Since “The Dashboard” is the anointed metaphor for “Healthcare Analytics,” I decided to take a hard look at the dashboard on my 15-year-old pickup truck to see if I could learn anything about designing dashboards for healthcare. Turns out the visual design of my pickup truck’s dashboard has plenty to say. I’ll start with the good.
Overall, I would say my pickup dashboard is easy to use. It sticks to a visual, ad hoc standard followed by most other automobile dashboards. Arcs and circles are the predominant visual descriptors. All in all, my truck’s dashboard neither dazzles the eye nor tries the intellect, so I guess you would say this dashboard is intuitive (e.g., I don’t need to read the manual or go to training). But ‘intuitive’ should never be confused with ‘optimal’ or even ‘good,’ for that matter. Here’s why.
For one thing, the dashboard iconography is confusing. The gas gauge (lower right) uses a little picture of a gas pump to convey its meaning. The oil gauge (upper left) sports a little oil can dripping a tiny drop of oil. The visual icons and the nature of oil and gas (liquids) infers the oil and gas gauges are measuring the same thing — volume. Not so. The gas gauge measures the remaining volume of usable fuel. The oil gauge measures oil pressure, not oil volume.
Next come the dashboard’s discordant warning indicators. Take a look at the temperature gauge. On the ‘H’ end is a red hash; a warning. When the dial approaches this red line, something bad will happen. Same thing with the tachometer. When the needle gets in the red area, something bad will happen. No other gauge on the dashboard has a red ‘something-bad-is-about-to-happen’ indicator. This could only mean one thing. The truck manufacturer must have put all of those other dials on the dashboard strictly for my driving amusement.
Last but not least is my biggest peeve: wasted visual space. It’s the tachometer. I’m not sure why it’s there at all. I remember by dad using a tachometer when he taught me to drive a standard shift — ‘shift to third when the RPMs get HERE,’ he would say while the pounded the meter with his finger. But my pickup truck is an automatic transmission. I have researched the question and can find no good use of the tachometer in a car with an automatic transmission? Looks like the tachometer on my dashboard is either a visual design flaw; a historical anachronism; or serves a non-intuitive purpose (e.g., I need to read the manual and go to training).
To tell the truth, every time I see a healthcare analytics dashboard, I think about my pickup truck. So what do the visual design principles of an old pickup truck’s dashboard have to do with the design of a modern healthcare analytic dashboard? Probably nothing, unless you’re with a healthcare analytics company selling analytics dashboards.