Transform your online dashboards with 3 new graph types

Three new types of graphing/charting object - sparklines, bullet charts and heat maps used in conjunction with a powerful new technique known as micro-charting, which allows complete mini charts to be embedded in single cells, can transform online dashboards, business scorecards, and what-if simulations. Here is a simple introduction.

Sparklines on iphone


Sparklines were invented by Edward Tufte, a pioneer in the field of Information Design..

The figure at the top of the article is an example of Sparklines - for much more information check out Edward's book Beautiful Evidence.

The main aim of the Sparkline is to reduce clutter and provide key information in the form of lines supported by minimal annotation.

Bullet Graphs

Bullet Chart
Bullet Graphs were invented by Stephen Few, an innovator in the field of business intelligence, and author of the book Information Dashboard Design.

Here is a great overview paper by Stephen with lots of example bullet graphs.

Bullet Graphs were inspired by the simplicity of thermometer chart with the objective of showing performance against various points (e.g. poor, average, good) in a clearer and more information efficient manner than circular dashboard gauges.

Heat Maps

Heat Maps have been used for many years in the field of science and provide two-dimensional coloured matrices.

The objective of heat maps are to better present tabular data in a way where you can instantly see the big picture and spot outliers and groups very easily.

The figure below is an example Heat Map from my book The Networked Enterprise which I use to summarise the collective capability areas of collaborative business networks into a number of different zones.

Heat Map


Microcharting is an important new development in graphs and charts which can be used with sparklines, bullet charts and heat maps and provides the ability to put a chart in a single cell - rather than fill a large area.

Microcharting is a very reasonably priced Excel add-in provided by vendors such as Jabsoft and Bonavista Systems.

Not surprisingly Microcharts are now an integral part of excel 2010 along with Sparklines and Heat Maps. Bullet Graphs do not seem to be a chart type within Excel 2010 but there are excellent instructions by Charlie Kyd and by Matt Grams for creating them by customising standard excel charts.

Interestingly there is considerable controversy about Microsoft's attempt to patent its sparklines within excel.

About Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson is an expert practitioner in the area of bioteaming, swarming, virtual enterprise networks, virtual professional communities, virtual teams and management simulation and has published two landmark books:

Bioteams: High Performance Teams Based on Nature's Best Designs

The Networked Enterprise: Competing for the future through Virtual Enterprise Networks

Ken writes the highly popular bioteams blog which has over 600 articles on all aspects of bioteams (aka organizational biomimicry) - in other words how human groups can learn from nature's best teams.

Ken is also founder of an exciting European technology company Swarmteams which provides unique patent-pending bioteaming technologies for all shapes and sizes of groups, social networks, business clusters, virtual/mobile communities and enterprises. Swarmteams enables groups to be more responsive and agile by fully integrating their mobile phones and the web with bioteam working techniques.

The latest Swarmteams implementation is SwarmTribes which helps social object owners (e.g. musicians/bands, sports teams, film-makers) and good cause sponsors (e.g. Volunteering, Environmental, Public Health) to form unique collaborations with their fans/supporters for mutual benefit.

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Informative article. I stumbled across this when I was researching for a similar topic- a post entitled "Which chart should I use and when? A guide to dashboard charts". You may be interested in reading it considering your interest in this area, and the fact I covered the 3 charts you discuss here! I would welcome your thoughts on it too. You can access it here:


Thanks Kirsty - very good article too! Best Regards KEN

Hi Ken. I just realised I wrote that I discuss all the charts you talked about - when I don't discuss heatmaps. This has inspired me to add that into my own post, which I'll do later today! Thanks!


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Mobile phone users: are we now cyborgs

Mobile phone users: are we now cyborgs

The term cyborg is used to designate an organism which is a mixture of organic and synthetic parts so designed to enhance its abilities via technology. William Mitchell a professor at MIT Media Lab believes that through our mobile devices we are all becoming mobile cyborgs and its for the better. In his book Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City which he discusses in an interview with James Harkin Mitchell describes how the new communications technologies have overlaid our city spaces with central nervous systems connecting us into the wireless ether via our mobile devices which act as umbilical cords to anchor us into the information society's digital infrastructure.

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