Gauges: The Next Generation

Porter Thorndike's picture
 By | April 29, 2015
in Business Intelligence, Business Intelligence, Dashboards, data visualization
April 29, 2015

Gauges are a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives. Obviously, we are looking at gauges every time we take our 1979 Corvette for a spin around the block.

And whenever we fire up the John Deere lawn mower to give the grass that perfect trim, we are monitoring the gauges. "MY LAWN LOOKS BETTER THAN YOURS MR. NEIGHBOR IT IS BECAUSE OF MY SUPERIOR KNOWLEDGE OF GAUGES!"

Gauges are also a controversial topic in the Business Intelligence space. Recently, my Intellectual Power Animal and bro crush, Stephen Few put the Gauge on blast and since then, Gauge enthusiasts have been exiled to dark closets next to server rooms muttering about different needle types and staplers.

Of course Stephen's preference is the Bullet Chart and I like this word-sized graph very much.

More recently, and less scientifically, we have seen the emergence and popularity of what I will call "Text Gauges". They are nothing more than large numbers. The logic is that there are critical metrics you run your business on and those metrics deserve our attention via large font sizes, comparative values, and trends. The simplest text gauge is just a metric title and the number. 

The most popular Text Gauges show you the big number as the current period’s value with smaller numbers showing you the previous period, percentage change, and trend in the footing. I see many examples that are now including conditionally styled background colors.

PORTER THIS IS SO USEFUL AND AMAZING -- I LOVE IT. BUT I HAVE NO IDEA IF I AM TRENDING UP OR DOWN! Lucky for you, many Text Gauges also include Sparklines that communicate the trend simply.

Now brace yourself for maximum gauge excitement: the Donut Gauge. The Donut Gauge tells us no more (less actually) information than our good old-fashioned gauge. BUT IT’S JUST SO DARN HANDSOME, I MUST HAVE IT! It will typically have a target value representing a 100% filling of the donut and a colored portion that will represent the percentage to target. Often the color of the series is conditionally styled to give at a glance understanding of your performance.

How do we know that the Donut Gauge has arrived? A multi-series Donut Gauge is featured prominently in the marketing campaign of the Apple Watch.

Here's a quick video where I show you all of your modern-day gauge options for effective communication and performance management. Enjoy!

If you would like to see more on gauges and other data visualization strategies, check out this From Good to Game-Changing webcast recording on best practices in Effective Data Visualization and Dashboard Design.