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What to read to build better dashboards
Delaney Turner 270002T14M firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  dashboards data_visualization stephen_few
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I'm a little late on the uptake on this one, but data visualization expert, author and educator Stephen Few is once again running his Visual Business Intelligence Workshops in Austin, Boston, London and a few other cities throughout 2010.
Stephen's a passionate and articulate advocate for increasing the clarity and information value in reports and dashboards we all use. His books, including the recently released Now You See It, have legions of fans. HIs work is often referred to the same breath as the dean of data visualization Edward Tufte, whose 1983 publication The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is probably the best non-business business book you'll ever read.
I'm unlikely to attend any of these workshops, but I'm still pretty excited to know they're happening and, in the case of the one happening right now in Sydney, sold out.
Here's why: first, Stephen gave one of his workshops to one of our internal teams here a while back and it was met with rave reviews from all who attended; second, he was kind enough to write three white papers for us in that same time period and they continue to prove popular downloads from our Dashboarding Web page.
In the first paper, he looks at the core principles for displaying quantitative information - specifically, how our eyes perceive patterns, color and shape, and the conclusions our brains draw from them, often without our knowing. He surveys an increasingly large body of work into visual perception and translates the findings into real-world repercussions for dashboard design.
The second looks at the most common patterns in business data (such as rank, part-to-whole, devation and distribution) and provides helpful guidelines for how to best to represent them. We've included this one in an information kit that shows you how to build them using IBM Cognos software. You can download it here.
In the third paper, Stephen looks looks at future directions in data visualization, including heat maps and geo-spatial renderings - the kind now making their way into the BI landscape courtesy of mashups. You can get it here.
On their own, any one of these is an engaging and informative read. Combined, they're an essential primer for how to communicate clearly with data. If you're currently building a dashboard or need to improve the ones you have, I strongly suggest giving them a read.