Thursday, 1 September 2011

The chart you should never see on a dashboard

This chart communicates two data series pretty well. It's not cluttered and it's definitely not a pie chart.

Unfortunately, it's also an almost guaranteed sign of a dashboard that's looking for a purpose and that hasn't been designed with a task in mind. A dashboard that won't help you.

Dashboards are for monitoring data that you already understand. Data, which you very likely already know how you'll react to when it changes. This chart is for analysis - it compares data, looking for a relationship.

Take the term 'dashboard' literally for a minute and think about the data that's displayed on the dashboard in your car. Your speed is shown on there, because you need to know it and because you already know how to make it change when it's too fast or too slow.

You have a petrol gauge too. That's useful data to avoid an embarrassing call to the AA from the hard shoulder because you've run out of petrol. Again, when the gauge drops, you already know what to do.

A lot of data about your car isn't on the dashboard. There's no report on the mix of gasses coming out of your exhaust for example.That's useful information to know whether your engine is running efficiently, so why isn't it there?

It's not there, because if it's out of line, what are you going to do about it? If you're like me, then you probably don't even know what out of line might look like. It would be a distraction from driving at best. There might well be a warning light on the dashboard that says 'see a mechanic' when the exhaust gasses aren't right but that's a very different concept to showing you all of the data and hoping that you draw the right conclusions.

Back to the chart then. It's a classic sign of a dashboard that's trying to be used for analysis, rather than for keeping an eye on indicators that you understand. We had a client recently ask for a chart of their sales vs. the weather and it's very much that kind of chart. The client didn't really want a chart of their sales vs. the weather; they wanted to know if their sales were affected by the weather and they thought that the chart might tell them.

It wouldn't.

You need a mechanic for that. In marketing, we call mechanics analysts.

Dashboarding large amounts of data that you don't already understand in detail, won't help to improve your marketing. It will distract you from driving.

Monitoring a lot of statistics and hoping to spot relationships between them won't work. You need to be a mechanic, or at least to want to learn to be one.

Dashboards are for metrics that you understand. That you already know how to respond to. Everything else is analysis and it doesn't belong on your dashboard.

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