Pointing the way with arrows

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When creating dashboards, reports, or infographics, you often use other elements besides charts and tables. Individual numerical values are often presented as text (with a suitable style that attracts the readers attention and matches the whole report visually), sometimes with meaningful icons. Such icons include arrows next to reported values.

Arrows are useful when you want to show a change of value between two points in time. An up arrow may mean an improvement while a down arrow may indicate a deterioration, with a horizontal arrow meaning no change. But these are not all the possibilities. Arrows can be inclined where the gradient of the incline represents the degree of change. What’s more, the values can affect not only the inclination but also the colour of the arrow. All these “special effects” assist the reader of the report to more readily grasp what the underlying numbers mean.

The figure below shows a dashboard monitoring the number of employees in a corporation. The dashboard makes use of arrows to present the percentage change in the staff levels of individual departments. An object was created for each department made up of an arrow, the name of the department, and the value expressed as a number.

Arrow inclination and colour are determined by the analysed values. In our case, blue and red arrows indicate departments where the staff number changed significantly (blue – significant increase, red – significant decrease). Grey, being the most neutral colour, represents departments with only minor changes. As you can see, personnel grew significantly in IT, Procurement, and Quality; changes in Accounting and Production were insignificant (positive in Accounting and negative in Production); Sales and HR reduced personnel significantly.

Arrows can be useful aids in visualisations such as dashboards when you want to present individual numbers and draw the reader’s attention to major changes be it in an upward or downward direction.

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