I was talking through the challenges of getting teams to not only be technically proficient with data viz tools but also with good design and I was greeted with the following statement:
It is easier for you Dave because you know what good looks like…
So do I have some magical natural ability – of course not but I was struggling to articulate how I had built up the knowledge to be able to instinctively know when something was more likely to work or not.
Around the same time I was reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. In this book Gladwell talks about the fact that snap judgments are not a toss of a coin dependent on luck but more the culmination of our experiences knitted together in a way we cannot always explain.
So with that in mind I thought I would try to unpick this a little based on my experience – what elements of my learning do I think has helped build up that gut feel and hopefully what would be useful to others.
Spend time with people discussing the areas you are developing products for
This is something which given the hectic pace of work is often over looked. Being present whilst the experts in the area go through their planning and general management of the area can often give you very good insight into what the data and analysis should influence. The presence at meetings etc always does have to have a purpose (as should the meetings itself) but that purpose could be to get familiar with an area.
I have found this to be quite effective – it is not about making copious notes but more about just actively listening and subconsciously joining up the dots so that when analysis is required you are already one step ahead. It has also helped with cutting down on the barrage of questions because you can articulate what they need in terms they resonate with.
Spend time with people using the products
This one is more common but I don’t mean just the usual development interaction of specification and delivery. Go to where they are working, take in their environment, if they start talking about something not directly related let the conversation flow. This is building rapport but it is also also about you building a picture of where their comfort is and if what they have asked for is actually what they need.
The challenge I have found here is actually narrowing down the main target audience – getting to the people who will be using the analysis not just the person who thinks it is required (in my experience not always the same person).
So those two are more around the softer side of design – the making sure it is fit for purpose.
Surround yourself with good examples
So I could recommend lots of books here (Big book of dashboards is a great one) but I don’t know about you but I struggle with family, work and hobbies to sit down and properly focus on a book. When I do it tends to be fiction to give me the escapism I need. So how do you get the examples?
Twitter, feedly, RSS feeds etc – basically any platform which will squirt the latest content over to you so you can whilst sitting on a bus, lazing in the bath or sitting on the loo digest that great content. Obviously a lot of the success of this depends on who you push into that stream but I have found you can quite quickly get a feel for what you class as good examples and what is not.
With that in mind here are a few blogs which I like and I feel fits with what I would count as good effective design.
Data viz done right – Andy Kriebel’s gallery of effective visualisation
Everyday dashboards – Chris Love’s store of great examples of real dashboards that people have submitted.
VizCandy – Beautiful design – draws you in and is also very effective
So in conclusion:
Trust your gut it is more intelligent than you think
Keep it well fed with the right things and then hopefully good design will be easy for you.