Yesterday, I received a note from a reader about my dashboard e-book. In part, she wrote, “I thought maybe your product might be useful, so for $27.00 I thought I would give it a try. However, after reviewing it, it’s clear that your product doesn’t even cover Gauges. In fact, you don’t even endorse using them.” So she asked for a refund, which I issued immediately, of course.
In part, I responded that there are at least two good alternatives to gauges. First, bullet charts provide the same information in a space that’s much more compact and easier to read. Second, as I illustrate in my article, Down With Gauges, area charts with a line plot show trends in data that a gauge would display as individual snapshots.
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.
That’s 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 improve data visualization, avoid gauges.