Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan
6Oct/110

Dashboard Chart Fouls: Do Your Charts Pass This 3-Step Test?

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If I had a penny for every time I heard the phrase ‘Rules are meant to be broken,’ I’d be rich. However, this cliché has no place in BI dashboard design. Having the right dashboard charts and graphs are essential to making your dashboard a useful resource. Your users may not be able to articulate it – since they may not know better – but your dashboard may be the victim of what we call a “chart foul.” Chart fouls can be detrimental to the usefulness of your dashboard because they indicate that data isn’t being presented the right way, or they mean that your chart type or data labels are confusing your users.

We’ve been building BI dashboards for the last 18 years for large and small companies. You can probably imagine the number of chart fouls we’ve come across. Today we’ve pooled our knowledge and present to you some pointers on major chart fouls to avoid:

1. Choosing the wrong chart type.
Have you ever seen a bar chart with more than 15 data sets? That’s a considerable amount of information to display horizontally, so chances are that the graph appeared very cluttered and was difficult to read. You’re better off displaying such information as a simple line graph. How about a radar graph showing the qualitative scores of potential hires? It’s just as confusing as it sounds (see below), and is probably not a good idea either. So in order to show ranking among candidates, a good old-fashioned table of numbers will do. Choosing the right graph or chart for your data is an art. You should select a graph that is easy to understand and is an appropriate representation of your data. In a previous post on Dashboard Charts & Graphs, we reviewed how to choose the best chart type for your BI dashboard.

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22Aug/110

Dashboard Charts & Graphs: Which Is Right For Your Data?

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Decision-makers depend on insightful charts and graphs to help them make fast, accurate decisions. “Insightful” charts and graphs are easy to read and understand and are the right design for your data. The wrong chart type can throw everything off and make your dashboard unusable. For example, while pie charts are most often used to display the share or percentage of a total, they’re not good for comparing the relationship between two variables – a scatter chart is better for that. While bar charts are good for comparison, if you want to compare many categories of data over time, go with a line chart.

Are you tasked with creating the dashboards that are used every day at your organization? As dashboard experts, let’s take a look at a few practical examples of why certain charts are better suited to display certain types of data versus others. If you find this article useful, be sure to view our webinar recording Scorecard & Dashboard Development: A Detailed How-To, where you’ll get more practical tips to create interactive, “go-to” dashboards.

Bullet Graphs vs. Bar Charts

Sales data for the year may be best displayed on a bullet graph. This type of graph displays a fair amount of data in a small space, compares measures to enrich its meaning, and is generally a simple, uncluttered visual representation of data. With a bullet graph, the budgeted sales amount for the year is represented by the entire length of the bar; the actual value is represented by the thin bar in the forefront (blue on the sales bullet graph). The shaded grey areas (in our image) represent the values “poor,” “satisfactory,” and “good.” In our image, the sales data is satisfactory, approaching good. Stacking bullet graphs allows the user to compare values with ease – here, sales vs. costs. A bullet graph would even work well as a desktop widget since it can showcase an important KPI in a simple, space-efficient format.

Would a bar chart work for this same data?
A bullet chart is actually a variation of a bar chart. Even though bar charts are useful for comparing data as well, for our sales example, it may not be your best option. With a bar chart, you’d need to have 2 columns per month – one for actual and one for the target/budgeted amount. Alternatively, you could use a stacked bar chart, but that is basically what we have here with the bullet graph, only with even more data than a stacked bar chart typically offers. Because it would be difficult to track your progress over time, a standard bar chart isn’t the most efficient chart type for sales actual vs. budget data.

Candlestick Charts vs. Bubble Charts

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