We had the chance to host Caroline Beavon, who came all the way from Brighton to help us make better viz. Caroline has a journalism background, she fell in love with analytics when she was taught a data journalism class at uni. This resonated with me as I have had a similar first encounter with data through my Advertising Master, needless to say I was looking forward to hear what she had to say! Here are three of the main takeaways and my own piece of advice at the end.
TAILOR YOUR VIZ TO YOUR AUDIENCE
This was the first point, no matter what you are working on, consider who you will be talking to and the message you will convey. Visualizing data is communication, it is like engaging in a conversation. Therefore you need to consider the demographics, their knowledge about the data but also their emotional response to it. You want to use an appropriate level of details, as well as an appropriate design depending on the topic you are touching. For example no bright pink in a dashboard on rising hate crimes.
BE AWARE OF THE DISPLAY
Where will your viz be displayed, laptop? Smartphone? Poster? Depending on the support you will have to adapt your viz. Is it going to be static? Interactive? Oh and one bold statement if you decide to go for an infographic, avoid the very tall ones, this is in general a bad idea!
DON’T RUSH IN TABLEAU
Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying you should refrain from using the software! Rather that you should try using it with a purpose. It is certainly useful at the exploratory phase to play around by throwing dimensions and measures here and there. But when it comes to building your actual viz, step back from the keyboard and grab a piece of paper and pencil. Take a few minutes and sketch all the ideas that come to your mind. That will help you take out all the bad ideas and you will return to your computer with a clearer vision of what you are doing. Andy provided a very well put together 8 steps process for #MakeOverMonday, that includes sketching.
I am adding this last point because I think it is very much in line with what we learned that day. In my master’s degree, we used the Sprint design process to conceptualize a mobile app. I have learned how important it was to sketch, build prototypes, test them out, get feedback, adjust and test again. Working in a loop until you got rid of all the bad functions and got your product just right.
So you have made a first dashboard, now show it to colleagues, family and friends, see if they can understand it and get their feedback. In most cases it will help you improve your work. Ditch the bad ideas and improve the good ones, maybe if necessary ditch the entire thing. Don’t cling to something just because you spent time on it, go back to sketching and start over.
It really was an interesting day, I am definitely going to do more sketching before designing my next dashboards. Let me know what you think! You can also reach me on Twitter.