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Why It Works: Critiquing the Dashboard in the Journal of Accountancy

January 29, 2011

Hat tip to Neal at Endgame Fundamentals, who directed me to this professional dashboard sample published in February’s Journal of Accountancy.  The article is wonderfully technical and practical.  You can read the entire piece here and as a bonus download the Excel templates (in both Excel 2007 and 2010).  What I’d like to do here is to highlight a few things on the dashboard’s functional design to show you why it works.

  1. The dashboard is set against a white background.  The lines are clean, minimal, and no fancy fonts are used.  In short, there is nothing here to distract the reader from the data.
  2. The green and red arrows are used in a way that respects both colors’ inherent meaning.  Green = Good.  Red = Needs Attention.
  3. The arrows are intentionally less precise than the Percent Change numbers next to them.  For example: Janet’s -4% drop is not shown as red, and Scott’s 3% gain is not shown as green.  This great use of visual cue tells the reader that even though every rep is experiencing a variance, very real changes are happening to Mark and Mary.  The rest of the gang is going steady for the most part.
  4. The first three quadrants compares the reps side by side.  This fourth quadrant lets the reader review each rep’s product mix in more detail.  Using the toggle functionality allows the creator to present detailed information by individual without the need to take up valuable dashboard real estate.
  5. The creator could have created a pie chart for each person: One for Scott, one for Mary, and so on.  But he did not.  In general, avoid comparisons between two or more pie charts if at all possible.  The brain has a hard time figuring out the areas across pie slices to calculate how much bigger one slice is than the others.  In this case, the creator chose wisely to use a stacked bar chart, which is basically a linear presentation of a handful of pie charts (imagine pie charts “unraveled”). 

If you want this dashboard, visit the article link to download the Excel template.  And here is a great post on the most abused graphical tool of all time!

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