Saturday, April 14, 2007

Book Review: Information Dashboard Design

Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few.  Publisher: O’Reilly.

I’ve been poking through this book for the last several months as I’ve been starting to get my head around KPI and dashboard capabilities in SharePoint Server 2007.  The book’s a great bit on figuring out the best ways to concisely display critical summary information on a single screen for an at-a-glance overview.

The book’s broken out into solid chapters covering dashboard history/background, uses, design mistakes, and the value of simplicity in dashboard content.  The style of the book is clear, and it’s concise and well-written.  There’s also great use of color which is terrific because so much of dashboards is about helping give quick visual impacts via smart use of colors.

The intro chapter gives a lot of examples of dashboards, but I found it disappointing in that it doesn’t really lay out clear opinions on whether the author liked or disliked the boards.  That weakness is limited to the first chapter, though, because the rest of the book does a great job of laying out problematic dashboards and talking about the fundamental issues behind those problems.  Few hits a lot of common things like making dashboards which require scrolling to hit all the parts of a dashboard, or fragmenting dashboard content into multiple screens accessed through tabs.

Few’s writing style is very clear, and he’s got great insight into many details about what makes a good dashboard — small details like prefering bar charts over pie charts in all but a few cases, or ensuring that you’re setting the proper context for visual information.

I’m definitely not a great visual design guy, so this book’s been a great help to me in thinking about how to best represent critical data.  Frankly, I think the book’s a great aid in helping figure out not just dashboards, but how to best represent any critical information in a clear fashion.

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