Over the years, I have received countless requests from novice users to have me help them make their visuals look “pretty.” Pretty, as we know from studying data visualization best practices, has absolutely nothing to do with a good chart.
That said, after you’ve simplified your report, balanced your data ink, and eliminated any chart-junk, it can be a valuable exercise to attempt to achieve elegance in your visual design through some harmonic use of shapes, color, white space, font, etc.
Some people just have this gift: the artistic ability to use the elements they have available in a very eye-pleasing way. The rest of us need examples to follow, and for this, “The Big Book of Dashboards” provides plenty of inspiration.
Written by three data visualization software gurus (Steve Wexler, Jeffrey A. Shaffer, and Andy Cotgreave), the Big Book of Dashboards has tons of visuals meant to exemplify real-world communications that work. Although it doesn’t seem planned (which “felt” like an upside to this reader), the authors included their own commentary in most chapters, which gives you a deeper glimpse into their minds, and additional information to take with you that might help in your future communications conception.
Outside of making things pretty, a common struggle also exists to simply figure out how to visualize certain data. The Big Book of Dashboards provides over 30 chapters and 400+ pages of situation-based solutions, and chances are, with that breadth, you’re bound to hit on the exact scenario in which you find yourself.
The book is short on plan-related examples, for sure. However, I can tell you from my own experience that I was inspired within the first 5 minutes for how I might design a visual that better illustrates on-time status in a way that I hadn’t thought about it before (it will likely show up in a future blog post!).
Although reading this cover-to-cover probably won’t be how you consume the information, it will very likely be something you want at arms reach on your desk, as a reference to thumb through, during a time when you need assistance getting your bearings. Cover-to-cover, though, is how you will extract the gems.
For anyone who needs to create data visualizations as a part of their function, The Big Book of Dashboards is worth the investment, and I’m definitely glad to have my own copy!