quantity and another variable such a location on an x,y graph—for example a bubble graph could be used to show for each country the number of births (size of bubble) by continent (color) on an x,y graph showing income and education

Geospacial Map
Shows instances by geography or location

Pie Chart
Generally shows a percentage of a whole

A Word about Gauges
Gauges are visualizations that came about as a result of the “dashboard” concept. In theory, they show the current status of something in relation to something else just as a gas gauge on your car dashboard shows how much gas is in the tank in relation to the total amount it holds. In practice, however, we have found that gauges generally convey little information and take up precious dashboard real estate. Most of our clients who show an initial enthusiasm for gauges decide after just a few weeks that they do not impart much information and users are ignoring them. The only place we’ve found them to be really useful is in the car.

These are just some of the types of graphs available today. With advanced visualization tools like BIO’s BIOVue, you will find a visualization that tells your story, increases understanding of the data, and provides insight into your organization. Register for a webinar to see BIO in action and see how easy it is to creat objective-driven graphs with BIOVue. Click here to read a whitepaper by Tableau Software that goes into more detail about the types and uses of specific charts and graphs.

Please contact me at 203.705.4648 or by email at sandi@bio4analytics.com if you have any questions about BIO or business intelligence in general.

By Sandi Forman of BIO Analytics, Corp., Microsoft Dynamics Business Intelligence (BI) Solution Provider

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