Information dashboards are a widely used means to present data at-a-glance and their quality (i.e., their ability to communicate the data in a clear and efficient way) depends not only on the way to represent the data but also on how visual elements (e.g., charts, tables…) are placed on the screen—the dashboard layout. In many cases the dashboards are predefined by the application but we are now in an era where the user wants more freedom. Unfortunately this freedom is today bounded by the applications using layout managers which either do not offer the needed flexibility or are too complex to be used by non-experts.

A layout manager better suited for dashboards needs to fulfill four requirements:

  • easiness to define: we want a layout manager enabling anybody, not only experts, to easily and interactively build a dashboard, i.e., to place all visual elements at their proper place on the screen.
  • flexibility: a dashboard can be made of visual elements of very different sizes: a full graph requires more space and may have a different aspect ratio than, for example, a number displayed in a textual form.
    Flexibility
  • predictability: on a dashboard, related visual elements are placed close to each other to form groups. These groups must be maintained when any modification is made (e.g., the dashboard is resized, a new visual element is added or removed).
    Predictability
  • visual coherence: to have an aesthetic dashboard, we need to use the whole available space in a well-balanced way and all visual elements have to be properly aligned. This also ensures that the layout is more compact and easier to understand.
    Visual coherence

As Nexthink always strive to provide the best experience to our users and no such layout manager exists on the market, we have developed our own one. It has been presented at the recent ACM Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces (IUI 2015), one of the most prestigious conferences on the domain, where it has received the Best Paper award. You can watch the demo of a prototype here:

If you’d like to learn more about the layout manager, you can get the full paper here.