March 23

I Tried My Hand at Designing the Worst Dashboard I Could Imagine

Introduction

Here is the tale of how a group of elite pros on Reddit helped me craft the most low-value, unintelligible dashboard imaginable.

It all started with the notion that if I created a “worst practice” design for a dashboard that maybe people could look at it and learn from it. Ideally, avoid the pitfalls of dashboards that nobody likes. After years of working with dashboards and and consistently seeing some simple and obvious mistakes, I wanted to distill those mistakes into a single view.

Well, I was not prepared for what was to come. This is the story of how Reddit helped me make a worst-practice dashboard that every data and business person that works with data needs to learn from.

Before I start, thank you to all who contributed ideas, it was a lot of fun.

Part 1: The Initial Design

I do a lot of work with dashboards and have seen a lot of bad things over the years. Designing the worst dashboard seemed to be something I could be in a reasonable position to envision. Of course, my mind is usually geared towards best practices! So it was a fun exercise to try and do the opposite.

To make it more relatable, I created a dashboard that Blockbuster's executives could have used. It was meant to provide explanations for why they failed to recognize the potential risks, contributing to their downfall.

Applying Worst Practices

There were several concepts I wanted to get across in this design. Basically, a typical dashboard in the enterprise:

  • Make it hard to spot anything of value
  • No clear calls to actions
  • Not designed with any persona focus

The plan was to do this using the following principles:

  • Maximize the data-to-ink ratio
  • Leverage high-attention colors on everything
  • Frustrating layout and no visual hierarchy
  • Unintuitive titles and label
  • Worst practice application of charts
  • Use 3D when and where possible

The Result

I was quite proud of the result and it got across many ideas that I wanted to be able to share with my course participants and clients. It was something I could show them and point out the mistakes and how to fix them. Well, it turns out the good people at Reddit thought it could get worse. A lot worse.

The initial design, prior to Reddit feedback

Part 2: Reddit's Feedback

Check the initial post on the Business Intelligence subreddit for the backstory and all the incredible feedback that was given.  The post quickly gathered lots of comments but this on rose to the top:

snypfc

I think you failed terribly if that's the worst design you could imagine. It's still way too consistent and well structured.

The design was not bad enough, people had seen worse. Much worse it seems. Indeed, for some, it was a marked improvement over what they had seen. While that is sad, from an emotional standpoint that people have to suffer something that looks worse than this, it was also an opportunity to do better.

cuddlytron

This looks better than the management dashboard my employer is currently using unironically...

Tips from the Community

Great ideas started pouring in. Keep in mind that the feedback is coming from Business Intelligence professionals that have lived and breathed this sort of thing.

GrinnBR

Lol look at college boy over here, wasting all that space by having the numerical axis starting at 0 😂

Great job btw. Just needs a big fat "export to Excel" button and you're good to go!

There was so much feedback that it needed to be categorized by topic:

  • Export to Excel Button
  • Colors
  • Alignment
  • Typography
  • Logic / Readability

Please see the end of this post for all the feedback that made it into this first redesign.

Under each of these areas there was a wealth of worst practices but, the one that was most consistent, was the need for an Export to Excel button. The quintessential feature of any high-adoption dashboard. 

Low hanging fruit: Export to Excel Button

Feature request number one: Export to Excel button.

Would it be possible to transform the bar chart to a pie chart, for clarity?

Also how do I export it to excel?

Export feature added. Made some space on the top right.

Updated with the "Export to Excel" feature enhancement

Maximize the data-to-ink ratio

Much of the feedback related to color and the need for more color saturation and to focus on making it color-blind inappropriate. Seemingly, the first draft was too considerate.

Orange and Blue are colors that are safe for users who are color-blind.

Convert all Orange to Red and all Blue to Green.

It's too friendly to people with colorblindness issues. Maybe more red on green?

Armed with some guidance on the most conflict-inducing color combinations for the end user, the design started to look a little bit more challenging.

Improve the Fonts and Readability

The general consensus was that the original design was overly considerate of people being able to understand what the charts mean, i.e. there was a chance of the dashboard being useful. That wouldn't do.

I don't see comic sans anywhere

Needs more screaming-red font as well imo. Maybe counterbalanced with neon lime green?

