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About Colin Rutland

Software Developer at NetNow

Colin RutlandBullet Graphs and Sparklines

Get your message across in a small space with Bullet Graphs

The NetNow dashboard builder provides a wide variety of graphical components (or “widgets”) that allow users to present their data in intuitive and visually rich ways. In this article I’m going to introduce you to a couple of lesser-known widgets that are particularly handy for packing information into a tight space on a screen or other display medium.

Although many NetNow widgets will be familiar to the user, being essentially electronic versions of traditional paper-based or mechanical indicators such as pie charts, thermometers and angular gauges, a few have been designed specifically for modern media. Of these, perhaps the most generally useful are the Bullet Graph and the Sparkline.

Bullet Graph

The Bullet Graph was designed by Stephen Few, a specialist in data visualization technology. Few describes the Bullet Graph as “a rich display of data in a small space” that “tells you not only how far along you are on the path to the future target, but also how well you’re doing today in relation to that target”.

As well as being a very efficient means of visualizing information, Bullet Graphs are also more accessible to users affected by colour blindness than traditional “red, amber, green” type displays. A full description of the attributes of the Bullet Graph can be found on Few’s web site.


Sparklines were invented by author and lecturer Edward Tufte, who describes them as “data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics”. The following example demonstrates how a Sparkline can allow the essential attributes of a set of data to be visualized at a single glance, without confusing the reader with unnecessary detail:

More information on Sparklines can be found on Tufte’s web site. Edward Tufte is a prolific author on the subject of data visualization and I can highly recommend his best-known book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, which was named as one of the 100 best books of the 20th century by

The Bullet Graph and the Sparkline are just two of the many graphical components available in the NetNow user interface builder, but I hope that this article has demonstrated how useful they can be in getting your message across while making the best use of valuable screen real estate.

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