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DavidHarper

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Reply with quote  #1 
Stephen - I enjoyed the book very much. Do you think that dashboards, in the current generation, take full advantage of rich media (the web). It seems like most of the examples are examples of mere "monitoring;" i.e., active translations of paper-based two-dimensional charts or chartsets (i.e., active in the sense that gauges and dials are dynamically updated). But the web (e.g., flash) adds at least two "dimensions" beyond real-time gauges: interactivity and three-dimensionality. By interactivity, of course, I mean the user can perform real-time "what-if" scenarios and experiments. (so they can, in effect, participate with the data and we are now seeing collaboration - which I think of as group interactivity). Isn't the decision on how/when to provide interactivity a key part of design? By three-dimensions, I don't mean a third data set/series, but rather, you can layer chart (and instructional elements) on top of each other (like photoshop/illustrator layers). In my own work I use layers, for example, to hide additional (information) complexity until it is requested, or to give additional context-sensitive help. I would be interested in your view on whether the "rich media" context is another (bleeding edge) chance to ruin good design or if you think it should force entirely new designs.
sfew

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Reply with quote  #2 
David,

The two types of functionality that you mentioned--interactivity and the ability to display additional information, such as details on demand, are certainly valuable. Particular types of interactivity, however, such as the "what-if" analysis capabilities that you mentioned, take the display beyond the scope of a dashboard. By definition (my definition, that is), dashboards are single-screen visual displays of the most important information needed to achieve a specfic set of objectives, presented so that the information can be monitored at a glance. In other words, dashboards are for monitoring what's going on. Once you get into what-if analysis, you've moved into a different realm. This kind of analysis is important, but it isn't what dashboards are about.

Both of these types of functionlity can be incorporated into computer-based displays using technologies other than web-based Flash applications. Flash might be a great way to do it, but it isn't the only way.

Any kind of functionality, including the two kinds that you mentioned, can be used for good or ill. As long as functionality is clearly focused on clear and efficient communication of important information, it's moving in the right direction. When it starts looking like a video game, however, it has lost its way.


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Stephen Few
Air_Cooled_Nut

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Reply with quote  #3 

I agree with Stephen on all points with this one, particularly the interactivity part -- there should be none.  Also, I believe reports should be fairly easy/simple to maintain.  You have to account for the (as my last manager humorously put it) "The Budweiser Effect":  Suppose one day you're walking down the street and a Budweiser delivery truck slams into you, putting you in the hospital for a month (or killing you!).  Are the reporting procedures documented and intuitive enough for someone to come in and quickly take over in your absence?

 

Using Flash will not do that as it requires programming, plug-ins and/or web use.  I'll admit much of the work I've done requires VBA programming to automate the end results and that, like Flash, requires someone beyond the beginner level*.  However, there are more VB programmers than Flash programmers so those who specialize in reporting are more likely to be experienced in VB, especially if they use Microsoft products like Excel as such language functionality is intrinsic to all of their products.  And does the extra work and time involved extend the report creation process?  Also, it makes it difficult for your successor when you move on and your 'customers' are used to such effects :-)  LOL!

 

I know it sounds like I'm being harsh and I'm trying not to be.  But I speak from experience about getting fancy as that's what I did in the beginning; my customers liked the visuals but, in hindsight, maintaining the code and passing it off to others (to maintain) consumed too much of my time. And the users really didn't need the extras.  Having everything presented without the need to toggle/switch displays gave them the information they needed immediately and without interaction.  If the dashboard can communicate all it needs to on a wall-mounted display for all to see (i.e. no keyboard or mouse) then you've succeeded.

 

*I'm an avid documentor and I try to keep my code as simple as possible instead of fancy and complex.  This has greatly aided those who've take over my work once my contract has completed.

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