Enterprise dashboard enthusiasts may not think the above headline very “punny”, but I could not help myself when I read the latest issue of noted dashboard guru Stephen Few’s Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter entitled Dashboard Confusion Revisited. In this excellent article, Mr. Few looks back on the confusion surrounding the definition of a “dashboard” and the clear definition he proposed at the time:
In March of 2004, three years ago exactly, my article titled “Dashboard Confusion” appeared in Intelligent Enterprise magazine. I wrote it because, at the time, I was concerned that the potential benefits of dashboards were being undermined by a great deal of confusion about what a dashboard was. The term “dashboard” needed a clear definition. In the article, I proposed a working definition in an attempt to reduce the confusion: “A dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives; consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance.”
Now, three years later, with the popularity of business intelligence dashboards exploding, Mr. Few is unhappy with that working definition. He feels that there is a definite difference between screens that monitor the state of things and screens that are used for data analysis. As he states,
Although many people have embraced this definition over the years, the term dashboard continues to be used in reference to almost any type of screen-based display that combines more than a single chart, no matter what its purpose. This not only creates confusion, but it also makes it impossible to say anything useful about dashboards. For instance, you cannot say anything about how dashboards ought to be designed without first specifying the purpose of the display. Displays that are used for monitoring what’s going on (dashboards) must be designed and must function quite differently than displays that are used to analyze data.
So, being the thought leader that he is, Mr. Few now proposes to differentiate the screens meant to analyze data by coining a new phrase – “Faceted Analytical Displays”.
Here we are now in March of 2007, three years from the release of my original article, and I am compelled once again to plead for clarity to end the confusion. The greatest clarification that is needed today is a distinction between dashboards, which are used for monitoring what’s going on, and displays that combine several charts on a screen for the purpose of analysis. Multi-chart analytical displays have tremendous potential, but they are very different in design and function from dashboards.
I would like to propose a unique name for them so we can discuss and promote them without confusion. I suggest that we call this a Faceted Analytical Display. According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the adjective “faceted” means “having a form which has many faces or aspects.” This perfectly describes the nature of these analytical displays, which combine several views of (or perspectives on) a common set of data to provide a rich display for analysis. Once again, in an effort to promote clarity and the basis for fruitful discussion, I would like to propose a definition: A “faceted analytical display” is a set of interactive charts (primarily graphs and tables) that simultaneously reside on a single screen, each of which presents a somewhat different view of a common dataset, and is used to analyze that information.
Thank you Stephen Few for another historical pronouncement. I’ve been working hard with a client on a “Faceted Analytical Display”, and I didn’t even know it!
Seriously, it’s this kind of thoughtful insight that Mr. Few so often brings to our industry. Be sure to subscribe to his wonderful newsletter.
Here is a sample Faceted Analytical Display provided by Mr. Few:
By the way, did you know that Few now offers his seminars to the public? He’ll be offering his famous data visualization courses to the general public for the first time this coming June. Until now, people could only attend these courses if their employer could gather enough participants for a private workshop, if they attended a conference where Mr. Few was teaching, or if they were part of the MBA program at the University of California, Berkeley. People who work for organizations that are too small to gather an adequate number of participants by themselves and have no interest in attending a larger conference have had no means to attend in the past, but now they do. The 2007 West Coast Visual Business Intelligence Workshop will help people develop data analysis and presentation skills. Learn more about it at http://www.perceptualedge.com/workshops.php.
For those of you Dashboard Spy readers who don’t know Mr. Stephen Few, he is the author of the noted book: Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data.
So who is the Dashboard Spy? No one really knows, but his growing collection of enterprise dashboard screenshots has captured the imagination of the executive dashboarding community. From excel dashboards and custom-built business scorecards, to xcelsius and flex-based visualizations, the dashboard screenshots at dashboardspy.com serve both as nuggets of inspiration and warnings of what not to do on an enterprise dashboard. These hits and misses will enlighten and entertain. Technology-neutral, and always business-driven, the Dashboard Spy website is the place to go to learn about the latest enterprise dashboard packages.
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