You should definitely add labels to every single piece of the stacked bars (bottom right chart)

Use a +90 degree rotation instead of -90 so the head has to turn right and read from right-to-left instead of left-to-right.

The +90 rotation of the labels was pure genius. Here is the result.

Font and labels updated

Refine Alignments and Positioning

While already far more uncomfortable than the initial design, there was sentiment from the collective that it was overly balanced and organized, indeed, it hinted at a hierarchy of information. 

Revenue goal and margin goal use the same colors?! They should be different. More colors to look at! Revenue by date in searing green. Make my eyes bleed. Also, misalign those tiles! Overlap them. And I'm gonna need to print that out, preferably after exporting to Excel, with the data. I'm an expert, you know.

Remove the consistent alignment if visuals, and use more font types and sizes. Add some hot pink titles and beefy arms for good measure. Have one gauge start at red, and the other at green. Make the colours in the pie charts be more disparate - they're all autumnal and go too well together. Leave titles off some charts. Have some columns of table too short to show contents, and make numbers left aligned. Kick a puppy.

Updated with the new alignments

Improve Descriptive Titles and Adjust Scales

With the end in sight, a few more refinements were needed, especially with some titles and scales. 

Make sure your scale for the revenue chart doesn’t start at 0 but something more arbitrary but makes the differences larger.

Adjusted scale and titles

Add a Nice Background

An obvious gap was the background, up until this point the main background was white. Here is a nice textured background with appropriate levels of contrast.

Fetching background added

Lessons Learned

Crowd-sourcing bad design was able to produce something profound. I will be showing this to my kids as something to marvel at and, if they ever pursue a BI/Analytics career, to use it as a tale of caution of what not to do with your dashboards.

What's Next?

Animations. Rotating 3D pie charts. Animated backgrounds and gifs. Flashing buttons. Here is the current work in progress for the animated 3D pie chart. I pulled an existing 3D file for Cinema 4D (a 3D modeling package, I used to dabble back in the day), and started some test renders. Obviously it looks way too nice right now, needs many more segments, labels and a different animation: 

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Thanks to the following for all your inputs:

Inputs:

  • GrinnBR: Lol look at college boy over here, wasting all that space by having the numerical axis starting at 0 😂
    Great job btw. Just needs a big fat "export to Excel" button and you're good to go!
  • JasonSuave: Ah yes, the most important feature of any dashboard. “Make sure the export button is easy to find”
  • randomonetwo34567890: I don't see comic sans anywhere + the legends are too readable and maybe you can do chart with x,y axis while not saying what metrics are where
  • dicotyledon: Needs more screaming-red font as well imo. Maybe counterbalanced with neon lime green?
  • greatgoogliemoogly: You should have used StateID codes instead of State Name.
  • PtitBen56: It's missing the all-important 3-axis (revenue - margin - emplyees) and a 3D donut IMO
  • aWhaleNamedFreddie: don't see shadows in your 3d though
  • zebrabi: No treemaps? No sunburst? Unforgivable!
  • Rabid_Tanuki: Those gauges have colors way too consisten across the board.
    One needs to be blue instead of green.
  • cptshrk108: Would it be possible to transform the bar chart to a pie chart, for clarity?
    Also how do I export it to excel?
  • it_is_Karo: You should definitely add labels to every single piece of the stacked bars (bottom right chart)
  • FactMuncher: Use a +90 degree rotation instead of -90 so the head has to turn right and read from right-to-left instead of left-to-right.
  • windowschick: Revenue goal and margin goal use the same colors?! They should be different. More colors to look at! Revenue by date in searing green. Make my eyes bleed. Also, misalign those tiles! Overlap them. And I'm gonna need to print that out, preferably after exporting to Excel, with the data. I'm an expert, you know.
  • TimLikesPi: Background needs to be green or something.
    Background of the upper right pie chart needs to be one of the colors in the pie chart.
    Needs a KPI that shows the sum of account numbers of some sort.
  • athousandjoels: Cmon man…
    The background colors don’t have minimal contrast with text colors. It’s like you’ve never even been on LinkedIn. I want to see some grey on dark green!
  • FactMuncher: Orange and Blue are colors that are safe for users who are color-blind.
    Convert all Orange to Red and all Blue to Green.
  • SQLGene: It's too friendly to people with colorblindness issues. Maybe more red on green?
  • ohanse: You could turn the revenue by date (year) into another pie chart to make it worse
    In fact why don't you just make everything pie charts
    Like the goals graphs - just make a red yellow and green pie chart trio that each fill to 100%, and then partially filled circles to see how much you've accomplished. So for revenue you'd have a full red one, a mostly full yellow one, and then an empty green one. And for margin you'd have a partially full red one, but empty yellow and green ones.
    And then you know what? I need like two dozen pie charts to replace those stacked 100% bar charts at the bottom right. AND THEN
    For good measure
    This grid layout? screw it. Make it a pie chart, where each slice is a section.
  • Daddy_data_nerd: Needs more pie, they need to overlap, remove anything that might provide any context or explanation, and, for the love of god, can you choose colors that are impossible to tell apart?
  • JeffryRelatedIssue: Pfff... you don't even have a line chart going over those pie charts.
  • sandrahasse: You need emojis, larger handwritten fonts, and gif animation to make it much worse.
  • corvus_pica: Needs custom fonts and randomly applied thresholding
  • protectthrowandcatch: This is so beautifully appalling i shed a tear. I personally love how the dates are randomly ordered 😂
  • Mr_Mozart: Isn’t there a 3D gauge?
  • Unhappy-Ad-1806: Colors aren't offensive enough. Add more bright yellow, fucsia and cyan.
    Use different font types and sizes.
    I'd also mess a little with the window alignment. They're too aligned! Make the forst thermometer a little bigger than the second one, for example.
    Also, your list are ordered by year asc? No no no no no
    Oh, if you could add the numbers outside the bar charts, it would be amazing.
    Nice work
  • theobstinateone: How about some ribbon charts? Lots and lots of ribbon charts. Oh, make them automatically cycle the y axis every so often
  • EPMD_: Add decimal places to the x-axis of the Revenue over Time chart.

