I can’t explain exactly what we wanted, but we didn’t feel comfortable with any of the examples.
I know that feeling quite well, having done a similar comparative research on dashboards out there back in May before coming up with one for a current project there’s always that feeling.
I love the duotone gradient imagery (just learned that :D). I do note that the wow-factor of the gradient might be lost in the case of having many options in the sidebar. (Edit: I take that back, I seem to still get it after playing with your demo for a while)
This was very insightful, and thank you for sharing both the how-to and the sources — definitely a number of inspiration points from here. Kudos to your team!