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jmunoz

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Posts: 60
Reply with quote  #1 
I'll be the first to admit, there's a lot that's wrong with this dashboard,


It's got a very low data-to-ink ratio. The stoplighting is a bit overkill, and the space at the top of the screen isn't used wisely (too  much "Apollo" branding). The colors are too bold, and the shaded background gets in the way.

However, the incell bar chart with reference mark at 100% (why isn't 11820 Dover Tr over the 100% reference line?) is a step in the right direction and the sparklines with reference marks are not bad either, and there's not a single pie chart or 3d chart in sight.

The full link to the interactive (drill in capable) "dashboard" is here.

Finally, while it might be difficult to think of the above example as an improvement, here's an example from today's Dundas home page for comparison. The use of bullet charts on this example is far outweighed by the silly use of dials, a 3d pie chart, and lighting effects on the bar charts (why doesn't the light reflect off of anything else?).



--John Munoz

cantrips

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Posts: 9
Reply with quote  #2 
Hi John,

I built this sample for Dundas.  The high 'ink to data' ratio is what sells to clients.  Our in-page analytics shows that the most colourful dashboards are the ones that get the most web traffic, and we see this consistently in our sales conversations.

We're frequently held up to scrutiny on forums like these however you must realize that this is a business, and the best practices crowd is unfortunately a small minority of our leads.

That being said, we do have samples to show best practices (high data-ink ratio) such as this one:
Telecom Executive Dashboard (HTML5)

Or take a look at the following dashboard that we made recently for a call center (more of a balance between aesthetics and best practices):
Call Center Dashboard (HTML5)

The Ventasa sample you referenced is old and is included in the gallery for variety.  Many of the dashboards in our gallery are not exactly designed with best practices in mind.  As a vendor we have to toe the line between what the market wants, and what is considered best practices.

Warm Regards
Mark
danz

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Posts: 186
Reply with quote  #3 
Mark,

I am absolutely sure that dashboards that follow the best practices sell very well. A site like this provides a great feedback to all they are interested to improve in such of direction. I am also sure that any of the flashy dashboards they "sell" these days can be easily overtaken by good designed dashboards. Aesthetics is part of best practices too.

I am convinced that an advised decider would happily choose a good designed dashboard if they can find one. Till then they buy what vendors have.

I would dare to say that I noticed a general positive tendency in designing the dashboards. Might not be the best test, but I tried two different search for images containing "dashboard" for 2008 and for 2013. The differences look promising. 

Eventually, if John or people following this site are part of minority I cannot say, I can only hope that this is a growing fast and loud one.

Dan
cantrips

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Posts: 9
Reply with quote  #4 
Hi danz,

If an "advised decider" comes to our website we do have best practices dashboards for them.  What I take issue with is the assumption that colourful dashboards (with gauges, gradients, animations, and low data ink ratios) means a lack of education on the part of the vendor.  If everyone were as educated as the readers of this forum on the topic of data visualization design, our gallery would look very different.  Please believe me when I say that I wish that this were the case.

Unfortunately, the average visitor to our website is not an "advised" decider.  Our analytics data shows that the click-through rate (CTR) in our public dashboard gallery is nearly an order of magnitude higher for colourful dashboards with low data-ink ratios.  The bounce rate is equally disparate, which indicates that the many viewers don't "get" minimalistic design principles, so they don't stick around.

I agree with your observation that dashboard design in general has improved over the last 5 years.  I also agree that vendors have a responsibility to show leadership in best practices design.  But people are stubborn by nature; it seems that the best way to change someone's mind is to start by giving them what they want, and gradually show them the better way.  If our gallery only contained best practices dashboards, we would lose the opportunity to connect with this audience.
sfew

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Posts: 812
Reply with quote  #5 
Mark,

Is Dundas doing what you outlined above? Are you gradually showing people a better way to display data? If so, I see no signs of this.

Contrary to your statement, "If our gallery only contained best practices dashboards, we would lose the opportunity to connect with this audience", I believe that if Dundas had the integrity and courage to provide only what works and is therefore in the customer's best interests, you would stand out as different in a way that would be recognized and rewarded with an increase in customers. As it is, almost every vendor in the data visualization space is competing on the basis of silly features--who can come up with the most eye-catching but useless charts and interactions? No vendor that is competing in this manner will ever stand out.

