Dashboards For Social Sciences
December 2, 2014
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Dashboards for social sciences

Dashboards are thought to be serving only business intelligence needs or other business reporting purpose. But dashboards can be used in many other fields than the economic as well where lots of data can be found or gathered. One such example is sociology which examines the human society and uses heavily armored statistics to understand processes and changes in it. Until nowdays sociology used only a limited set of diagrams (correlation graphs or Tukey box plots) in order to visualize quantitative or qualitative information. But sociology can benefit from the advance of visualization sciences just as business does.

The dataset

There are many publicly available data sets that are related to sociology or to the society in general. One great source is the UNICEF website where one can find many timeseries data and can download the pre-filtered data sets easily. There is an ongoing reserarch at UNICEF called „Transmonee” which monitors countries that are in the transition from post-socialism to democracy. This research collects different measures that can serve as a basis for a dashboard that deals with social science.

Small multiples

In the dashboard I used the so-called „sparklines” in order to show the trend of certain metrics over time. The term „sparkline” was developed and introduced to the community by famous visual designer and infomagician Edward Tufte in the ’80s. The sparkline doesn’t have axis or any other diagram-specific property, in fact it’s just a line, as simple as a word in a sentence. This was the original intention of Tufte, to use these small visual signs as words – even in a written sentence. These only provide insight on trends and changes over time, not specific values, just an overview, but they are very useful when you want to show lots of data in a small space.
Sparklines are often are grouped togehter and referred as „small multiples”.


Constructing the dashboard

Since we want to compare countries by different measures and we have more than 15 countries so it would be easier to show the users a selection field and limit the comparison columns to four. Again, for organizing the dashboard I used a grid – as I always try to use a grid – which makes it a way easier and fancier to construct complex information dashboards. I used a 800×1180 layout grid for this.

First of all, I started to create the well known paper prototype in order to rule out viz types that I won’t use and to narrow down to some that are and give an overall structure to the final dashboard.

Here it is in it’s final version:

floating-optionThe difficulty in this task was to pixel-perfectly position the elements on the dashboard since I used „Floating” as layout mode. In this way you can organize your elements one by one pixel by pixel and you can give them the width and height you desire. Thus it is more flexible in the way that you can create your dashboards based on prototypes and you can create almost newspaper style dashboards with smooth typographical levels and fine grids. The other option is „Tiled” where Tableau calculates the positions and sizes for you, you can only roughly do that by yourself.


In the next article we’re going through the steps of how this dashboard was built and what it can be used for to make people’s lives better.

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Tamás Földi

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