A Gamer's Guide to the Orbis Indicator

September 4, 2013 David Vuong

I am a gamer at heart. Video games, board games, card games, I love playing them all. Every successful game is a work of art; it is simultaneously complex and parsimonious. I feel the same can be said about dashboards.

I have been spending a considerable number of weeknight hours playing the recently released Payday 2. You cooperate with three teammates on heists that could involve picking locks or drilling safes. A circular indicator is used to show how much of your task you have completed.

The name for this type of chart hasn’t been unanimously decided upon by the data visualization community. Some call it a circular indicator while others may refer to it as a donut chart (donut charts are actually pie charts with the middle hollowed out). Specifically, they have multiple “slices” whereas each bar in this indicator represents a whole.

“Orbis” has Latin origins, and refers to a ring or circular motion, so it’s actually better to call it an orbis indicator since its design implies a circular completion of a ring.

I feel that this orbis indicator is a highly intuitive presentation for illustrating completion. No outline, marks, or labels are needed. We understand where the 25% and 50% points are because we perceive the indicator as 100% when the circle closes. This is a great evolution of the radial gauge. I first saw it on infographics a few years ago, and it is great to see it make its way into more common use.

Dashboards are no exception. An orbis indicator can help you understand information at a glance and allows for quick comparisons. Below we can see an orbis indicator in practice, juxtaposing two metrics side by side. The orbis indicator’s use of negative space also allows for supplementary information to be shown inside of the circle.

It’s important that this indicator is designed well. All orbis indicators should adhere to the following rules:

  1. The metric values are percentages and range from a minimum of 0 to a maximum of 100

  2. A maximum number of three metrics is shown in a single indicator

  3. The bars start at the top of the circle

  4. The bars fill in clockwise

Optionally, the numeric value can be shown inside of the indicator. This will improve precision if it’s desired.

The use of this indicator is highly situational. In some situations, you may better benefit from simple numeric display and state indicator. In other situations, maybe a bar chart will do. It’s always important to understand your audience and how your work will be used before deciding on your design.

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