I find the argument by vendors, that they produce ineffective software because that's what their customers want, short-sighted and selfish. First of all, this is one of those chicken and egg situations. Why are customers asking for the silly stuff that doesn't work? Because this is what they see when they go to websites like yours. You and other vendors like you have created the expectations that customers have. Do you give your children things that are bad for them because they want them or do you give them what is good for them and useful? Customers are like children when picking products if they lack the expertise that is required to assess the merits intelligently. Do you succeed in the long term by providing products that don't work? You might make the initial sale, but you eventually lose the customer because you haven't given them anything useful. Do you as a software vendor have a responsibility to your customers to give them useful tools that are truly worth the money? I think you do. I also think that you would be rewarded for doing so.

__________________
Stephen Few
cantrips

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Posts: 9
Reply with quote  #6 

Hello Stephen.

I'm glad you took the time to respond to this discussion. Please keep in mind that everything I say is my personal opinion, not the opinion of Dundas. (I'm just interested in the topic.)

We were discussing dashboard designs, but you seem to be focused mostly on the software. I understand that you have a long-standing beef with vendors and poor software design.  So I should mention that Dundas Dashboard as a platform does encourage good design principles. Animations, shadows, and other such features are disabled by default, and they are usually hidden under ‘advanced’ properties. There is no support for 3D charts. Axes always start at zero by default. The default data visualization is a bar chart with solid colours.  The default series palette has good contrast to avoid colour confusion.

Actually we were talking about the public gallery, which I admitted has quite a few dashboards that do not follow good design practices; however, it's gradually improving as new samples are created. A lot of the older samples are there to show off features, which is an unfortunate leftover of our old component-focused approach. We are gradually replacing these old dashboards as we have time, with better examples. If you're interested in the newer dashboards, I encourage you to check out the two that I posted above.

With that preface out of the way, I do feel that your response merits a rather detailed analysis, if you'll indulge.

"I find the argument by vendors, that they produce ineffective software because that's what their customers want, short-sighted and selfish."

I never mentioned software – although I suppose this is an easy leap in logic if a bad design is the result of poor software defaults. It's still very easy to create dashboards in DD with all sorts of awful features enabled, but I think the designers did a good job of trying to hide them. Dundas also provides training to help convince customers not to use these features, and a services team that is well versed in best practices.

"Why are customers asking for the silly stuff that doesn't work? Because this is what they see when they go to websites like yours."

Actually, I blame Excel for creating 3D charts in the first place :)  OK, you're right that vendors need to work on this – and Dundas is no exception.  And yes, we’re slowly removing “dashboard candy” from the gallery, despite Google Analytics telling us this is a bad idea.  I also see the long term value of making this change.

"Do you give your children things that are bad for them because they want them or do you give them what is good for them and useful?"

No. But maybe I would, if they started paying my bills
J

"Do you succeed in the long term by providing products that don't work? You might make the initial sale, but you eventually lose the customer because you haven't given them anything useful."

If you don't make an initial sale because your product lacks what a customer is looking for, you've already lost (there’s no “if” - they just don't buy). Usually a customer will sign with your competitor and stop talking to you forever. This is helped along by the fact that people don't like to admit mistakes ("Sorry boss, I bought the wrong software!").

Once you're in the door with a sale, it's easy to provide the training and help a customer needs to create good dashboards. Also ... no matter which product you buy, you can always create garbage with it. Some make it easier than others.

"Do you as a software vendor have a responsibility to your customers to give them useful tools that are truly worth the money? I think you do."

I couldn't agree more. Also I didn't say the software wasn’t useful. :)

"I also think that you would be rewarded for doing so."

In an ideal world, yes. I’m not aware of any data that proves (or disproves) this theory. But if it exists, it would be very interesting reading, indeed.

sfew

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Posts: 812
Reply with quote  #7 

Mark,

What is your position at Dundas? I’m wondering to what extent you have influence over the company’s direction.

I appreciate anything that Dundas is doing to promote effective dashboard design practices. When I put myself in the position of a potential customer, however, and browse the content of your website, I don’t see clear signs of this. I see that your product possesses some of the capabilities that are essential to effective dashboard design, but no indication that you promote best practices. 

