A good dashboard is an at-a-glance, birds-eye view of your business or project, and the departure point for action and investigation.
There's a lot of interest in dashboards now. Developers are loading up home screens with colorful charts and graphs. But the snazzy dashboard is not always the most useful one. Think about what's on a car's dashboard. A histogram of my most common driving hours? Graphs of average speed by driver? A timeline of fuel consumption? These would all be worthwhile analytics, but they don't belong on the dashboard, for a simple reason: they don't help you drive. Not every user is as pressed as a car driver or, say, a gamer glancing at a heads-up display. But most users do have concerns on their mind and work to get on with, which is why in general we prefer a dashboard that can be comprehended in a glance or two.
Two watchwords in dashboard design are unified and grounded. Unified, because when diverse information can be integrated in a single view, the eye visits fewer focal points to take in project status. Grounded, because abstract statistics can have blind spots; better to stay in touch with the basic objects that define the business.
At storeyourtires.com, for example, the basic objects are tire sets that are picked up, stored, and later returned to the service shop. For SYT, we built a dashboard that is mostly just an array of counts of tire sets, with a row for each affiliated shop. The numbers are live: to work with a group of tire sets, just click the number There are many numbers on the display but they do not overwhelm, because they are arranged in a unified way that fits the flow of the business operations. In the big picture, tire sets move left to right, from pickup to storage to delivery; day to day, pickup and delivery orders march from less to more urgent columns as the deadline approaches. Often the specific number is not that important—for one set or six, a truck will have to be sent—so the operator can use a soft gaze that registers number position more than its numeric identity. Urgent orders stand out by color as well as position, so they are easy to detect.
Instead of fancy chart art, the SYT dashboard provides just the information the operations manager needs at the right level of detail, in a form optimized for day-to-day work.