Hello everyone, welcome back to This Not That. I am Hobbs. This is a vlog where we talk about best practices in the data world.
Today I am wearing one of my favorite nerd t-shirts. For those of you who can’t read it, it says:
“There are two types of people. Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data.”
And if you’re waiting for the second part that’s because this shirt is about you.
Anyway, I’ll talk about that a little bit and we’re going to talk about how to design reports in light of the human capacity to fill in the blanks.
Welcome back everybody. So, let’s talk about this t shirt that I’m wearing. Something that I have found when I’m designing reports is, a lot of the time, there is a push to make everything explicit. And very specifically to tell someone precisely what is going on at every step of the way. Now to some extent that’s useful, to be able to tell someone: Here’s what’s occurring, Here’s what I’m telling you, Here’s precisely what it all means. But we also have this remarkable capacity - if you’ve designed something well - to give one side of the story and have the second part be understood without necessarily telling it explicitly. I call this principle, SHOW NOT TELL. And it can be expressed in a variety of different ways.
There’s a great example that Microsoft recently put out for Power BI. They published a sales report that is supposed to be sort of a tout suite of all of the fancy capabilities that Power BI has and best practices in reporting. In it, they did something that I think is very clever. On the given visual, there’s a button in the top corner and if you hover over it, it shows you a video. A short GIF, showing you how they want you to interact with the visual. Now they don’t put ten videos there of all of the possible interactions. One video goes with one visual. And the same visual elsewhere on the page is going to show different functionality. Why is this? Because human beings are perfectly capable of extrapolating and saying ‘ah if this applies here it probably applies over here as well.'
So that’s one way you can do things. Show people something. Don’t tell it. Don’t write out documentation, here’s how the filter interaction works or here’s what cross highlighting is. Don’t write all of that out. Just show them and show them in a way that is interactive, and they can take it all in quickly.
Some other ways that you can do this. Let’s imagine that you have a report that shows the months of the year and they just get a thumbs up, thumbs down based on profitability. I’ve often been asked to put both red and green as colors on this point. If they get a thumbs up that’s green, if they get a thumbs down that’s red. Which makes good sense, we’re very acclimated to the idea of red, yellow and green, some of the stop light colors.
But you’re supposed to keep your color scheme down as much as you possibly can, keep color meaningful. But that’s a topic for another video. But in that context, if you have profitable, not profitable I would argue the only color you need is red. You put red on the months that are not profitable and the person’s brain will go ‘oh, OK, so the other months are profitable’. You don’t have to use another color. You can communicate the same meaning with whatever your base color is, base grey or base white or base black.
There are several diff ways that you can do this but just as those two examples show, I think, the best way to communicate is often by showing someone something and not necessarily telling them the whole story- going into all of the detail. While that’s useful it takes a lot of time and usually a lot of space on your report.
So whenever you can, in a meaningful way, let people extrapolate. They’re smart, they’ll solve that problem and it will save you space and time in your reporting.
Thanks for watching everybody I hope that you enjoyed this video and I hope that you are able to take this advice and bring it into your own reports and make something more beautiful.
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