Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Dashboard Design

I attended a workshop recently on dashboard design by none other than data visualization expert, Stephen Few. I highly recommend his workshops for beginners or experienced professionals.

At the end of the workshop Steve brought up several examples of dashboards from a competition he hosted in 2012. The purpose was to find new dashboard examples for the second edition of his book, Information Dashboard Design, where he can point out good or bad technique. I didn't make the book but I still have my submission so here's a short critique of my own work based on what I learned.

Here's two lines from the instructions - "This competition involves the design of a dashboard that would be used by a high school teacher to monitor student performance (behavior, aptitude, and achievement) ... Concern yourself only with the design of the initial dashboard that this teacher could use to rapidly monitor what’s going on with her students in preparation for the day’s class."

My submission (click to enlarge):

Areas for improvement:

  • Ability to see trends - It's difficult to see patterns in student performance and behavior. With the assignments it is easy to see passing vs. failing grades, but a 10 color range is too large to guess the variance. For adverse behavior one can't see whether those absent/tardy days for Bae Kim are spread over the period, or perhaps a bunch of days were missed in the beginning and the student has never caught up ... difficult to say.
  • Alerts / scannability - Converting the letter grades to integers for the "Grades from Goal" isn't as effective as say, a horizontal bar that represents above or below a student's goal. See below for an example of how this might be easier to scan. In addition, eye-catching symbols can be used to point out specific students when an action may be needed, such as 3 consecutive days with adverse behavior.
  • Highlighting what's important - The summary information on the right is mostly static and not as important on a daily basis. If this information is included, it should get less screen real estate and focus. Some of this information is benchmarks and can be more appropriately integrated in the row level data. Also, I believe I sorted by Current Letter Grade, Grades from Goal, and first name. I'm back and forth on this but maybe sorting by Assignment Score would have been better.

So what do I like about my dashboard? I like that I can see all the students on one page without needing to interact. The left half at least is concise - you can see a lot of valuable information in a small space. I like the semester progress bar on top, though it can be more compact to give more room for student rows. And I like the color consistency in keeping with blue is a C or better and red is a D or less. In the future the colors can be softer and less granular, and this would make it easier to see any alerts that might come up in the dashboard.

It was much easier critiquing dashboards that are not your own. For some nice examples of a dashboard for this competition see the winner and runner up's dashboards and Stephen Few's dashboard.

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