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Behind the scenes of FacileThings’ dashboard design: In conversation with Francisco Sáez

by Shilpi Choudhury, Writer, FusionChartsWednesday, February 05, 2014

Behind the scenes of dashboard design is a series of interviews with Product Managers, Developers and Designers of software products with kick-ass information dashboards to help you get an insider’s view into their making. This is the second part of the series.

So much to do and so little time, this is a feeling which plagues all of us at some time or the other. This feeling worsens as tasks get added to our to-do list.

In 2002, David Allen introduced a groundbreaking work-life management concept called Getting Things Done or GTD in his book of the same title. The core idea behind GTD is that if we externally record our planned tasks and projects and then break them down into actionable items, it would help us focus our attention on taking actions on those tasks instead of just mulling over them.

FacileThings uses this GTD principle and marries it with technology to give us a self-management app that aims to give time back to us. The entire process of FacileThings is made up of five stages in true GTD style: We (1) collect things that command our attention, (2) process what to do about them, and (3) organize the results, which we (4) review to decide what’s the next thing to (5) do.

I recently spoke to Francisco Sáez, CEO of FacileThings, on how he went around building the FacileThings dashboard, what were his design considerations and where does he see the data visualization industry in 2014. Here are the excerpts from the interview:

What is FacileThings?

FacileThings is a personal management system based 100% on the GTD methodology. We not only provide a tool for managing projects and tasks but also try to guide and educate our users to understand a philosophy that can reduce stress in their lives by making them more organized.

The Analytics dashboard is a recent addition to your product. Prior to this, how did your users track their results?

We didn’t have a dashboard before. Users were able to track their projects and tasks, but they had to see every single project or list to do that. And, of course, they could not compare performances or see percentage data, only the amount of pending tasks, done tasks, etc. were displayed.

What were the primary reasons behind incorporating a dashboard? How does the dashboard help the user perform his job better using FacileThings?

Well, personal productivity is a matter of habits, and it’s difficult to build new habits. Many people are very eager when they start to use a personal organization tool but after some time they are unable to stick to the necessary habits and they leave.

We believe that it is easier to maintain the new habits if you get constant feedback on how you’re doing. And a dashboard can help provide that constant feedback and can be a great source of motivation.

Also, if you already have the habits, measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. Having objective data, not just feelings, allows people to see when and where they are wavering, and help them make better decisions.

How did you go about building the dashboard? Did you use any 3rd party component or built it from scratch?

We built it from scratch but used a third party charting component to display the pie, line and bar charts.

What were your considerations before zeroing in on the 3rd party component?

It had to be easy to integrate with Ruby on Rails, very light, customizable and HTML5 compatible.

What were your primary UI/UX considerations while building the dashboard?

We wanted it to be above all else useful, clear and easily understandable. Simplicity over interactions and display of only essential information so that the user can find the dashboard useful and doesn’t get overwhelmed by a bunch of data.

What is the USP of your dashboard?

Our dashboard tries to keep people motivated, so it basically compares how you’re doing this week with respect to the past week. You can also get a wider perspective and see monthly and annual results.

In addition to the dashboard in the web application, the user receives a weekly summary report by email.

Does your premium version have any advanced dashboard features?

FacileThings isn’t a freemium application. There’s just a 30-day free trial period and then comes the subscription model, if the user finds it valuable. And all the features are always available to their fullest.

Did adding a dashboard impact your revenue?

Well, it’s soon to tell you about this because we added this feature a month ago. But my guess is yes. At least, we are seeing an important increase in user retention in the free trial (from 15% to 22%).

Do you think information dashboards are important in software products?

Absolutely! Whatever activity you do in your business, you need to be in control to stay competitive. You need to know where you’re strong and where you’re weak, so you can make the best decisions to improve. Dashboard and reporting, ultimately, lead to increasing overall efficiency.

Where do you see the data visualization industry in 2014?

No doubt, this is an industry that is growing rapidly and I expect it to continue in the coming years, especially after the push given by Big Data. The Internet has plenty of data that need to be analyzed and presented properly for them to be actionable.

If you liked reading this, you may also want to check out the first part of this series where we talk to the Head of Product Development at RescueTime to know their behind the scene dashboard story.

About the author

Shilpi Choudhury is a writer at FusionCharts, an enterprise-grade charting solutions that has clients like NASA, Microsoft, Cisco, GE, AT&T, and World Bank. She is also a guest blogger at Uxmag, Six Revisions and Visual.ly. Her focus is on writing about data visualization, dashboard design, and best practices in charting. You can follow her on twitter or connect with her on Google+.

Article originally published on the FusionCharts Blog.

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