Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few

Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few

NOTE: Information Dashboard Design is now in its second edition, which I review here.

You can, as the adage goes, judge a book by its cover. Take, for example, the spartan cover of Stephen Few’s Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data. Designed by the author himself, it sets the tone for a book dedicated not to a specific tool or performance management methodology, but instead about improving how dashboards can most effectively present information.

Dashboards are currently the “in” thing to have. You’re simply uncool if your organization doesn’t have one. But let’s face it. Dashboards are often designed and built by IT geeks (of which I am one). And like the wagon wheel coffee table in When Harry Met Sally, many of our dashboard designs should be hauled out to the curb.

“Above all else, this is a book about communication”, writes the author. And Stephen Few delivers, taking the reader on a journey through an unlucky “thirteen common mistakes in dashboard design” (see Chapter 3). Based on research on how humans process visual information (see Chapter 4: Tapping Into the Power of Visual Perception), he lays down principles that shun the “bling” features that look cool in software vendor demos but fall short in actual use. Who knew that sometimes the best way to present numbers is in a, sigh, table instead of a bunch of space hogging speedometers (see Chapter 6: Effective Dashboard Display Media).

In my role of consultant, I am frequently handed a cocktail napkin (less frequently a requirements document) that already lays out the design. So my job is more about following directions, not offering constructive guidance. However, this book has strongly influenced how I approach my work. Though not specifically about Xcelsius (although it is mentioned), I recommend Information Dashboard Design to my students whenever I teach SAP’s Dashboards or Xcelsius 2008. I believe its insights will change how you can improve your dashboards by striving for the effective visual communication of data.


Stephen Few’s web site is Perceptual Edge. His books can be purchased at and other on-line retailers.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book with my own funds. It was not a free review copy. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Dallas Marks

Dallas Marks

I am an analytics and cloud architect, author, and trainer. An AWS certified blogger, SAP Mentor Alumni and co-author of the SAP Press book SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence: The Comprehensive Guide, I prefer piano keyboards over computer keyboards when not blogging or tweeting.

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