Dashboards talk too much.


Most dashboards just talk and don’t listen. Have you ever been in a “conversation” with someone and they talk 90% of the time. They ask you a question and while you’re 15 seconds into answering they interrupt and starting offloading their mountains of insight. It's mostly about them. And their consideration for you? Not so much.

That is what most dashboards do. Blah, blah, blah. What if...

What if the information presentations we interacted with actually acknowledged who they’re talking to, listened more, and talked less? What if we were to replace the focus on data with a conversation and a way of working out the complexities of data between two or more people.

To do this properly, think about what a "good conversation" is. Here are a few characteristics we came up with:

  • The people have similar experience around a topic; so they know what they’re talking about, but because every person is unique, they’ve gathered unique insight that can be shared. The varying, educated perspective keeps the conversation interesting.
  • The one doesn’t overly interrupt the other. Sure there may be reasons to interrupt here and there, but, if interruption is the norm, it quickly gets as annoying (and rude) as your cable news political analyst.
  • There is a sense of genuine care for what the other person is saying because, well... there is a genuine sense for what the other person is saying. Too often people get caught up in the “tricks” of networking and small talk and “the hook.” What if people actually respond to what’s genuine?
  • Distractions are minimal. One person isn’t constantly checking their phone or entertaining other interests. People are very adept at sensing interest. They do this by reading you: body language, eyes, word usage, how you breathe, pace of speech, and inflection to name a few. If you are actually interested in hearing what another else has to say, they will know.
  • You trust the other person. There is an assumed authenticity about each other. This is slow to build and easy to break.

So there’s a few qualities of good conversation, but why? People don’t often stop to think about why they enjoy good conversation. Let’s look at the benefits:

  • Your perspective is sharpened. You don’t have to live through the same experience the other person did in order to benefit from their insight. That is, if you trust what they are saying. This is a big time saver! Imagine if no one acted on anything but personally experienced information. You may know some people like that. They flounder, spending more time re-discovering rather than benefiting.
  • Your momentum is accelerated. Good conversations with trustworthy friends or experts is one of the biggest ways we overcome obstacles and keep momentum in life.
  • A dependable relationship is formed. You know if you ever want to talk about “x” topic again, where to turn. As the trust is built in that conversation, you are also setting this person as someone you can turn for solid footing when future steps are required.
  • Great conversations lighten your burden. Joking isn’t trivial, in fact, some the most serious conversations benefit from humor. It promotes an open mind and releases misplaced pressure over circumstances.

Now, why is a designer at a visualization, dashboarding, software company talking about all these warm fuzzies?! Presenting information is about people. We’re adamant about that at Juice. We’ve been focusing on what people actually want out of their data for a long time. Why? Because it’s a hole in the market and it’s fundamental to knowing what people both need and want to see out of “information experiences” they encounter. Until we appreciate the qualities and benefits of good conversations, we don’t have a firm foundation for sharing and communicating data.

You’re saying, “Well, that’s all fine and good, but how in the world does this play out in an application or dashboard?.” I’m glad you asked. This concept is something of deep interest at Juice and the thoughts here represent the tip of the iceberg. As we actively work through these concepts, we’ll look to provide practical examples in the coming months.

Questions What are some of the qualities of an enjoyable conversation you’ve had this week? How did it affect your day? In what ways could you imagine your dashboard just talking and not listening?

Dig DeeperThis talk by John Cleese (of Monty Python’s Flying Circus) is one of the best on creativity I’ve ever seen, and it speaks to the seriousness of humor, for the jokesters among you.

Evaluate and apply some related design principles to your application: Make it conversational, Use common language, Consider data comfort and expertise.