One of the most prevalent problems with dashboard software is inflexible layout. Most products force you to divide the dashboard screen into a rigid grid of rectangular panels into which tables, graphs, and other display widgets are placed. It is difficult to produce a well-designed dashboard when working under these constraints. To arrange a large collection of disparate data in a small amount of space in a way that communicates effectively, you need complete flexibility to position display objects wherever necessary, size them however necessary, and to strip them down to their bare essentials. Most products fail to support this level of flexibility.
I was recently introduced to the work of an Excel expert extraordinaire, Charles Kyd, who gets Excel to perform layout tricks that leave most dashboard products in the dust. Kyd’s web site, http://www.exceluser.com/, offers a cornucopia of Excel resources, including an E-Book, Dashboard Reporting with Excel. In it Kyd presents a step-by-step approach to building dashboards in Excel that makes use of some features that I never knew existed, such as the Camera Tool. It is this feature in particular that frees you from the rigid row and column structure of Excel and allows you to place and size display objects, including tables, with complete flexibility.
Kyd doesn’t claim to be a data visualization expert, but he manages to avoid most of the common pitfalls of visual dashboard design that most software vendors flaunt, such as those ridiculous dashboard gauges that clutter and eat up the screen with low-density information. His visual designs could be improved somewhat, but they are far better than what you’ll find on the web sites of most dashboard vendors and are definitely on the right track for effective communication. Dashboard Reporting with Excel sells for $24.95, and you can download it immediately from http://www.exceluser.com/. Here’s a sample of one of his dashboards:
Not bad for a dashboard that requires nothing but that spreadsheet software that is already running on your computer. I hope that the inventiveness and good sense of people like Charles Kyd provide the swift kick that dashboard vendors need to focus on functionality that delivers real business solutions, rather than the entertaining but information poor dashboards that currently dominate the market.