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Juice’s Simple Font Framework

The following is an excerpt from our three-part series: "A Guide to Creating Dashboards People Love to Use". It is chock full of best practices and practical tips for designing dashboards. This particular nugget is something we’ve used to great effect and wanted to make sure our readers didn’t miss out simply because they were afraid of ending up on our mailing list. There is even a movie version.

We’d like to offer a simple framework for effective use of fonts in your dashboard. With a few simple decisions, you can ensure that the text on the dashboard will both look good and communicate effectively. The majority of text on the page falls into four categories:

  • Body text is clean, readable content
  • Headers separate and name major sections of your work
  • Notes describe additional things the reader should be aware of. These should fade into the background unless we call attention to them.
  • Emphasis text is what we want our reader to pay particular attention to.

The following table describes an approach for deciding how to display each of these text types. The yellow highlights indicate where you need to make decisions.

Simple Font Framework

It comes down to three basic decisions:

  • Choose size and font of the body text
  • Decide if the header is going to flip to serif or sans-serif—and whether it is going to have any style
  • Decide what to do about emphasis—color or (bold or italic)

A few things things don’t fit neatly into one of the four text categories listed above, such as table headers and graph titles. We tend to use a combination of styles to handle these exceptions.

Simple Font Framework Example 1

Stick to this framework and we guarantee your dashboard will look better. Take a look at this example, starting with a standard-looking Excel report without out much thought put toward the fonts:

The following version of the same report cleans up the table, chart, and fonts:

Simple Font Framework Example 2

A final version uses Georgia for the title font and brings in a new emphasis color. The result: a totally different but equally clean and readable report.

Simple Font Framework Example 3

The Best of Business Intelligence: Innovation at the Fringe

Enough complaining about the broken bits of Business Intelligence; it’s time to highlight the things that are good and right in the industry. Like most industries, the renewal and innovation occurs at the fringe, beyond the comfort zone of established vendors.

I’ve created five categories and a catch-all to capture the solutions and companies (not so much technologies) that are leading the next generation of Business Intelligence. The categories are:

  • Analyst tools
  • Dashboards
  • Targeted solutions
  • Open-source and free
  • Advanced visualizations
  • Other stuff

Naturally I’ve focused on areas of Juice expertise and focus -- not coincidentally, the places where we feel BI has neglected end-users. According to a study by the Business Application Research Center, BI end-user adoption sits at a lowly 8%.

I’m happy to take your suggestions (and update the post) for things I’ve missed in these categories or for entirely new categories.

Analyst tools

Tools that make it easy for analysts to pull data from multiple sources, analyze, visualize and share it.

Tableau dashboard

Winner: Tableau, the reigning king of visual analytics tools, has added more web-based functionality to allow for online sharing and collaboration.

Good Data dashboard

Runner-up: Good Data has arrived on the market with a web-first platform designed to democratize analytics. I had a chance to get a demo from the management team and was impressed with the ease of use and high-quality data presentation.

Dashboards

"A frequently updated analytical display that is clear and concise" (via a recent post)...and not likely to draw the rage of Stephen Few.

BonaVista Systems dashboard

Winner: BonaVista Systems wants to make Excel a "first choice dashboard tool." From the humble position of sparkline plug-in vendor, BonaVista has taken a leadership role in encouraging more effective dashboard design.

Runner-up (tie): Two BI companies, Qlikview and Microstrategy, seem to be following BonaVista’s lead. Unfortunately, they may only be dipping in a toe as I found just a couple examples that break from the traditional over-glossy, gauge-riddled dashboard interface.

Qlikview dashboard

Targeted solutions

Companies that serve a narrow slice of the BI world extremely well. The desire to be all things to all people has been an Achilles Heel of the BI industry. The general purpose BI platforms often prove too broad and too generic to serve the unique problems of specific industries or functional areas.

WSOD

Winner: Wall Street on Demand is a brilliant, below-the-radar provider of information solutions to the financial sector. Their sparse, articulate marketing text and few screenshots hint at a company that knows exactly what they do and deliver high-quality BI solutions. I wish I knew more.

Runner-up (multiple): The following are just a few companies that have focused on an industry or functional segment to deliver targeted BI solutions:

Open-source and free

(I know there is a difference.)

Pentaho

Winner: Pentaho offers an open-source end-to-end BI suite that is a competitive alternative to the big-guys. Of course, the implementation it isn’t necessarily cheap or easy.

Google Fusion Tables

Runner-up: If anything should scare the BI industry, it is the possibility of a Google Analytics model extended into more general data analysis and visualization tools. Google Fusion Tables may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Advanced visualizations

Bringing leading-edge visualization techniques out of academia and into the business world.

Many Eyes PhraseNet

Winner: Many Eyes continues to impress with high-quality visualizations. They are easy to create and clean in design and usability. Impress your boss with a slick visualization in your next presentation.

Runner-up (tie): Openviz / Advanced Visual Systems and Panopticon appear to be the two BI vendors battling it out for leadership in advanced visualization solutions. Unlike Many Eyes, these guys lack Tufte-esque sophistication in infoviz design. That said, there is a big difference between creating a one-off New York Times-quality visualization and delivering a toolset that is re-usable in many different situations.

Other stuff to be admired

Free charts with good default design. InetSoft’s Style Chart and Google Charts offer free, embeddable charts.

Jargon-free BI marketing. With few exceptions, BI web sites are densely populated with those awful stock-photography people sitting around conference tables (or worse, the ethnically-diverse V-formation marching at you) and meaningless business jargon and techno-babble. I really appreciate Blink Logic’s web site with its straight talk and clean, readable design.

Roam BI

Beyond the desktop. RoamBI has a great-looking iPhone application that is designed to "transform your data into insightful, interactive visualizations delivered to the iPhone." It makes the Oracle and Qlikview iPhone apps look old-school.