Leveraging Holistic Synergies: Ben Lopatin

Dashboards are hard

August 27, 2014

Data dashboard often turn into an opportunity to dump meaningless information on users. A quick visual example of how not to approach this, and a suggested solution.

This is what I saw today when I opened up our QuickBooks online dashboard:

QuickBooks visual abortion

It’s supposed to be a quick snapshot of invoices. And it should be. But instead its a tiny little gem of confusion.

  • If red means overdue, and there are no overdue invoices, why is there a red bar?
  • Why do red and yellow overlap?
  • Why is the red and yellow combination longer than the green, for which there are more invoices?
  • What’s with the competing “Last 30 days” and “Last 365 days” labels?

This graphic gets it all wrong.

A dashboard exists only for this reason: to provide the most important ‘actionable’ information in an easily digestible manner. All kinds of requirements flow from this. It should not be any more complicated than necessary. There should be no extraneous verbiage. Color, size, and shape differences all matter.

Here are some simple fixes to start:

A simple fix

  • No overdue invoices? No red visual indicator.
  • Horizontal bars are proportional (ish) to their numeric value.
  • The useless ‘Last 365 Days’ label is gone.

If nothing else, it’s less confusing.

For every piece of additional information added you need to ask yourself, what is this communicating, and what will we do with this communicated information?

Ben Lopatin

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