There are a lot of ways you can visualize data, and there’s no shortage of best practices out there for making your charts and graphs. Best practices only take you so far, however. I’ll be talking about how a user’s context and goals inform useful data visualizations at the UXPA’s February meeting, next Thursday, February 11. Event details are here. Also: jokes. Hope to see you there!
Jeff Harrison has been promoted to senior UX consultant, data visualization domain expert. In this role, Jeff makes us, and our clients, smarter about how to analyze and present data in a visual form. As Jeff says: “Like presenting and writing, communicating data effectively is broadly applicable to projects across our practice areas. Visualizing data is a skill that can be improved upon by understanding principles of human perception, becoming proficient with tools, and practicing.”
We are excited to announce that Rachael Marret has joined us as Managing Director. In this role, Rachael will serve as a growth catalyst, helping to establish strategic direction for the firm and providing consulting services to clients. Rachael brings global experience, both as a corporate leader, as well as an agency manager and consultant. Her most recent role was SVP, Consumer Engagement for Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group where she had responsibility for ecommerce, mobile, social media, digital marketing, loyalty/CRM, consumer insights and data & analytics. From 2002 to 2013, Rachael worked for the McCann Worldgroup organization, first leading the Minneapolis office of their digital agency brand, MRM Worldwide, and later joining Campbell Mithun as President.
We are happy to recognize Bret with a promotion to SVP, Consulting Operations & Technology in acknowledgement of his contributions to clients and the company. Over his 10+ years at Evantage, Bret has developed a reputation among his clients and colleagues alike for steady leadership and effective delivery. In this new role, Bret will build upon his current responsibilities of client consulting work, data security, and technology leadership, to include firm operations.
By Jeff Harrison
It’s an exciting time to be me! If this email I got from LinkedIn is any guide, my career is about to really take off.
Also, this email from my bank shows my rewards balance on this credit card remains at an all-time high. (I don’t know what “Earn More Mall Earnings” means but as someone who lives within a hypothetical short drive of the Mall of America I’m pretty stoked.)
To top it off, according to this visualization in ClassDojo, my kid is rocking Spanish class. The chart helps me see that all of the feedback from his teacher is positive.
All these displays have one thing in common: underwhelming data. I do not actively promote my profile on LinkedIn [edited to add link to LinkedIn profile], and my son’s Spanish teacher never got into the habit of using ClassDojo to communicate with parents. I never signed up for the rewards program for which I receive the monthly grid of zeroes above; they just started showing up in my email a year or two ago. (The program is attached to an overdraft protection feature that Wells Fargo couldn’t figure out how to implement without issuing me a second debit card, which I routinely cut in half each time I get a new one.)
It’s easy to imagine the design reviews for these interfaces. Colorful charts! Insights! Engagement! When there’s a match between the data in these displays and what customers care about optimizing, magic happens: think of all the Fitbit users who consult their apps to monitor their steps and optimize their day for physical activity. The data contributes to a feedback loop, and more people take the stairs. However, when there’s a mismatch the displays aren’t motivating. They just feel kind of lame.
Do your user research. Get it right. And stop sending me notifications that suggest my life is somehow disappointing. Because LinkedIn and my mom would both tell you different:
by Bret Busse
The 14th annual Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association Summit was held this week. This well planned, well executed, and sold out event featured an impressive lineup of speakers and keynotes that moved the mind and the heart.
Evantage has a long history with MIMA and the Summit. Our founder, Robin Carpenter, helped found MIMA in 1998 and served on the board until 2002. I met Robin at a MIMA event in 2000 and quickly joined her committee before joining the board in 2001. I helped create the first Summit, and eventually served as MIMA President. Our Managing Partner, Kate McRoberts, served on the MIMA board for 4+ years, helping program events and the Summit during a time of exponential growth for MIMA.
MIMA was founded by a small group of people who knew that sharing their knowledge was the best way to help each other figure out how to do their jobs better. 17 years later, the association is a nationally-recognized leader and is fulfilling its mission to raise the level of talent in Minnesota, challenge the status quo and inspire innovation. We’re proud to be a part of it.
Congratulations to the current MIMA Board on a job well done.
When we review a presentation before showing it to a client, someone often asks about the “so what.” Your findings seem reasonable, but so what? What do you want your audience to learn? What action should they take as a result?
