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Pre-attentive processing, as the name suggests is the initial stage of processing information by our brain where certain characteristics are immediately detected without focusing on an object.  This act is done quickly and effortlessly where the brain tries to recognize certain visual attributes that make things stand out or show groupings of similar objects.  Color, shapes, position, orientation, proximity, size and motion are some of the elements that can be easily detected pre-attentively by the human mind.  The examples below show how the brain immediately spots anomalies because of their attributes.

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While designing a dashboard we rely a lot on showing visual attributes of data for quick and easy detection so pre-attentive processing becomes an important aspect to consider.  The ability of the human mind to recognize and process information at light speed can be used advantageously in order to show data outliers and similarities in data in a dashboard.

Applying visual attributes to a dashboard like a bright color or an icon that stands out from the rest of the information can justify the purpose of a dashboard making it easy for a user to gauge the situation at a glance.  As shown in the example below, color and icon is used as an attribute to highlight numbers that need attention.

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Color is a strong perceptive attribute but there are others that vary in intensity, like difference in shape is not as striking as contrasting colors. Depending on what information needs to be shown, whether qualitative or quantitative, various attributes can be applied.

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Visually encoding data for rapid perception can make information consumption in a dashboard extremely easy and convenient for a user. And since a dashboard is a summary or high-level information providing system, it is important to strive to be as visually informative as possible to target the pre-attentive senses in a user.

So, the use of pre-attentive information processing techniques while designing dashboards can not only justify the purpose of the dashboard but also help in projecting information as needed.

10 Comments
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Nice Article...

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bgarland
Contributor III

Well done. Thanks!

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Or
Valued Contributor II

Looks good!

Minor nitpick: I would display the values in $K (1000s). When dealing with this scale, the singles, tens, and hundreds are nothing more than visual clutter. I'd also make sure the values fit - the "..." attracts attention by virtue of being different from the numbers around it. Finally, I'd probably add a stronger highlight - perhaps bold font - for the bottom row's red indicator. This row is a whole lot more significant than the row above it, but both receive the same highlight rule.

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Luminary
Luminary

Nice post. It's history where dashboards were mere presentation of the numbers. Thanks to next generation BI tools.

Cheers,

DV

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Nice Article, thanks

Color in dashboard is like hot honey, we need to carefully use it and also we cannot ignore it.

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Hi,

Nice article !!

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Good work. should hv more story telling article in order to get balance with very technical article from HIC .

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Thank you everyone for the valuable feedback.

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sudeepkm
Valued Contributor III

another nice post on visualization. thanks for the guidance.

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Nice Article

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