Customer Reviews: Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data
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on March 17, 2006
After reading this book I have the following positive points to make:

.. It is very well designed, it is nice to look at it.

.. Has some good ideas (but they are not original ones).

.. In general, following its advice you will be able to do a better design of dashboards and management information systems screens.

If I counted only this I would give it 5 stars, but, I think this book has some negative points. One of the points makes the author inconsistent with his own recommendations throughout the book.

The book is about designing dashboards and the major line of thought is:
- keep it simple, clean and objective.
- Use the tools (graphics and tables) in a rational way.
- don't use all the fancy features that software vendors put in their products for they will make your dashboard less effective.

But the author when writing it, forgot part of his own teachings and produced a text that is very prolixic, too many words to explain simple concepts and ideas. Lacks objectivity.

So, if you want to better understand the use of graphs, take a look at Naomi Robbins, "Creating More Effective Graphs". This book is very objective, simple and fast to read.

The second flaw is that in the examples to show how to do a well designed dashboard, the author used two types of graphs that are not available in today's softwares. One type of graph was created by the author while writing this book (bullet graphs) and the other (sparkline) is the creation of Mr.Tufte, which will appear in a future book of his. It would be more useful to see examples with the typical tools available to design a dashboard.

So, be prepared for a nice experience with pictures and graphs in a sea of words. It is an excellent book that will help design dashboards and the like. (So far is the best book on this topic).
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on February 16, 2006
I am currently working (as a software developer) on building a platform which incorporates a dashboard, so this book caught my attention. I learned a lot more than I ever really wanted to know about dashboard design aesthetics, visual perception and color theory; but if you're looking for a one-stop-shop detailing dashboard design, this is the book.

From the perspective of a software developer, I found the chapter "Thirteen Common Mistakes in Dashboard Design" quite useful. It discusses (obviously) thirteen "no-nos" when designing a dashboard. It has plenty of pictures illustrating the mistakes and describing helpful alternatives. The book is quick to read, the examples and critiques are explained well and easy to follow.

Not having a design background, I don't feel qualified to comment on the content other than to say it all made sense to me. :) I did, however, loan the book to one of our in-house design guys - he said it was "pretty good" and would recommend it.

If you're directly involved in building or designing a dashboard, this book is nice because it's all about dashboards - rather than a design book with just a chapter or two on dashboards.
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One of the system architecture ideas that has waxed and waned over the years is the concept of an Information Dashboard... a single screen of data that summarizes key data points for quick monitoring by executives. But just throwing a few graphs on the web page isn't necessarily the right thing to do. Stephen Few covers the subject of dashboard design in his book Information Dashboard Design : The Effective Visual Communication of Data.

Contents: Clarifying the Vision; Variations in Dashboard Uses and Data; Thirteen Common Mistakes in Dashboard Design; Tapping Into the Power of Visual Perception; Eloquence Through Simplicity; Effective Dashboard Display Media; Designing Dashboards for Usability; Putting it All Together; Appendix; Index

For someone like me (not a whiz when it comes to graphic design) to really like a book of this nature is saying something. I actually understood everything he was writing, and I didn't think this was some self-serving "listen to me because I'm an expert" volume. The book is printed on heavy paper stock and full color, so the examples don't lose any impact in the normal translation to black and white. Lavishly illustrated with examples both good and bad, it's easy to see why some things work and some don't. Even designs that I thought "looked" professional had significant drawbacks. For instance, colors should represent the same thing throughout the page. Don't make a pie chart with a red slice if you want red to represent a danger indicator somewhere else on the screen. Minimize the non-data pixels so the eyes don't have to work at interpreting data from "fluff" (like graph lines). And when you're choosing graphing formats, make sure you choose ones which are relevant to the data being displayed. Don't choose a pie chart when a bar graph makes an easier comparison. He even goes into color choices and how they cause the mind and eye to group things on the page. Normally I'd be reading material like this with a "says you!" attitude, but there wasn't a single instance where I thought he was pushing his own preferences instead of something that actually made sense and had some research behind it. I actually found myself thinking about some of my own application designs based on the material presented, as well as how I need to change a few things along the way.

If you're not a graphically oriented person (like I'm not), this book is a lifesaver for your design and development efforts. It should remain close at hand as you do your web site design on a daily basis. And even if you *do* know what you're doing, you will likely become a whole lot better at it after reading Information Dashboard Design.
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on August 7, 2007
Found this book great for discussing how to better structure dashboard interfaces yet as other reviews highlight the real meat is only a fraction of the book.

I think this book suits programmers, dreamweaver artists and web project managers more than it does information designers as many of the insights are intuitive to them.

What I struggled with the most was the amount of slagging of existing systems that the author does. For all the negativity he then only has one or two examples of how it should work. Thus the real take home value is the final chapter.

I'd rather recommend - The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition,Envisioning Information ,The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics: The Dos and Don'ts of Presenting Data, Facts, and Figures,Universal Principles of Design - Then apply their theories within the needs of the interface you're working with (Big or small screen, touch or mouse interaction, fixed or fluid layout etc) on your own as this book goes into none of that in a deep manner.
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on March 1, 2006
I suppose that comparisons to Tufte's work are unavoidable, for he is the best known expert in visual information display and his work is undeniably elegant, but "Information Dashboard Display" is an entirely different type of book. While Tufte and Few would probably agree on most points in a discussion of information visualization, Tufte's focus is wide-ranging and conceptual, while Few focuses on the practical needs of business, and in this book specifically on dashboard design.

