Data & Intelligence August 29, 2019
Bring Your Data To Life
We are in the era of big data. There has never been so much information available to us. Massive data sets to understand and interpret. Insights to be grasped. Decisions to be made quickly based on that data. Whether you are a business or consumer, decision making has never been so well supported with information. On the other hand, it’s never been so overwhelming.
We now know how many footsteps we take daily and how much sleep we are getting (or not). As our cities and infrastructure become smarter we have vast amounts of data on the energy we use, the environmental impacts of our lifestyles and the choices we can make.
Publications such as the New York Times create stunning interactive stories (subscription required) using data that draw users in and bring stories alive. While these are the gold standard, we don’t all get to work with such rich, dramatic material. But they do teach us that we can pull stories from data, that users enjoy maps, photos, statistics, timelines, quotes, video and all manner of storytelling tools.
How we then present that data and the quality of it matters. It’s no longer acceptable to expect users to download and play with a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets can’t deliver the insights that users need. They are also complicated and unwieldy, and not immune to mistakes. They can also be manipulated by users to tell a different story than you intended.
And if you are trying to sell something? What an awful lot of work to give your potential customer. Downloading, opening, and fiddling around with data. No thank you.
That’s where data visualisation comes in. Visual information is easy to understand and absorb. We are primed to be attracted to the shapes, colours, and ultimately the stories they tell. And that’s the key – with the right layout and presentation we can tell the story we want to. We can highlight the information users need. We can help make decision making for businesses and consumers faster, clearer, and more dynamic.
Here are some things to keep in mind when planning your data visualisation strategy.
Research your audience
Don’t discount the role UX research plays in defining your audience and their tasks. We need to offer them the information they want in the right format for them. Savvy users will disregard information they don’t need or go and make their own charts if you haven’t created ones that are useful to them.
This example for SEAI required a lot of work to tailor the charts to how users wanted to view energy usage.
Answer user needs
Complex data can be tailored to very specific requirements. This portal for SEMO displays data on the electricity grid in Ireland. The power of this portal is that it offers over 270 functional features to a niche group of 22 members, with close to real time data from 25 API integrations. Because the audience is very specific and their requirements are complex, we can deliver this functionality without overwhelming them. In fact it answers their needs.
Position in the user journey
It’s important to tie your data visualisation into the broader user journey. Is this a teaser or a decision making tool? We’ve all seen online tools fail by asking too much of users too soon. While your business may be interested in getting as much information from users as possible, remember there is only so much they will want to surrender to interact with you.
This SEAI cost indicator for biomass boilers gives business users an indication of the estimated lifetime savings they can make by switching to biomass. Crucially it does this by asking only 5 questions. The ability to play around with the data has made it popular with users. The next step is to research more about their suitability for biomass. It’s an excellent early step for SEAI’s target audience.
Next, consider your business requirements and commitment. Where is the data coming from – from multiple APIs or in a csv? Is it fit for purpose or does it require additional work? Who will do that? How often is it updated? Will you allow users to download it? Are there legal disclaimers to add?
In order to maintain relevance, your data must be kept up to date. Authority underpinned by governance is key. If your data is superseded elsewhere you will become irrelevant.
However if it is authoritative then it can be a major traffic driver. The Supply and Service Map on Irish Water is one of their busiest pages. Providing data on water supply alerts across the country, it allows users to pinpoint their location, see the issue, and the information relevant to them if affected. It reduces calls to their contact centre and keeps the public aware of their activities.
What happens afterwards? Will users want to save their data or results, download it locally, or submit it as part of an application? Will they want to share on social media? What’s the call to action? It’s important to think about this early to ensure the user journey is kept in mind and that you stay relevant.
Plan for relevancy
Plan your data visualisation around the audience, their tasks, the data you have, the story you want to tell, and how you plan to promote it. Dashboard or infographics? Interactive graph or calculator?
Remember, the goal is to create visually attractive, simple to understand, usable tools. You need a mix of skills to help decide. Our UX, Content, Data Analysis and UI experts all offer specialist experience in choosing the data visualisation for businesses and agencies.