You say that in your training courses you try to convince customers to ignore the ineffective features that your product includes—the very features that you promote on your website. Should I advertise myself as a proponent of flashy graphics that entertain but fail to inform in an attempt to lure people to my workshops so I can then teach them to do the opposite? How do your customers respond when you tell them in class that they should ignore as dysfunctional the very features that you used to entice them to by your product? Does this approach invite trust?

You said, “Once you're in the door with a sale, it's easy to provide the training and help a customer needs to create good dashboards.” Really? How many of the people who use your software attend your courses? I doubt that this is an effective strategy. I know that it is one that it’s duplicitous.

Would you really give your children things that are bad for them if they paid you? Of course not, because you care for them. But you do this for your customers. Do you not care for them?

You mentioned that you don’t support 3-D charts. When did you eliminate them? I have several examples of Dundas dashboards that include them.

You point out that there is no data to support my hypothesis that you could differentiate yourself from the competition by consistently supporting dashboard design best practices. It is true that, until a vendor has enough courage and integrity to do this, no data will exist to confirm or deny the truth of my hypothesis. I’m inviting Dundas and every other data visualization software vendor to put my hypothesis to the test. Tableau Software was firmly committed to visualization best practices for years and during that time they were the fastest growing vendor in the business intelligence space. This suggests that my notion is true. The fact that Tableau has recently become willing to include features that conflict with best practices is not evidence that their former strategy didn’t work.

Clearly, you are working within Dundas to promote effective practices. I applaud your efforts. I’m concerned, however, that your good intentions are being occluded by some of the features and the marketing efforts of your company. Imagine being a part of a brand new dashboard software company that is firmly committed to best practices. Wouldn’t that be fun? Wouldn’t that reduce the cognitive dissonance that you currently experience?


__________________
Stephen Few
cantrips

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Posts: 9
Reply with quote  #8 

Hi Stephen,

I'm responsible for technical marketing (building samples, managing web properties, reviewing technical content).  Prior to this I was in software development for Dundas Dashboard (for 3 years).  Before that I worked in developer support for our SSRS, SharePoint, OLAP, Chart, Gauge, and Map components.

Pretty much everyone at Dundas can influence company direction with a good idea - our managers are accessible and we have a flat hierarchy.  I can walk in to the CEO’s office and pitch an idea (in fact, I plan to do this exact thing next week).  I don't set company direction any more than the next person, but I do have some influence over our marketing efforts.

 You mentioned not being able to find best practices material on our website.  This content is in the 'Discover' section (articles, whitepapers, videos).  Some of the juiciest stuff isn't on the website (like our best practices seminar @ University of Toronto).  The services section is a mess because we re-launched our website last week (!) and we’re in the midst of rewriting our services and training catalogues.  We’ll get that fixed eventually.

You say that in your training courses you try to convince customers to ignore the ineffective features that your product includes—the very features that you promote on your website … How many of the people who use your software attend your courses? I doubt that this is an effective strategy. I know that it is one that it’s duplicitous."
 
As far as I'm aware, we don't promote these features on our website.  There are a few exceptions in the gallery, but the reason is that it’s time consuming and expensive to create new samples.  We can't use client samples for obvious reasons, so most of these samples are created with whatever spare time we have.  It’s a slow process to improve what is there.

We don’t just talk about best practices in our training courses.  Our technical sales team is well versed in best practices, and they are a key part of all our sales conversations.  These are also the people who give our sales demos.  In other words, we give free best practices advice even when you don’t pay for our training courses.  To answer your question I’m not sure what percentage actually buy training, I’m guessing it’s somewhere in the 25% range.

"You mentioned that you don’t support 3-D charts. When did you eliminate them? I have several examples of Dundas dashboards that include them."

We sold our components to Microsoft in 2007 - since that time none of our software has supported 3D.  Dundas Dashboard (circa 2009) has never supported 3D and there are no plans to in the future.  Actually the dashboard at the top of this thread (Ventasa) is not 3D - it uses a radial gradient to mimic a 3D effect.  In that particular dashboard, there’s no ‘lie factor’ due to 3D perspective.  It’s just a pie chart that looks tacky, so I left it alone.  I will remove it when we have something to replace it with.

