Power BI has a Jurassic Park problem.

Years and years ago (like, pre-podcast era) I heard a radio interview with a Russian who had escaped to the West just before the fall of communism. The only part of the interview I remember is that he tried to go grocery shopping once he got settled into his new life in America and couldn’t.

One of the items he went to buy was a jar of jam. In contrast to his old life, where finding jam at the grocery store was sometimes a rare event, he found a huge assortment of jam at his new grocery store. Different flavors. Different sizes. Different qualities.

He was simply overwhelmed by choice. It was TOO MUCH. After decades of having to just use whatever jam (sometimes) would up in a grocery store, he was hit over the head with basically every jam ever.

He ended up being paralyzed by choice, leaving his cart in the jam aisle, and going home, not buying anything as he was too overwhelmed by the experience.

Data dashboards have this same problem, and it hurts them. It paralyzes the people who try to use them to do their jobs.

I’m willing to bet that the last dashboard you looked at was busy. Lots of charts and numbers and filter options. There’s also a good chance it was designed with a lot of different purposes in mind.

That’s the beauty of dashboards, right? You can throw a TON of data into them and show tons of visuals for different people for different purposes.

That’s what (most) Power BI developers do. Power BI can do it, so let’s do it, right?


This is the Jurassic Park problem.

Just because you CAN hit your viewers with a ton of data, you SHOULDN’T.

Just because you may have worked with data for years/decades, it does NOT mean you’re automatically allowed to confuse people with overly complicated charts and dashboards.

Let’s use an real-world example to demonstrate this. This is just ONE example.. there are a billion out there in Power BI / Dashboard-land.

I recently came across a post from a tech dude (honestly there are so many tech dudes that think because they know how to make a complicated graph it makes them a data visualization “expert” everyone should listen to…) who wanted to take a tweet by Elon Musk (who, let’s be frank, is a horrible person) that had a table and make it a “well designed dashboard.”

Here’s the tweet:

It’s a table with a lot of data. Different regions, different metrics, total users vs mobile users. It’s kind of hard to figure out what’s going on here easily.

Here’s a (their words) “well designed dashboard” using this data that I witnessed other tech dudes fall over themselves praising:

So, a couple bar charts, still a TON of numbers… some heat map -ish colors in that grid of numbers (good job Canada re using twitter less!) … it’s still hard to figure out what to pay attention to. What is most important here? Who knows?

This “dashboard” is horribly designed. It’s awful, and completely misses the point.

This is the Jurassic Park problem.

Many (not all, but many) data visualization people have powerful tools at their disposal. They can take a table full of numbers (like Musk’s) and visualize it in a different way. They have the tools, and the data, so their instinct is to puke all that data over a dashboard and firehose it at viewers.

Again, just because you CAN, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you SHOULD.

I can hear you saying “Yeah, but Joe… what would be better than this? Is there a better way to visualize that table”. Hell yeah there is!

Let’s look at the original tweet/table again, but this time let’s look at what the world’s biggest grifter (or is it Tr–p?) is trying to communicate as his main message.

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Did you catch it? What’s his main takeaway here?

That’s it. The main takeaway / message / insight is that usage is up 3.5%. (well, it’s actually 3.6% with rounding, but that’s beyond Musk, maybe?)

All the rest of the data is extra. It allows people to see usage by region or by total vs. mobile if they want.

Do we need to firehose all this data at people on a dashboard? NO, we don’t.

An actually good well-designed dashboard using this data would ONLY show that takeaway message (it doesn’t even have to be in a table/chart! It could just be a sentence on the screen! It’s ONE number!) and THEN if people wanted to know more about it, then they could interact with the dashboard (it’s what dashboard software is designed to do) to get more information.

Enough talk Travers, right? Let’s give this a try.

First, communicate the key insight. If it’s ONE number, you don’t need a freakin’ chart or table crammed with numbers.

This is all you need:

Do you see how much more user-friendly this is? It communicates the key insight and ONLY the key insight, but it also gives your audience the option of seeing more data.

Clicking that little “click here” link can make a chart appear (on the same page, in another page, wherever) that gives them some more info:

You could show Total usage and also Mobile usage, too.

Or you could add another layer of detail that would show up in a tooltip IF your audience wants it (yeah, we’re talking multiple levels of “details on demand” here)!

It’s SO easy to design dashboards that are actually good and pay attention to what key insights and messages need to be communicated, but the Power BI world and the dashboard world in general (but not everyone!) just crams too much on there, without paying attention to what users actually need.

Next time you get a table of data and asked to visualize it, think about the dinosaurs at Jurassic Park making lives miserable (and short). That’s what busy dashboards and reports do to your audience.

They may look impressive at first glance, just like genetically re-engineered God Lizards, but you’re gonna regret it. God, are you gonna regret it.