If there are charts and graphs in the presentation, those also have to support the “so what.” You can’t just look at data and pick the optimal visualization. You’ll get better results if you first figure out the point you’re making, then design the graph as a supporting illustration.
The Storytelling with Data blog, written by Cole Nussbaumer, is not the only place to learn about good data visualization practices, but it has a more holistic view of communication than many. Yes, Cole talks about the pros and cons of bars, lines, and (shudder) pies, but she goes beyond that to discuss titles, labels, and other accompanying text, and how the shapes and the words come together to make meaning happen.
One of the reasons I like Cole’s blog is that she trades in small data. Her examples tend to feature manageable data sets that might inspire normal people to whip up a graph. So, when she announced a visualization challenge a couple of weeks ago the goal was not to inspire the kind of kinetic sculpture that big companies use to brand themselves as innovators. It was simply to improve upon a set of world population graphs published by The Economist.
While the challenge was to remake the visuals, the biggest problem with the original was the lack of a clear point. The text accompanying the graph was a laundry list of observations:
“The number of people will grow from 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion in 2050, 100m more than was estimated in the UN’s last report two years ago. More than half of this growth comes from Africa, where the population is set to double to 2.5 billion. Nigeria’s population will reach 413m, overtaking America as the world’s third most-populous country. Congo and Ethiopia will swell to more than 195m and 188m repectively, more than twice their current numbers. India will surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2022, six years earlier than was previously forecast. China’s population will peak at 1.4 billion in 2028; India’s four decades later at 1.75 billion. Changes in fertility make long-term projections hard, but by 2100 the planet’s population will be rising past 11.2 billion. It will also be much older. The median age of 30 will rise to 36 in 2050 and 42 in 2100—the median age of Europeans today. A quarter of Europe’s people are already aged 60 or more; by 2050 deaths will outnumber births by 32m. The UN warns that only migration will prevent the region’s population from shrinking further.”
What I get from this is, there are going to be a lot more people. Okay. So what?
To me, the big story in the data was the massive projected growth of Africa, and the problems that it could spell for billions of people. Here’s what I made (click to embiggen):
There were other interesting observations that could have been made, but I picked the story that seemed compelling to me and focused on that. The great thing, though, was that other people chose different points (for example, the shifting makeup of the world’s overall population, or how the projections fit with historical trends), and most of them improved on the original in some way. The variety of stories and approaches are on display on the round-up published yesterday, along with Cole’s critique.
Data can clarify, illustrate, and convince, but it doesn’t speak for itself. If you want it to support what you want to say, you have to figure out the “so what” first.
By Jeff Harrison
The Axure 8 beta dropped yesterday, and as always there’s a lot to take in. Some of the new features are pretty flashy: updated animation options mean you can finally flip and spin things—at the same time! There are tools for creating custom shapes, repeater updates, and lots of other improvements that will help you make fancier prototypes, if that’s your thing.
The changes I’m happiest to see are the ones that promise to improve the way I work in Axure by allowing me to work on things in their context, instead of having to switch to one mode where I’m editing in isolation, and then back to see the results of what I’ve done.
There are three examples of this that stick out at me right away.
By Jeff Harrison
Here’s a common exchange when I’m talking to a prospective client (let’s call him “Steve”) about an Axure workshop:
Me: Tell me a little bit about how you see your team using Axure.
Steve: We’re using all kinds of tools today. Some people are using Visio, some are using PowerPoint. The designers are using Photoshop and OmniGraffle. It’s all over the map. Everybody’s stuff looks different. We have decided to standardize on Axure, so the purpose of this training is to get people up to speed.
Me: Okay, that makes sense. Is there anything you know you want to focus on?
Steve: I’m extremely interested in the custom libraries that Axure has, so we can all be working with the same components. We spend too much time reinventing the wheel today. I definitely hope that these libraries are part of the training.
Me: Sure, I can cover that. What are you doing today to try to standardize components?
Steve: As I said, it’s all over the map. We have no standards.
The folks at Axure (our go-to tool for rapid UI prototyping) just blogged a conversation with our own Jeff Harrison. Jeff has been using Axure for a long time and is no stranger to the headaches that can come with prototyping interactions. In this post he lays down some rules to manage that complexity, or even avoid it altogether, with the goal of making your life a lot easier when a client asks for just one “small” change.
Of course, all that happens while discussing the workings of a complex prototype that Jeff created as a demo for the Chicago Axure Users Meetup a while back, so consider yourself warned.