Dashboard design flexibility with Corda CenterView

Most dashboard products feature a lot of silly display widgets but lack the basic flexibility required to design dashboards that communicate effectively. They equip you with gauges that make you feel like you’re behind the controls of an antique steam locomotive or playing a video game, but cannot position and size charts as needed or even do things as simple as position the title of a graph’s Y-axis where you want it. So far, I have found very few dashboard products that have the flexibility that is required to support the visual design principles that I teach, but today I can gladly add one more to the list. Corda Technologies offers a dashboard product called CenterView, which is much like other popular products in that it exhibits a wide range of silly widgets and ineffective features, such as 3-D charts, but the silly stuff can be ignored or turned off, and their development environment provides the power and flexibility to produce well designed dashboards.

How do I know this? No, I haven’t spent the last few days learning the product to see what it can do. The folks at Corda did this for me. After a recent product briefing, I invited them to demonstrate the effectiveness of CenterView by doing their best to duplicate one of my own dashboard designs that is featured in my book Information Dashboard Design. I gave them an Excel spreadsheet that contained the data along with a picture of the dashboard, and then waited with great anticipation to see what they could do. I am pleased to announce that they were able to produce a dashboard that is virtually identical to mine, including bullet graphs and sparklines. You are welcome to view their successful dashboard design for yourself.

Corda now joins the select group of vendors who can produce dashboards that communicate effectively, including SAS, BonaVista Systems (makers of an Excel add-in called MicroCharts), and Visual Engineering (makers of VisualAcuity). If there are any other vendors out there who would like to join these ranks, I’d be happy to give you the same challenge that I gave Corda, and more than happy to welcome another vendor to this elite group if you succeed.

Take care,

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11 Comments on “Dashboard design flexibility with Corda CenterView”


By Duranne. November 29th, 2006 at 1:20 pm

Steve,

Do you know of any other vendors that offer Bullet Graphs as an Excel Add-in other than BonaVista?

Thanks!

Duranne

By Stephen Few. November 29th, 2006 at 1:36 pm

Duranne,

I don’t know offhand of another Excel add-in that currently supports bullet graphs. You might be interested, however, in looking at the work that Charley Kyd of http://www.ExcelUser.com has done to enable the creation of bullet graphs in Excel without the use of an add-in.

I’m curious–is there a particular reason why don’t want to use BonaVista’s Microcharts add-in?

Take care,

Steve

By jeff weir. May 1st, 2009 at 11:30 am

Hi Steve. Just discovered your blog via Peltier blog, and am slowly working my way through the back issues. So my below question may have been dealt with somewhere in your blog, and i just havent’ got to it yet. My question is on the use of side by side bullet graphs and sparklines in this Corda example…why would you use a bullet graph at all when you can put a darker horizontal stripe in a sparkline that represents the ‘acceptable’ range (with the blank backgroud below and above the stripe representing ‘not acceptable’ and ‘excellent’ results, and perhaps with a slightly darker horizontal line showing ‘target’)? When the sparkline series drops below or above this stripe, the reader sees all the same information shown in a bullet graph. Even better, they see how this has changed over time.

Granted this wouldn’t work if you had a sparkline that showed this year (as a dark line) superimposed over last year (as a lightly shaded area).

Loving the blog. Keep it up

By jeff weir. May 1st, 2009 at 11:59 am

Hi again. Just realised there would be a few instances where what I suggested in the above post wouldn’t work so well.

One is if you have a sparkline that tracks a cumulative measure (such as the stock price each month) rather than the change in a measure (such as the change in stock price each month). With the cumulative measure, if you wanted to incorporate the bullet info into the spark line, then a horizontal line wouldn’t do it. You’d have to plot your forcasted ‘desired range’ - preferably as a shaded area on the graph, as a horizontal range would just showcase the result at a particular point in time and would not corresspond to the time series shown by all the other points on the sparkline.

Another is the case where you have significant seasonal variation, as many (if not most) sales products exhibit. A horizontal line showing ‘acceptable range’ is not seasonalised, and may be of little use.

By Matt. October 23rd, 2009 at 5:13 am

Hi Steve.

You mention in your blog that you class SAS as one of the few BI vendors which are able to support effective dashboards. Can I please ask how you have formed this opinion and any experience you’ve had in using their ‘BI Dashboard’ product. I gave up attempting to produce anything meaningful through this tool after months of trying for the very reasons outlined in your first paragraph. We have since adopted an Excel approach, using many of the techniques developed by Charles Kyd in his ebook. These have proved immeasurably easier to work with than anything offered by the SAS GUI tool.

I would very much appreciate your thoughts on the subject since our reasons for choosing Excel over a BI product our organisation has invested so heavily in are continually questioned.

By Stephen Few. October 23rd, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Hi Matt,

My statement about the ability to produce well-designed dashboards using software from SAS is based on examples that I’ve seen that were produced by Robert Allison using SAS:Graph. I don’t have any direct knowledge of how capable SAS’ dashboard product is.

Producing dashboards with Excel is often a great way to get started, especially if you have a way to include sparklines and bullet graphs (for example, by purchasing a copy of MicroCharts from BonaVista Systems), and follow the advice of Excel experts like Charley Kyd and Michael Alexander.

By Barry Nobel. February 8th, 2010 at 5:32 am

How to you compare dashboard solutions against balanced scorecard software? Is visualization of data the major purposes business would like to solve with dashboarding?

By Stephen Few. February 11th, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Barry,

As I define the terms, the balanced scorecard is a specific methodology for measuring performance and a dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives, consolidated on a single screen so it can be monitored and understood at a glance. As such, a dashboard can be used to monitor balanced scorecard information (KPIs, etc.), but it can be used to monitor other information as well. Any information that a person or group needs to monitor to maintain situation awareness can be displayed on a dashboard.

By Alex Julien. June 22nd, 2010 at 10:01 am

I just knew about you, Stephen, a couple of weeks ago. The BI field needs more voices like yours to shine light and clarity in a field sometimes so full of nonsense (you’ve got a new fan ;).

I found about Corda today and as soon as I saw one of the demo dashboards, using bullet graphs (which I had seen before, though I didn’t know who invented them) and red alerts ONLY where needed (no green-yellow-red noise) I immediately felt your influence. Wait a minute! If you hover on the image, it says “…using dashboard design principles championed by Stephen Few”. So, there.

By Bill Droogendyk. March 29th, 2011 at 8:01 am

I just received a newsletter from COrda touting some of their dashboard renditions. Most disappointing, given that Corda CAN produce effective dashboards per the third paragraph above, but chooses to market the inferior. Links below - if you care to look:

http://www.uspto.gov/dashboards/patents/main.dashxml
http://www.transtats.bts.gov/

By Stephen Few. March 29th, 2011 at 9:04 am

Bill,

When I first became familiar with Corda, I was hoping that it might become the first dashboard-focused vendor to turn its back on the silly stuff that plagues every dashboard-specific product on the market. At one time they actually established a “Stephen Few Dashboard Practices” section on their website, but this tip of the hat to best practices has not resulted in a reduction of the silly stuff. Too bad. If any dashboard vendor ever gets up the courage to support only what actually works, thereby demonstrating genuine respect for their customers, I’ll happily speak in their favor.