Dashboards must be functional, not flashy to communicate clearly and quickly

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Poor information design, especially for creative marketing-types used to consuming data visually, can sentence your dashboard to the worst of all fates-that of not being used.

Stephen Few, principal of consultancy Perceptual Edge and author of the just-released book "Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data" (O'Reilly & Associates) offered some tips for building marketing dashboards.

BtoB: What is the design key to an effective marketing dashboard?

Few: It's very tempting for a marketing department to put graphic artists in charge of building a dashboard that'll look dazzling but doesn't communicate effectively. One of the big problems most dashboards suffer from is an emphasis on making it look pretty as opposed to stepping back and asking what is the right information and what is the best way to display it in a way that communicates clearly and rapidly.

BtoB: What are the most common mistakes?

Few: A common mistake is splashing all sorts of color on the dashboard so that it becomes visually assaulting. Color can be used in very powerful ways to draw people's attention to things and organize data but, when you over-use it, it ceases to have that power anymore. You also see people focus on visual fluff and metaphors, such as gauges and the like.

BtoB: What one piece of advice would you offer dashboard designers?

Few: The most fundamental thing is to keep it simple. Simplicity is really the key to eloquence when creating a good dashboard. Simple as far as the data itself ... but also keep the visual design of it as simple as possible. A dashboard by its very nature is about pulling together a lot of information and presenting it in a limited space. That can very quickly become cluttered and visually overwhelming if it's not done right.

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