Hello everyone, welcome back to This Not That, a Business Intelligence (BI) blog where we compare a best practice with a common mistake. Today we’re going to be talking about the 4th stage of BI, visualization.
Welcome back everyone, my name is Hobbs and today I’m going to walk you through designing the overall feel for your dashboard based on some common trends I see being pushed in dashboard design.
One of the things I like about the modern emphasis on data visualization is story telling. That your data is not really important, meaningful or impactful until it tells some kind of story- someone is able to draw a narrative out of the individual data points and then make a decision based on what this narrative is telling them. The danger that I see in a lot of visualizations, is that the story becomes a monologue instead of a dialogue. So what do I mean by that?
Many visualizations have, for technical and design reasons, moved away from giving you a lot of interactivity, especially through filters. This has value, but the end result can be one-way communication. The visual is telling you what to think is important, what matters, which of the pieces of the many stories that could be told from the data are the ones you should take away from it. Now again there’s nothing explicitly wrong with that however, I find people are more persuaded if they take part in the story. What you really want is DIALOGUE NOT MONOLOGUE.
There are a few ways to create dialogue in your dashboard designs, one simple thing you can do is make it interactive. One of the first major projects I worked on was for a sales group inside of a shipping and freight company. For this project they wanted to a map showing where are all of their shipments were traveling so they could visualize where to get more business. What I found, is that if I told them 'here’s the business you need to pursue,’ they were not very likely to do anything about it. They were not very likely to act on my advice that because they didn’t play any part in the discovery of its importance. They were simply being spoon fed a solution. But if I gave them the filters and the interactivity, to click on various filters and see how they changed other aspects of the dashboard, suddenly they were an active participant in the data. That active participation tends to be more persuasive than lecturing someone.
We find this true in our day-to-day experiences as well. We’re not usually as moved by someone speaking AT US as someone speaking WITH US. That back and forth, US playing a part in things, tends to make us change our mind more readily than if someone is talking at you- which is an experience we’re all very used to. One great example of the power of dialogue came from a collaboration between Google and the California Academy of Sciences. They put together a visualization tool around the impact every day consumer decisions can have on the environment. They could have easily said something simple like 'for every minute that you shorten your shower, you save X gallons of water.' That is monologue. Speaking at the consumer. But instead, they created a visualization with a little dial users could manipulate to indicate the length of time they typically shower. As the dial is moved, a barrel visualization alongside it, fills up or empties to indicate the amount of water being used/saved at the length of shower is adjusted.
If you think about it, the consumer is still receiving the exact same information. They’re hearing how much water they COULD save. But instead of being told that directly, they created a dialogue with the dial interactivity to give control over a piece of the story back again to the user. And that is more persuasive than a monologue would have been.
To summarize that idea, aim for dialogue not monologue in your story telling. Make sure that your end users are playing an active role in the discovery of truth. Even if its guided by you, even if its heavily guided by you, let them play a part and through that they’re more likely to change their actions.
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