Planning Your SAS Visual Analytics Dashboard

A dashboard starts with planning. In my last post, we talked about gauges and when you want to use them. In this post, we will apply the gauges to a dashboard. Gauges cannot live by themselves – they need supporting information.

It must be clear how the information supports the gauges. I’ll use the same dashboard but with some different gauges. You can determine what worked the best and looked the best. Are those mutually exclusive?

Planning Your Dashboard

This is where you should always start – planning. Each of the gauges should have supporting information. [Check out: 5-Step Process to Effective Dashboards]

This dashboard is for a Customer Support organization.  There were 3 key performance indicators (KPIs) the management team established. The management team agreed if the organization could keep their eye on these KPIs, it would help maintain focus on what the organization wanted to accomplish.

KPI Supporting Info
Resolve 90% of tickets within 30 days The organization has to support service level agreements (SLA). This key SLA is 30 days to resolve a customer issue. Resolving a ticket depends on several things, such as properly trained and available staff and overall arrival rate. The organization has a trained staff, so they want to focus on the arrival rate.

To support the KPI, a dual bar-line chart that shows the Arrival Rate with the On-time percentage is used.

Resolve 25% of tickets during first contact This is a technical customer support organization. Many tickets require follow-up, such as logging into the customer system. Analysis discovered 30% of tickets could have been resolved within one phone conversation by a first-level agent. The management wants to understand severity level and how often tickets are sent to second level support.

To support the KPI, two bar charts are used: Active Incidents by Status and Ticket Severity.  There are other possibilities for this KPI as well.

Maintain customer satisfaction score of 4.5 A key part of a service organization is keeping the customers satisfied. The organization knows there is a relationship between count of tickets and satisfaction. Obviously the more tickets a customer opens the more buggy the product appears,so they will be unsatisfied.

To support this KPI, the customer rating is ranked two different ways: bottom 5 based on rating and top 5 customers based on open incidents.

Dashboard Layouts with Supporting Information

Now that I have my supporting objects, I need to determine a good layout. When the gauges are across the top, it was harder to understand how items were related. I decided to place the gauges along the left side and the supporting objects in rows.

You can see how I planned the flows for the information somewhat based on role or interest. My thoughts are that different people in the organization want more information but in a different view. For instance, the product manager wants to see the product performance. The tech support manager wants to know about the agent performance.

Here’s the flow I used for the dashboard to reports.

dashboard layout

Trying out the Gauges

Here are my tries using each of the gauges.

Example 1: Using a Single Cell Table

This dashboard just uses a single cell table. There was no way to change the border on the table so it seems awkward. I tried using an icon but I could not control the spacing. [You can see the attempt a few images down.]

Click to enlarge image
Click to enlarge image

Example 2: Using a Dial

This dashboard uses a dial. It was hard to find a gauge that really worked or looked nice. The smaller image is more difficult so make sure that you view it enlarged.

Click to view a larger image

Example 3: Using a Thermometer

I like the thermometer the best. It seems the easiest to read and the single color makes it more clear at a simple glance. I like this better than the number because you can also see how close/far you are from the goal.

Click to view the larger image
Click to view the larger image

Dealing with the Awkward Layout

I just didn’t like this dashboard above. The layout worried me. It wasn’t clear is that KPI on the left was related to the information on the right. If it wasn’t clear to me, it would not be clear to others. Then I thought I can use color and containers to assist the user with the association.

My first try was putting color behind the gauges. This seemed to highlight the dissociation of the objects more. It must be clear how the objects were related.


Use Color in the Horizontal Container

I did not need the gauges in a colored container. I needed a colored horizontal container. Here’s an example with a light blue background. I used the modern style for the dial. I like this dashboard and don’t find the gauges distracting. They do draw attention, which is their purpose. [Enlarge the image for a life-size view.] But the user can use the color bands as a visual cue that the object are related.  [Here’s how I moved everything into containers.]

Click to view larger image

Here’s the bullet chart that Stephen Few finds so pleasing. I don’t mind it. I tried all the styles and this basic one seem to work the best. Notice that I change the background to a light bluish gray so as not to compete with the objects. I don’t know if it matters and it may just be personal preference. What’s important is that it doesn’t compete or draw attention to itself. [Otherwise It could be a distracting character.]

Click to enlarge image

Here’s the same dashboard with a thermometer. The bullet chart almost competes with the other colors while this one helps you zero in on what is important. The manager for Team A can see how far/close they are to reach the goal.

Click to enlarge image
Click to enlarge image

Another Dashboard with Gauges

This dashboard uses the number and the gauges in the table. The table uses a mixture of icons, bullet charts, and display rules to signal the user about the company status. When the user clicks on the YTD or MTD metrics, it controls the charts on the right.  This way the user can learn which customers and products are contributing to the revenue.

I used a bullet chart in the top left but I don’t like it. It would have been better to have everything an icon.

Click to enlarge


I think dashboard gauges take design consideration for their use. There’s no reason to leave them out of your dashboard but you have to be thoughtful. You must consider the layout and how to assist the user with understanding their role.

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