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Data Visualization

Dashboard Gauges Are Still a Terrible Idea!

"Your product doesn't even cover gauges," a customer fumed when she asked for a refund. That's right, because gauges are still a terrible idea.

by Charley Kyd, MBA
Microsoft Excel MVP, 2005-2014
The Father of Spreadsheet Dashboard Reports

I recently received a note from a reader who was upset with my e-book, Dashboard Reporting With Excel.

In part, she wrote, ďI thought maybe your product might be useful, so for $39.00 I thought I would give it a try. However, after reviewing it, itís clear that your product doesnít even cover Gauges. In fact, you donít even endorse using them.Ē So she asked for a refund, which I issued immediately, of course.

My resistance to gauges should have come as no surprise to her; my article, Down With Gauges!, has received high Web traffic for years.

In part, I responded that there are at least two good alternatives to gauges.

First, bullet charts, shown here, provide the same information in a space thatís much more compact and easier to read.

Second, as I illustrate in Down With Gauges, area charts with a line plot show trends in data that a gauge would display as individual snapshots. Those trends provide significant information that neither gauges nor bullet charts can.

An Excel chart showing a possible turnaround in progress.To illustrate, this example from Down With Gauges shows that performance has been in or near the red zone for a year. But in December, the turnaround looks like it might actually be working.

I also told her about a private discussion several of us Excel MPVs had a while back. We concluded that using gauges is a horrible idea and that even if Excel included gauge-type shapes, it would be unethical to help companies create them. I told her that I could think of only one reason ever to use a gauge: Your boss insists on them.

Thatís right. If your boss insists you clutter up your reports or digital displays with those expensive-but-crappy gauges, you have no choice.

But if you DO have a choice, if you want to keep expenses low and make it as easy as possible for your readers to visualize the performance of your company, avoid gauges.



Down With Gauges!

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