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A Dashboard Confession: On Design and Utility

· Java Zone

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Paul Cothenet over at Attack with Numbers came out with a list recently which he titled "The Laws of Shitty Dashboards," in which he gives his opinion on the state of software dashboards today. In short, he's not a fan.

Cothenet openly admits at the beginning of his post that he has committed most of these dashboard sins himself, but hopes that the mistakes he and other designers have made with dashboards in the past might serve as a warning to designers and inspire a brighter future for dashboard design. The laws he comes up with are based on personal opinion and often hard to support subjectively: "Law #1: Most software dashboards are shitty". Still, he invites the reader to come to his or her own conclusion based on user experience:

Don’t believe me? Name 3 good software dashboards, right now.

Found anything? Yeah, I guessed so. Yet, they’re everywhere. Any SaaS software you’re using probably has one, most likely as its home page.

You probably never look at it. It’s as if they weren’t there. (I call this dashboard-blindness). Thus, so, most software dashboards are shitty.

Some of Cothenet's laws are more based on common sense: "Law #3: If you don't know what to take away from your dashboard, your user won't;" others seem more controversial, like his corollary to law #7: "No one needs real time." His final point is one to surely make developers think:

Law #8: You probably don’t need a dashboard

If you can’t think of a reason (besides “they can look at their number”) why your users would use your dashboard, then you don’t need a shitty dashboard.

If your data is only useful on a monthly basis but doesn’t move much in between, maybe you don’t need a shitty dashboard. Send your numbers by email the end of the month instead. Sure, you can still build a shitty dashboard, but don’t complain that no one looks at it.

At the end of his post, Cothenet makes this plea: "There are already a lot of shitty dashboards out there. Please save the planet, don’t create more."

What are your thoughts on the state of dashboard design? Is it really that bleak? Or is Cothenet overreacting?

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