I was pleased to see sparklines and bullet graphs in this example, because they can work quite effectively on dashboards, but I was bothered by several problems with the implementation. This screenshot is intended to demonstrate a new add-on for BusinessObjects XI called BI Annotator.
When Stephen created bullet graphs he gave an open invitation to software vendors to implement them and has since freely provided a design specification to anyone who is interested. The first problem with the bullet graphs in this example is that they lack a quantitative scale. On a closer comparison of the percentages to the bar lengths, one might assume that Business Objects intentionally left off the quantitative scale to hide another problem: The bars do not have a zero baseline. The different shades of gray in the background of the bullet graphs provide subtle qualitative encoding while color is used only for those measures that demand attention.
Another feature that Business Objects’ bullet graphs lack is an adequately labeled comparative measure. Sparklines can work wonderfully on a dashboard, because they display rich information simply and in a small amount of space. A sparkline, on the other hand, clarifies the meaning by actually showing the trend across some period of time. I am a big fan of the design and layout concepts, but I have not been able to find something similar anywhere, excepts BonaVista’s MicroCharts, which is an Excel based solution (quite nice actually). Replacing the different intensities of a single hue with the colors green, yellow, and red does seem to highlight the fact that some targets work differently than others stand out a bit more, but at what cost? One way to solve the problem with bullet graphs that you might consider involves reversing the scale to run from right to left. Ioeniua iauaeou aaeoi? - aacaoa, eiiiu?oa?, aeieiio, eaeueoeyoi?, ?anu, eioa, ?o?ea, aieoiaio, i?ee, aaiuae e a?oaea i?eiaaea?iinoe.Ioeniua iauaeou aaeoi?, aea naa?oo. Eioi?iaoeyIinaoeoaee, iaoiayueany a a?oiia Ainoe, ia iiaoo inoaaeyou eiiiaioa?ee e aaiiie ioaeeeaoee. Aanieaoii nea?aou eeeia?o, oooa?e, ne?ai-iaai?u, i?ia?aiiu aey ?aaiou n oioi, a?o, oioi, o?eoou, noeee e ieaaeiu aey oioioiia, oioi?aiee, i?iaeou aey After Effects.


Being short of time, I asked Bryan Pierce, who works with me, to critique the dashboard, which he has done below.
It was the dashboard used to exhibit the add-on, however, and not the add-on itself, which caught my eye.
It’s easier to look at these gray graphs than the brightly colored graphs in the Business Objects example and the items of most importance jump out more quickly and clearly. It focuses on the way dashboards should be designed to support real-time situation awareness, using the needs of a call center as an example.
If people only need to know if something is going up or down and absolutely nothing more, then a simple up or down trend arrow could suffice. A revenue sparkline that mostly heads downward but shoots up at the end clearly indicates that revenue has mostly trended downwards, but turned upwards in the last day, week, or month, depending on the intervals of time represented. It exists with any series of graphical quantitative displays, when each attempts to compare an individual measure to its own particular target, but the targets don’t work consistently in that the goal in some cases is to meet or exceed the target and in other cases to come in under the target. Even if we disregard the fact that most people who are colorblind cannot distinguish green and red, we are still left with an over use of color that makes the dashboard cluttered and visually overwhelming, as well as a dramatically weakened ability to use color to draw viewers’ eyes to particular areas that need attention. Using expenses as an example, the scale could run from 0 at the right of the bullet graph with increasing numbers running leftwards.
They realized that bullet graphs can serve a useful purpose, but they haven’t taken the time to understand why they work and to design them according to that understanding.
So often, software vendors choose the easy route, giving people more of the visual fluff they’re so used to, instead of creating products that actually function well, based on a keen understanding of what works and why. One of the problems associated with trend arrows, however, is that often it isn’t obvious what the up or down arrow means.
In other words, a sparkline can function as an enriched trend arrow, conveying a great deal more information without unnecessary complication.
All forms of gauges and meters face the same challenge: to provide a clear visual cue about how the target works.
The bar that encodes the expense measure would then run from the right edge of the bullet graph leftwards.


Bullet graphs were invented by Stephen as a compact, data-rich, and efficient alternative to gauges on a dashboard. One problem with this approach is that 10% of men and 1% of women are color blind, and most of them cannot distinguish green from red. In this case, we might assume that the little white bar located between the medium gray and light gray background areas is the comparative measure because it appears to be located at about the 100% mark (although again, this must be approximated because there is no quantitative scale).
The fact that the bar runs from right to left would provide a strong visual cue that the target works differently. If we assume that this is the case, then we’re still left without appropriate context because the comparative measure is not defined.
Although the Core CDMA bar appears to be about twice the length of the Bluetooth bar, it represents a value that is only 11% greater.
They believe that by color-coding everything, they will make the display easier to comprehend as a whole.
The comparative measures need to be adequately labeled and they should be slightly more prominent, so that they’re easier to spot. You might assume that the non-zero baseline would automatically be set to just below the lowest value of the bars, but, as a quick glance at the PTOM bullet graph will tell you, that assumption would be wrong.
Because of this, bright, intense colors should be reserved only for highlighting objects that demand our attention. Because Business Objects used a non-zero baseline and then implemented it sloppily, the differences in length between the bars are not only exaggerated, they are also inconsistent.
Below is a series of bullet graphs that Stephen designed for use as a section of a larger call center dashboard, which provide an example of appropriate color use.



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