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Selecting the Right Charts and Indicators for Visually Impactful Dashboards
Part 4 of 4 - Special Purpose Charts

by Frank Smietana, BI Specialist, Dimensional InsightTuesday, December 14, 2010

Today’s dashboard environments provide developers with a rich set of indicators and charts, ranging from bullet graphs to sparklines and bar charts to bubble graphs. Additionally, numerous formatting options such as splines and 3D displays are available, adding even more complexity. To the casual observer, chart types and options may appear to be largely interchangeable and are simply left to the discretion of the developer. But as the art and science of effective dashboard design has evolved, data visualization gurus have established some guidelines regarding which charts and indicators to use for various types of data and how to present those charts most effectively. This issue is receiving increasing media attention as dashboards migrate to the limited display “real estate” found on mobile devices, placing a premium on efficient dashboard based information delivery.

In this series of Dashboard Insight articles we’ll look at some popular chart types and describe how to use them most effectively in your dashboards, as well as pitfalls to avoid. In Part 1, we’ll discuss effective dashboard indicators. Part 2 will deal with basic charts and in Part 3 we’ll move on to charts that display more than one data element. In our final article, we’ll present some special purpose charts. With this collection of indicators and charts, your dashboards will stand head and shoulders above the competition, and leave your users with an unambiguous and actionable view of their data.

Part 4 - Special Purpose Charts

Now let’s look at a few special purpose charts found in today’s dashboard environments. These charts are very effective for displaying certain types of data and can set your dashboards apart from the crowd when applied correctly.

A Calendar Chart is a compact and intuitively simple vehicle for displaying time based data. This provides visibility into cyclic events, and facilitates easy periodic comparisons, such as month to month or week to week. With calendar charts, users can quickly spot trends and answer questions such as:

  • Is revenue higher at the start or end of a month?
  • Do costs tend to rise or fall on Fridays?
  • Are these metrics impacted by seasonal fluctuations?

revenue calendar

Maps provide a great way to display geographic data dimensions. A combination of text labels, dashboard indicators, and color coding are used to display quantitative metrics such as per capita income ranking and median level of education for the State dimension:

Map Dashboard Component map of austrailia

Statistical Process Control charts are used extensively in manufacturing and healthcare to track key metrics such as defects on an assembly line or hospital-acquired infections. Although several variations of control charts exist, most control charts display upper and lower control limits as well as the current time series of data.

line graph

To download the complete four part series click here.

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