Information Dashboard Design (2nd Edition)

Posted by dave on August 9, 2013 Expert, Opinion, Data Analytics

Yesterday we received our copy of the new 2nd edition of Stephen Few’s fantastic book Information Dashboard Design, and I highly recommend it. The first edition has been an invaluable resource for us in designing Chartio. In fact, everyone who joins the Chartio team is sent their own copy of the book to go over before they start.  We try as much as possible to stick with the practices that Stephen suggests and work hard toward creating an interface that can build these dashboards with ease.


I was really excited to see the second edition, especially the new content involving working examples.  Much of the first book was focused on what not to do, with just two samples at the very end as examples of what would be considered a good dashboard design.  Describing what not to do is actually a great approach for teaching data vis as much of visualization design is about removing unnecessary elements so that the data stands out a lot on its own.   It is the approach I also take in my presentations on Charting Best Practices.

But the new edition contains many more of these good examples of dashboard design based on a few consulting projects Few had done and a competition he ran last year. The competition was to create a dashboard for a High School teacher based on a sample data set of students and their performance. The full description:

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). The particular person who will use this dashboard - Susan Metcalf - teaches mathematics at the fictitious Silver Oaks High School. She will ordinarily look at the dashboard prior to each class session to update her awareness regarding the students in that particular class in an effort to prevent or resolve problems and to help each student improve as much as possible. Information has been provided for a single Algebra 1 class, along with some summary information regarding the entire school and the school district, which can serve as context for evaluating this class’ performance. The current date is Tuesday, May 1, 2012, approximately 80% into the current school term.

Few goes over the winner’s design, why it won, and what could still be improved. He went over much of this when announcing the winner last year, but the book contains more detail and also shows many more examples of losing designs while explaining the common pitfalls that entrants ran into.

Lockwood's winning dashboard

Lockwood’s winning dashboard

After the competition Few also presented his ideal dashboard and the decisions made in its design.

Stephen Few's post-competition entry.

Stephen Few’s post-competition entry.

The last new chapter entitled From Imagining to Unveiling is a great walk through of how to go from the desire to have a dashboard, to actually having something useful infront of you. Its a great set of steps, and pitfalls to avoid that I wish all of our customers would read.