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Book Review: Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few

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As more companies begin to make use of data warehousing facilities, and collection disparate data together, it has become harder to view this at a glance to get an overall sense of how things are going. Combine this with new laws that make executives more accountable for the accurate reporting of a company’s status, and it’s easy to see why so many software companies are offering dashboard functionality to reporting and data warehousing applications. A dashboard is defined by Stephen Few, author of Information Dashboard Design, as “a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives; consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance.”

The author’s goal is to encourage designers to create simple, functional displays that convey the most information in the shortest amount of time. Information Dashboard Design spends quite a lot of time telling you what not to do in order to accomplish this goal. Included in many of the chapters are examples of actual dashboards found in the industry, which are used to illustrate many of the mistakes designers make. Many of these examples spend too much time trying to be pretty and not enough time providing the required information clearly.

Although there are many examples of proper design, more time and effort seems to be spent on what not to do, rather than what you should do. When proper design is discussed, emphasis is placed on muted colors, very few or no images, and on overall simplicity so that the data stands out. In this book, the artistry is in designing an efficient and easy-to-view display, even if it looks boring to many. There is one especially good chapter that goes over when to use different types of graphs, in relation to the type of information you’re trying to get across. References are included to other titles for more information on this topic, but I think more could have been added on proper design, rather than disparaging poor designs.

If you’re looking for code examples of how to implement specific types of dashboards, then this is not your book. There is no discussion of specific ways to implement what is shown. Instead this book concentrates on the visual design of the final product, and on figuring out the correct questions to ask when determining the requirements for a dashboard. Even if you’re not designing a dashboard, but are instead looking for a good resource on good graphing techniques, or even on good software GUI design, there is good information here for you.

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  • The last comment spoke about needing to see what to do right as well as learning about what NOT to do. Good point. For over 800 actual examples of implemented enterprise dashboards, take a look at Blog of Dashboard Screenshots

  • Richard

    Lousy book and a waste of good money. The author is just stating the obvious without giving anything new, focusing too much on what can you do wrong than how can you do it right.

  • I love the idea, and the efficiency, of being able to monitor a business by merely sweeping my gaze over a few dials, graphs and meters.

    Please can I have one?

  • Except for too much emphasis on the negative, instead of the positive, I actually found it to be quite informative, and offered a very good persepective on how simple muted designs are more effective at communicating information than flashy ones. I probably didn’t make that clear enough in my review.