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Information Dashboard Design

Stephen Few
Published by O'Reilly Media
223 pages
£ 24.99
Published: February 10, 2006
reviewed by Sam Smith
   in the June 2006 issue (pdf), (html)

``Information Dashboard Design -- The Effective Visual Communication of Data'' seems like an odd book for us to review; it isn't.

Much of what we spend our time doing is waiting for things that are about to go wrong and fixing them; hopefully before anyone notices. An Information Dashboard is an at-a-glance thing which tells you which part of the building is on fire (58), and whether or not it should be.

The most common example is the Nagios ``network outages'' and ``network status'' displays. A quick, easy, obvious way to see that everything is working just fine. While Nagios is a good example of dashboard design, there are many, many, bad examples, and there are areas where lives could be made simpler with a few perl scripts and a simple web page.

The book talks about what is useful, what works, and what doesn't. While much of it may be common sense when you can sit and tweak it until it's just right; when you are building these things for others with different expertise to see, the outcome can be very different, and can increase or decrease questions.

While the comments and examples within the book are mainly aimed at the quick presentation of status information; they are equally applicable to many varied forms of presentation. whatever you're drawing graphs or charts of, there are common mistake highlighted as things which should be avoided, along with why. Much as there is with the use and, more often, abuse of design in many documents.

One of the most valuable parts of the book is that there are many many illustrations of the concepts being described. Well thought out and detailed, points are well made, with strong advice on how to avoid making the same mistakes, and tips on doing good things better.

While not a book that everyone will have any interest in, if you spend time dealing with the meaning of graphic information, status displays or reports, you might find it useful to have a brief skim before handing it to the person who created what you're looking at.

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