You Only Live Dashboard Week Once - a little behavioural science behind my week

by Sijia Wei

Dashboard Week was once the most scary week on the calendar since my first day at the Data School, but we do need to get the negative feelings under control if we want to have a more enjoyable experience. Interesting data, open-ended design requirements, and a team of brilliant people to fight side by side, isn’t it just great?

My ‘dashboard behaviour’ has changed a lot over the week, I wasn’t so sure about how to put this into words until I saw this article from my old field – Behavioural – ‘The Three Laws of Human Behaviour’.

Law #1 – Behaviour tends to follow the status quo unless it is acted upon by a decrease in friction or increase in fuel.

Status quo bias is a preference of the current situation, people tend to stick with the decisions made previously. We take the same route to work, order the same food at our favourite restaurant… I followed identical layout, used similar chart types for client projects. Bar charts are great, but when it finally comes to an opportunity where I get do design my own dashboard this inertia strongly influenced my designing behaviours. I knew that I would be satisfied with my old habit, it minimizes the risks associated with change, if my new idea had gone wrong, I would have felt twice as painful as the pleasure of getting the potential benefits that might even outweigh the risks.

‘Frictions’ such as the feeling of exhaustion slows me down, but ‘fuels’ such as the fun of exploring new techniques pushes me forward.

Law #2 – Behaviour is a function of the person and their environment, B = f (P,E)

The equation was introduced by Kurt Lewin back to the 1930s. It is interesting to see how people choose unhealthy snacks (chocolate/crisps) over healthy snacks (fruit) when they are under cognitive stress in countless lab and field experiments. The contribution of the function is the interaction between a person and the environment.  What if a stressed person walks into a supermarket and sees a sign promoting healthy salad? He might go for a healthy option, however, he might as well end up with eating way more than he ever needed.  

I was very anxious about the project on Monday. I couldn’t handle the stress under time pressure cause I had no idea how far I could go in just a few hours’ time. I chilled out a bit on Tuesday, although the data prep only left us with two hours on building dashboard, I still managed to do something, not so exciting though. Wednesday was quite a challenge, but since the data prep was straightforward, I took a small step forward with the design. Thursday was a treat, data prep was easy, and there was a well-structured research paper help to understand the data. For the first time I used an idea from a Workout Wednesday, built a correlation matrix which I never had a chance to use before, explored a new font, and replicated the design of the National Geographic. By far it was my favourite day. However, Friday was a total mess for me. I spent the whole morning doing data prep (three times more than necessary) and another hour trying to understand all of the data. The dashboard looked alright, but none of my charts had a nice title, and none of them were telling interesting stories, let alone any deep insightful analysis.

Law #3 – For every decision made, there are tradeoffs and the potential for unintended consequences.

For client projects, I often weigh how much analysis and good insights I can provide against how pretty my dashboard looks. The former has always been my priority. Gains made in one area often associated with opportunity costs suffered in another. My scale weighted more on the other side in dashboard week, for every minute I spent on giving my dashboard a more attractive look, the same minute cannot be spent on finding interesting stories. Time was so precious in dashboard week, we have to choose how to spend it wisely. One tip from Andy, and also a good lesson I’ve learnt from my Friday experience was to ‘think ahead’. I could have saved at least two hours if I had planned ahead.

Unintended consequence is another invisible outcome that is related to tradeoffs. Luckily, you should expect nothing so negative. As serious as Dashboard Week might sound, it is still part of the DS training. Everyone is so nice and willing to help, you’ll get so many useful comments from the lovely people at The Information Lab.


As you may have already noticed, the ‘Three Laws of Human Behaviour’ is a translation of Newton’s Laws of Motion in physics to the manner of human madness. It helps me to get more organised at work.  

12 weeks ago I joined the Data School, 10 weeks ago I struggled with completing a Makeover Monday within a week, 8 weeks ago I downloaded a solution workbook from Workout Wednesday but had not idea where to start, 6 weeks ago I panicked about building a dashboard for a client project… Now I am here, I managed to get a ‘PASS’ on Dashboard Week and have totally enjoyed it!

You only live the Dashboard Week once, enjoy it or suffer it, you are the master 😊

Here is my dashboard on the last day of Dashboard Week:

I also like my Wednesday’s:

And Thursday’s:

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