вторник, 26 июня 2007 г.

Designing Microsoft Excel 2007 Charts

Topic: UI Design Methodologies - a look at designing Executive Dashboards and Excel 2007

User interface design methodologies, whether for enterprise dashboards or software packages, should follow the same basic steps and principles. Of course, they should be user-centered to ensure that the needs of the end user are kept foremost in mind, but the design methodology should also allow for exploration of current best practices and design influences. This is especially true in software applications where being on the cutting edge is a selling point.

My typical design steps for dashboards or any other type of user interface are:

  1. Understand the User Requirements
  2. Survey the landscape of existing design solutions to identify best practices
  3. Explore solutions with low fidelity mockups
  4. Wireframe scenarios for user feedback
  5. Create high fidelity interactive prototypes
  6. Iterate through this cycle of envisioning before proceeding to development

Does this methodology work? Yes. Do dashboard design teams follow it? Obviously not! A recent comment by a Dashboard Spy reader rings true - After viewing the collection of executive dashboards at enterprise-dashboard.com, (no easy task - as there are 1000 dashboards there) , the reader stated his reaction bluntly - that, quite simply, the designs of current dashboards are awful.

I believe that this is due to the infancy of the enterprise dashboard. In any technology where mass adoption is just starting to happen, you get an early rush of poorly designed products. However, this is not to say that the majority of dashboards have no value - in fact, I would insist on the opposite. No matter how poorly designed the dashboard, it stilll has value - even if it just serves to highlight that some data visualization is wrong or misleading. At least, it is a step in visualizing business intelligence.

What will improve the look and feel of dashboards as they become more popular? Of course there will be pockets of great design in specific custom-built enterprise dashboards. In fact, there are several BI dashboards in the Dashboard Spy collection that are both stunning in visual design and correct in data visualization techniques. However, the mass improvement that we need in dashboard design will be led by improvements in data presentation controls in the commonly available toolsets. Excel, for example, is used by many in their first dashboard projects. The new version of Excel found in Office 2007 will be a mile stone in dashboard design. The look and feel of the graphs, charts, indicators and conditional formatting styles will flavor the design style of dashboards for years to come.

I have the pleasure of illustrating the design process of some of the charts and graphs in the Excel 2007 product by Microsoft. The release of Excel 12 is key to the look and feel of digital dashboards as now there is built in functionality for easy excel dashboarding. One of the user experience designers from the Excel 2007 team has posted some of his thinking and workflow in this excellent post on designing the look of charts in Excel 2007.

Here we look at the workflow through this series of screenshots. Note: These screenshots all come from the post linked to above and are most likely representative of the Microsoft workflows and design deliverables.

The overall work flow or methodology is illustrated in this image. I am assuming that this must be the standard in place at the Microsoft design center:

Microsoft Design Methodology

This image shows what the designer considered in terms of the existing design solution landscape for charts and graphs. The left side shows existing Office 2003 excel charts. The right side is a collection of high-end custom designed graphics typical of the work ad agencies do for annual reports and other high end uses.

Charts and Graph design samples for Excel

This next image shows an exploration of possible solutions. The idea is to examine extremes and see what is missing or what is extraneous when it comes to an Excel chart:

Excel Graph Design Trial

This next image is precious and should be familiar to anyone who has struggled with designing dashboards. I love paper-based sketches of user interfaces. They feel so intimate and real:

Excel paper prototype

The next stage is to move into a wireframe prototype. While devoid of final look and feel, the basic structure and layout is represented for user feedback and focus groups:

Wireframe of excel graphs

Next we explore navigation to different screens via interactive mockups:

Interactive prototype of excel charts

When most changes are finalized, they create high fidelity mockups such as this one. Note the Excel environment.

Excel high fidelity prototype

How does this design methodology match with yours? I’d say that with a few variations here and there, it is basically the same design cycle that we all go through. Send us some screenshots from your work flow for us to feature.

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