 

Tableau Software was firmly committed to visualization best practices for years and during that time they were the fastest growing vendor in the business intelligence space. This suggests that my notion is true.

I have a different theory as to why they became successful.  First of all, for the last 3 years they have re-invested 50% - 55% of their revenue back into marketing and sales (according to their IPO prospectus).  Dundas doesn't invest anywhere near this percentage into marketing and sales – in fact we spend more on product development and customer support than we do on marketing and sales.  We're slowly growing our marketing and sales teams, but we're nowhere close to those spending ratios and never have been.

The second reason is Tableau Public – they created a great piece of mass market software, and offered it for free.  They also marketed the crap out of it.  By offering this service, they have pushed their brand to become widely recognized, not just in the visualization industry, but also in the global business industry.

The third reason (one which is often forgotten, I think) was the Wikileaks scandal in 2010.  When Tableau blocked Wikileaks from Tableau Public, it ignited a media outburst that brought the Tableau brand name into the public eye.  They are still floating (and growing) from the after-effects of this publicity.

On top of this, they were the ‘industry darling’ of the Gartner Magic Quadrant in 2011…largely because of the reasons I’ve mentioned.  That can’t hurt.

I'm not saying that great software design isn't important - I just think the story of Tableau's growth is a bit more complicated than creating well-designed software.  Tableau is a great tool, but it serves a different audience than Dundas Dashboard.  What Tableau does for ad-hoc analytics, DD does for customization – our Visual Studio-like design canvas, property grid, C# scripting engine and event model are very familiar to VB and C# .NET developers.  Developers love our software and we are very proud of what we do.

I think both tools are very well designed and serve their target audiences well.  I suspect that if Dundas had invested over $100M over the last 3 years into marketing and sales, and offered a free mass-market solution, we would be in much the same position as Tableau is currently.

Imagine being a part of a brand new dashboard software company that is firmly committed to best practices. Wouldn’t that be fun? Wouldn’t that reduce the cognitive dissonance that you currently experience?

I’m working for a very old data visualization company that is firmly committed to best practices.  The fun I have is more along the lines of modernizing our message and public image to match the reality of what Dundas has worked hard (and unfortunately, silently) to become.

sfew

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Posts: 812
Reply with quote  #9 

Mark,

Regarding Tableau, they were successful prior to the last three years when they began to invest heavily in marketing. The success of Tableau can be attributed to many factors. My point, however, is that they didn’t need to dumb down the product by adding silly effects to become successful. If you remember, I mentioned Tableau in response to your concern that a software vendor could not succeed by sticking firmly to best practices.

Your statement, “I’m working for a very old data visualization company that is firmly committed to best practices,” is contradicted by clear evidence. A software company that is committed to best practices does not fill its product with ineffective features and promote them on its website. I have no doubt that your intentions are good, but you have a ways to go before they demonstrate a commitment to best practices.


__________________
Stephen Few
PeterRobinson

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Posts: 33
Reply with quote  #10 
Quote:
Originally Posted by jmunoz
I'll be the first to admit, there's a lot that's wrong with this dashboard
However, the incell bar chart with reference mark at 100% (why isn't 11820 Dover Tr over the 100% reference line?) is a step in the right direction and the sparklines with reference marks are not bad either, and there's not a single pie chart or 3d chart in sight.
--John Munoz


Hi John, just a guess, the reference mark is fat and over the top of the bar so probably obscures several percent of the range. The 11820 Drover Tr bar probably really is over the 100% reference line but you just can't see it because the end of it is behind the fat reference line.

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Peter Robinson
in Brisbane, Australia
cantrips

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Posts: 9
Reply with quote  #11 
Hi Stephen,

I'm not convinced that the key to Tableau's success is due to best practices.  I'm sure that good design is a contributing factor to its success.  But there are many other factors at play such as ease of use, market demand, massive marketing investments, product positioning, brand awareness, media attention, etc.  I don't think Tableau is the only dashboard software that is well-designed, yet it's certainly one of the most profitable.

"A software company that is committed to best practices does not fill its product with ineffective features and promote them on its website."

