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Karel van der Poel
Karel van der Poel
Founder Mirror42



Visualization: Managing a business is not the same as driving a car

Posted over 7 years ago

In the last decade Business Intelligence vendors ran a feature race. Their focus was not how to best visualize your business data, but how to deliver the most sexy BI sales demo.
We have all seen examples of this type of ‘sales functionality’: Interactive gauges where the needles moves if you select a month, 3d stacked bars with multiple metrics in one graph, 3D pie charts with more then 6 colors and 4 area’s that are more or less the same size, dashboards where all data is updated when you move your mouse on the screen. Great for marketing, but useless when trying to manage a business.

Choosing the right visualization of your data is important when you are trying to get your dashboards adopted. Sexiness might get you some initial response, but if you want to ensure that people actually use the dashboard, you might want to take a look at the following 4 tips.

1. Our brain is trained 2 dimensional.
Books, maps, directions, computer screens, car navigation systems. The human brain is quick to understand 2 dimensional information. Don’t waste brainpower with fancy 3 dimensional graphs where the third dimension does not add any information but is only there because “it looks good”.

2. Managing a business is not the same as driving a car.
Anyone can drive a car, but not anyone can manage a business.
Speedometers, meters, gauges… they should be avoided when building business dashboards. It not about how much cash you have left, its about did your cash position improve or decline!
Managing a business is about comparing performance month by month, quarter by quarter, evaluating improvements and declines. If you have to hover with your mouse to see multiple periods, why not simply show the periods in a trend line so you can compare?

3. Eat pie, don’t chart them,
Pie charts do not work well with the human brain. Can you see the difference between a 6.5% and a 7.2% area in a Pie Chart? Probably not. A better representation is a series of bars from top to bottom so the human eye can quickly see that the 7.2% has a higher top then the 6.5%.

4. Don’t make me wear sunglasses in the office
Avoid to many colors. Colorful is not easy on the eyes and tends to blur the big picture. Add color to identify direction or offsets from targets. Also keep in mind that your dashboards or reports often need to be printed in black and white.

I hope these tips help you to build powerful and easy to understand KPI visualizations.

Comments (1)

Kees Inthout
Kees Inthout

Managing should be as driving a car, in a blink of an eye you see the gauges and events, and can act to remote control in real-time the performance. The act is knowing the state of art in your process or business. Gauges (limited on one page)in realtime catch your attention and events tells the warnings or adjust calibration actions.

Posted over 7 years ago | permalink

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