    Make the colour scheme more INTENSE.

    Randomize the states in the pie chart.

    Left justify or center the figures in the data table at the bottom.

    But yeah, this dashboard contains an impressive number of design pet peeves. Great work!

Feedback:

  • snypfc: I think you failed terribly if that's the worst design you could imagine. It's still way too consistent and well structured.
  • cuddlytron: This looks better than the management dashboard my employer is currently using unironically...
  • sirdeionsandals: Honestly I’ve seen worse

Compliments:

  • Shigy: Color gradient for region is my fav detail
  • ProfXavr: The raw column names in the bottom table are just...
    Chefs kiss
  • cptshrk108: The bottom right chart is great by the way, thanks for the insight.
  • mybuddycory: Love to hate it
  • JasonSuave: Exceptional plot choice and orientation for the revenue trend line. “Why yes blockbuster execs, that invented funnel does in fact mean that you’re losing money YoY”
  • orangpie: It's the little things like "Amercias."
    Reminds me of my last company, where we published a "Finanical" report for way longer than I'd like to admit.
  • MustardyFartBubble: Lol well done...or should I say horribly done? My boss left our company recently and as a going away present, I designed a terrible visualization in Cognos and placed that inside a Tableau dashboard in Tableau public. Gloriously bad.
  • MaineTree123: I love the seemingly random, non chronological order of the bar chart.
  • SnubNews: I really like your use of pie charts, I think it is super easy to read.
  • gfh100: store_id is gold here
  • ksajksale: Betiful
  • kpgleeso: Love the horizontal date format with nonsensical sorting
  • kurai_tori: I dunno man, the more I look at it the more it irks me. Especially the unsorted bar chart.
  • Raveyard2409: It's kind of beautiful in how bad it is

Funny

  • redditthrowaway32526: I don't remember giving you access to our Salesforce instance.
  • LaRanch: Reminds me of a corporate meeting at Blockbuster... for some reason.
  • WintermutesTwin: 10,000% better than the "dashboards" I'm asked to build.
  • Sebyos: That's terrible. Good job !
  • lim4liam: Needs more pie charts
  • Raveyard2409: I'm worried revenue by state id pie chart doesn't have enough categories. It's almost readable. You should fix that.
  • Elfman72: "Orange on powder blue? I can't believe anything on this report. Just give the data to me in Excel. In e-mail. I can do my own VLOOKUPS."
  • rotr0102: Please tell me those pie charts are a spinning animation.
Nicholas Kelly

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