Few pulls together relevant advice from a vast body of research, organizes it, and makes it digestible for people like me who must display large amounts of data in the limited space of a single computer screen in a way that clearly and efficiently communicates. No one else has done this. He exposes the common problems in visual dashboard design and step by step leads the reader through practical instruction in how to do it right. I have a job to do; this book has helped me do it, and do it well.
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on January 2, 2006
This is one of the most insightful books on data visualization I have read so far. The author is rather critical of existing dashboard products, which he sees as favoring "decorative flourishes" over simplicity and usefulness. Screenshots are used to illustrate his points and to show alternative solutions. This book can be recommended to anyone who is interested in the display of information and usability issues.
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VINE VOICEon June 20, 2006
What is a dashboard?

No, I don't mean the dashboard of an automobile, but rather the dashboard as it relates to computers and people that use them. Quite simply, a dashboard is like an overview. It's a screen or a web page that displays relevant important content all in one handy place. Instead of having to click from one content area to the other, a user can quickly glance at a dashboard and gather all sorts of useful info without having to perform a lot of navigation. If you are a user of Quicken or Microsoft Money you will be very familiar with dashboards. These applications have used this technique for a long time, providing important financial information such as bills that are due or where money is going... information that you would like to be front and center, not having to click all over the place to get a quick snapshot of the data you want to see.

What Stephen Few does in this book is provide the reader with a fantastic way to look at dashboards. Learn how to avoid mistakes such as making the user have to scroll when that is exactly NOT what you want them to do, providing information that isn't relevant, and/or using meters when graphs or charts would be more applicable. With a nice size to the book, vibrant colors, and great examples, this is a book that provides wonderful suggestions on how to improve design so that developers can create dashboards which are slick, smooth, and most of all... EFFICIENT.

If you are designing or developing a dashboard to serve as an informational tool for your users or is the central focus point of what you are working on, you would be very wise to pick up 'Information Dashboard Design' to get the job done and done right.

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on June 1, 2007
I am actually in the process of creating a marketing dashboard for a Fortune 500 company. I am essentially the lead for this project and wanted to get up to speed in a hurry on the current thinking about dashboards and the visual display of data---this book has been very helpful.

Actually, I have really learned a great deal about what NOT to do when it comes to creating a dashboard.

Colors? No.

Pie Charts? Don't even think of 'em.

How about cool little gauges that look like the speedometer in your car? Please.

Author Stephen Few basically shoots down just about everything you ever thought you knew about what would constitute a good dashboard. What he emphasizes, time and again, is simplicity.

Taking his own advice, the book iteself is very simple and can be read in a few hours as most of its pages contain pictures of, well, examples of bad dashboard design.

My only criticism of the book is that there simply aren't enough examples of good dashboard design.

If you are working on a project that involves the visual display of data, then you should definitely read this book.
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on December 12, 2006
I don't use or create dashboards, but I've been looking for clear guidance in the area of graphs and charts. The Wall Street Journal and the Economist seems to have mastered the job of cranking them out. Instead of aping the ones in the paper, I needed some background training to appreciate what I'm seeing. I tried Tufte's beautiful work, but found it too abstract for a first-timer.

Stephen Few is evidently a man of taste and wisdom. This volume speaks eloquently and in the just the right amount about common pitfalls and the path that avoids them. He performs a tremendous and valuable service assimilating work by other greats in this field and adding useful innovations of his own.

If you appreciate great design, and work with numbers, especially Excel, this will make you a hero. Rarely do you acquire expensive new skills as easily as you will by reading this book.
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on April 14, 2007
I've been poking through this book for the last several months as I've been starting to get my head around KPI and dashboard capabilities in SharePoint Server 2007. The book's a great bit on figuring out the best ways to concisely display critical summary information on a single screen for an at-a-glance overview.

The book's broken out into solid chapters covering dashboard history/background, uses, design mistakes, and the value of simplicity in dashboard content. The style of the book is clear, and it's concise and well-written. There's also great use of color which is terrific because so much of dashboards is about helping give quick visual impacts via smart use of colors.

The intro chapter gives a lot of examples of dashboards, but I found it disappointing in that it doesn't really lay out clear opinions on whether the author liked or disliked the boards. That weakness is limited to the first chapter, though, because the rest of the book does a great job of laying out problematic dashboards and talking about the fundamental issues behind those problems. Few hits a lot of common things like making dashboards which require scrolling to hit all the parts of a dashboard, or fragmenting dashboard content into multiple screens accessed through tabs.

Few's writing style is very clear, and he's got great insight into many details about what makes a good dashboard -- small details like prefering bar charts over pie charts in all but a few cases, or ensuring that you're setting the proper context for visual information.

I'm definitely not a great visual design guy, so this book's been a great help to me in thinking about how to best represent critical data. Frankly, I think the book's a great aid in helping figure out not just dashboards, but how to best represent any critical information in a clear fashion.
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