MicroStrategy recently announced the release of version 8.1, which supposedly features the “state of the art in business dashboards.” Much like most of the other big business intelligence software vendors, however, MicroStrategy seems to think that the essence of data visualization is flash and dazzle. Here’s how they describe it:
With advanced visualizations that produce ad agency-quality graphics, our pioneering dashboard technology offers a variety of visualizations that let you bring your data to life with beautiful clarity. (Emphasis mine)
Ad agency quality graphics is not the goal that vendors ought seek in an effort to differentiate their dashboards. How about setting themselves apart by being able to honestly say: “Our team of visual communication experts have worked hard to apply the best of information visualization research to the unique requirements and opportunities of dashboards.” So far, I haven’t seen a dashboard product that can make this claim. Too bad. What we’re getting instead is a silly competition among the vendors to out-perform each others with features that don’t matter, because they not only don’t improve a dashboard’s ability to communicate information effectively, they actually obscure the data. “Beautiful clarity” is something I can get excited about, but the sample dashboard below is neither beautiful nor clear:
Even the most basic visual design principles have been ignored, or more likely are not even known, by the person who created this sample dashboard. On a properly designed dashboard, this same information could be displayed in a quarter of the space much more meaningfully and with greater clarity. Why are so many BI software vendors copying one another rather than actually taking the time to learn something about data visualization? Effective data visualization is not achieved by using cute gauges and drop shadows, yet the first section of product features page, titled “Beautiful,” begins with the statement:
MicroStrategy 8.1 dashboards are beautiful — with new graph effects, bevels, gradients, semi-transparency, 3D, Bezier curves, drop shadows, and more — all supported by the new High Fidelity Graphing Engine…
Anyone who understands data visualization, especially as it applies to dashboards, would recognize this as a very dangerous list of data-obscuring nonsense.
Stand up to your vendors and remind them of their obligation to become experts in data visualization if they intend to develop and sell data visualization products. Enough already! My eyes are beginning to hurt.