As a dashboard designer, it's important for me to be aware of the major vendors in the dashboard software space. Data visualization experts like Stephen Few have always ragged on vendors for providing software that allows for bad dashboard design practices. My view is less harsh simply because I have a software development background.
What I've noticed from working with a variety of dashboard products (including Dundas Dashboard, InetSoft's Style Scope, Tableau and QlikView) was that I have always been able to build the dashboard I want. I may have had to work harder than I should have to implement my dashboard, but I always got it done.
On the other hand, I think that Mr. Few has a good point. Why do users have to jump through hoops to make properly designed dashboards? The software should incorporate encourage best practices! As a professional with a software background, I appreciate the fact that I am still further ahead. I'd rather start with software that takes care of the majority of the plumbing (data connectivity, data visualization, and a layout engine) than start with Visual Studio, a 2-4 of Diet Coke, and pizza.
What I've concluded is that software alone does not create good dashboards; this responsibility lies more with the users of the software. Properly designed dashboards require training, creativity, and practice. Although some software is better at encouraging best practices than others, blaming the software alone for bad dashboard design is not fair.
As a colleague told me, having a wrench as well as access to do-it-yourself videos on YouTube doesn't mean you should try and fix a plumbing leak in your bathroom. If you cause a flood, will you blame the wrench? Similar to plumbing, building a best-practices dashboard takes experience - the tools are just a means to an end. While software vendors can certainly make it easier for users to follow best practices, it makes more sense to educate users than it does to criticize software vendors. If users are educated, they will demand better software – and it will be in the software vendors' best interests to listen.
Scott Eaton said:
I agree entirely. The tool you use provides the visualizations needed for best practices. It is up to the user to have a solid understanding of best practices in order to create effective dashboards with visualizations that tell the intended story and allow the person analyzing the data to gather their required data efficiently and without having to worry about anything extaneous.