I assume you're referring to the dashboard samples, some of which have gauges and an abundant use of colour.  I'm not aware of any other places on our site where we advertise ineffective features (except the gauge, in the 'data visualization controls' section).  Remember, we're a vendor, not a best practices site.  Pushing best practices isn't our main objective since it's only a small part of our income.  (I can't imagine that Tableau makes a lot of money from this either).  That doesn't mean we don't understand it, or that we don't want to encourage it.  It's just that we haven't had time to refurbish the gallery.

Anyway, I don't want to retread old ground.  The gallery is a work in progress.  If there's something else on the site that you believe is promoting ineffective features, I would appreciate if you could let me know and we will take a look at it.
cantrips

Registered:
Posts: 9
Reply with quote  #12 
@PeterRobinson - your assessment of the bullet gauge is correct.  I suppose that the correct drawing order would be to have the reference line drawn under the pointer bar.

@RyanWil - I appreciate the support.  But I would agree with the OP that this sample doesn't strictly follow best practices, particularly in terms of data-ink ratio.  I'm also interested to hear what Stephen has to say about pie charts on maps.

Another question for Stephen - do you consider using a black background and white ink somehow worse than a white background and black ink?  (In other words, take one of the dashboards you have designed and invert the colours - does it lose something in the process?)
sfew

Moderator
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Posts: 812
Reply with quote  #13 
Mark,

You clarified your perspective well when you wrote, "Remember, we're a vendor, not a best practices site." The fact that you believe there is a difference exposes the heart of the matter. It is because so many vendors believe that it is their job merely to create products that sell rather than products that work effectively (i.e., that incorporate best practices) that I and others like me are needed to warn people against the poor practices that your products encourage. I believe that as a product vendor, it is your job to understand best practices and support their use. People assume that you thoroughly understand the domain in which your products function and that your products were designed to help them do the job as effectively as possible.

Regarding the use of a black background and white ink, in my opinion it does not work as well as the opposite. I explained my reasons for this late last year in my blog.

Ryan,

Please review my statement about Tableau:
"Tableau Software was firmly committed to visualization best practices for years..." As you know if you read my recent blog post about Tableau, I believe that they are no longer firmly committed to best practices. Regarding pie charts on maps, when Tableau initially added pie charts to their product, they explained to me that it was for this very reason that they did so. This is the one rare case when I accept pie charts as potentially useful. If you are already using bubbles (i.e., circles of varying sizes) to encode data on a map, thus requiring people to compare the sizes of objects because a more effective method of quantitative encoding is not available on a map, dividing pies into a few slices (usually no more than three), which also relies on size comparisons, is an acceptable way to show parts of a whole.

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Stephen Few
cantrips

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Posts: 9
Reply with quote  #14 

Stephen,

I was trying to explain that our software isn't entirely to blame for poor design choices.  Yes, the software supports radial gauges and pie charts, and a few other features that are regarded as cardinal sins.  But when flexibility is your key differentiator (as it is for Dundas Dashboard) it's harder to justify removing these options.  We are very different from Tableau in that regard.

Also keep in mind that the majority of our gallery examples were created years ago with a focus on features rather than best practices.  We are slowly working to rectify this problem with our new samples.  The software itself isn't so much the problem as the older samples in our gallery are.  DD does a good job of hiding ineffective features and enabling appropriate defaults.  But because flexibility is our middle name, we don't stop people from hunting down and enabling the features they want.

I just read your blog post regarding Tableau 8 - very interesting ... or should I say, bling bling.  Do you think this trend will continue?  Have they contacted you at all regarding your posts?  What effect do you think the IPO will have on their priorities?

Regarding black backgrounds, I didn't realize that astigmatism was an issue.  It seems there's quite a bit of interesting research on this subject.  With this in mind, I will stop building dashboards with black backgrounds (even though I've never personally had any problems reading them).

sfew

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Posts: 812
Reply with quote  #15 
Mark,

The only flexibility in a product that matters is flexibility to do what works. Flexibility to do something poorly is hardly beneficial. If flexibility is Dundas' strength as a dashboard product, perhaps you would be willing to demonstrate this by recreating the Student Performance Dashboard that I shared recently in my blog, which will also appear in the new edition of Information Dashboard Design. I'll gladly send you the data if you're interested.

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Stephen Few
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