Creating Dashboards that Really Work – BuildingIQ


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Creating Dashboards that Really Work

By Ken Hejmanowski, Director of Product Management
June 21st, 2015

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a bit of dashboard fatigue these days. I’m talking about these software app screens whose only job is to summarize, distill, and present useful information to make my tasks easier. Most of them fail. And they fail big.

They fail with clutter, exaggeration, and competing elements. They fail with their overuse of cutesy speedometer-like gauges, 3D-charts, bright and bold color splashed everywhere, fancy shading, graphics, and chaotic layout. Each element is trying to outdo the other, to grab my attention, to dazzle and excitement me. And they might actually do so at first glance like suddenly stepping into Times Square on a Saturday night. But in the work world, on a prolonged basis, they quickly prove tiresome and un-useful. They are not inviting me to check in on the status of things, so much as saying stay away, the very opposite of their intended purpose.

Remember the evolution in web sites? First, plain vanilla, utilitarian, dull, obscure, awkward. Then designers competed with all the new graphic tools at their disposal to get the wow effect, and sites became three-ring circuses, with everything jammed onto the front page, screaming for attention. The eye went everywhere, like a pinball, while the brain tried to filter. Finally, designers calmed down, grew to appreciate the value of focus, simplicity, and white space to direct the eye to the most important information.

Stephen Few, an expert in information dashboard design, recommends that we get back to the basics of what a dashboard is intended to do:

“A dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives; consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance.”

The operative word is “glance.” How long is a glance? Maybe a second. When you want to find out how fast you are driving, how much gas you have left, how long does it take you? Just a glance.

Springboarding off Few’s definition of dashboard purpose, many designs fail because the designers have failed to identify the most important and useful information to the viewer/user given their objectives. But even assuming for the moment that designers get that part right, their greatest shortcoming is that the key information gets lost in all the noise created by the overuse of so many flashy on-screen elements. Why give one message when twenty is better —they seem to think. With clutter and noise, the power and the necessity of the singular glance is compromised.

It’s the difference between driving on an unfamiliar stretch of road on a cold foggy night versus that of driving on a clear, sunny day. Ahhhhhh, feel the difference?

At BuildingIQ, the design and rollout of new dashboards starts with the basics. What is the user trying to accomplish? What does the user need to know to accomplish it? What related conditions or issues need to be brought to the user’s attention that might affect achieving his/her goals?

We also keep in mind that our users are busy people. They don’t have time to sit and try and sort out what’s going on. Just tell me what I need to know, when I need to know it, and let me get on the other 99 things I need to get done today. Just give it to me straight and fast.

Given the automated nature of BuildingIQ’s system and Managed Services portfolio, most customers won’t even need to look at our dashboards or other screens. But when they do, they will see that we resist the urge to dazzle them, even for a brief moment.

Three things you’ll find in all of BuildingIQ’s dashboards:

  • Simplicity
  • Directness
  • Usefulness

We want happy, satisfied customers, and we want them to remain our customers for a long time. We achieve that by delivering the savings they expect, and by making all their interactions with our system —and our people— as direct and useful as possible.

Put more simply, we are in this for the long haul, which means when it comes to dashboard design we invest in what works best for our customers.