Too much ink and poor dashboard design

In a recent article in Computerworld, Monash University lecturer, Peter O’Donnell said he thinks BI solutions are too sexy, contributing to low utilisation rates.

“A lot of the tools are very sexy. You can do 3D pie charts and donut charts; in theoretical terms it is known as the data to ink ratio. If you have embellishments and 3D effects you are using a lot of ink for only a small amount of data,” he said. This he said makes it difficult for your average user to understand the reports generated out of the BI tool.

But in my view sexy isn’t the problem – don’t confuse poor implementation with the good stuff that is needed for the sales process.

The argument that vendors are culpable in the delivery of poor implementations of BI projects does not take into account the fact that vendors are driven to provide the “extra ink” with bells and whistles during the sales cycle and lets be honest, implemented well, the bells and whistles can look awesome, tell a story and really help to sell product.

O’Donnell refers to Edward Tuffe in terms of ink and quite frankly he is barking up the wrong tree. Tuffe was talking about too much Ink back in 1975 when the main place people came across charts was as elaborate hand drawn graphics in newspapers.

So, if we could somehow stop the demand for the 3D pie then all would be good. Unfortunately, I cannot see how that will change in the short term (not that I am a huge fan of the 3D pie anyway!).

What is interesting though is the fact that there is a debate starting about ‘what is good report design’. In terms of delivery, I could not agree more. Often on a BI project very little focus is given to the design of content and the information it is intended to convey. Report and dashboard development is all too often a technical process not a design one. Maybe there should be more emphasis placed on training and development for report designers to help them avoid the ’extra ink’ pitfalls.

At Yellowfin, we are going to do our bit by posting FAQs into our forum to help our partners improve the design of dashboards and reports. Often, it’s about the right choice of bell and whistle to draw the users attention to what they should be looking for in the data.

So keep checking the forum and we’ll start sharing our design tips.

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