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« Book Review - The Power of Impossible Thinking | Main| Book Review - Must-Win Battles »

Book Review - Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few

Category Book Reviews
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.

Comments

Gravatar Image1 - Tom,

Thanks for the thoughtful review of my book. Writing books can get lonely at times, because of the unidirectional nature of the work. It means a lot when people who really get it take the time to respond in writing. I'm glad you found Information Dashboard Design useful. I wish you well in your work.

Take care,

Steve

Gravatar Image2 - You need to see this article, where another visualization expert literally challenges most of Few's comments about the subject in this book. It's a great read!

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