Stop users from walking in circles, four rules to lead them like a tour guide!

A good tour guide always enhances our experience at art galleries, museums, historic sites or production facilities. We want to be guided.  Who has the time to put the hours into researching and becoming an expert on Picasso’s Blue Period or how Sierra Nevada brews beer on a national scale? We value and need others’ expertise. Your users are no different, they want to be guided by your expertise.


Think of the best tours you've been on. Most likely, the tour guide led your group in the best direction and was available for questions when needed. Great guides teach you about the topic at hand, but also leave room for self discovery. The same holds true for users of your data.

Turn your data into a guided tour

Rule #1: Don’t leave your users hanging. They should not walk away with unanswered questions or feel that they wasted their time. Respect the fact that your users have full-time jobs- they're not experts in your data.  When designing your data solutions, keep in mind that your product is the guide that helps facilitate the information experience, discussions and decision making.

Rule #2: Every story has a beginning. As the tour guide for your company, your job is to create a starting point for your audience. Mounds of information can be overwhelming to a user. Interesting and engaging tours set the stage and create a launching point for participants to begin their experience.  Don’t leave them confused with a barrage of charts and tables which lead them in circles!


Rule #3: Gradually reveal more. This means you guide the user through data that you have designed with grouping like topics and themes to be studied one at a time. Leading the tour group through what you have prioritized as important information first. Reveal the high-level information, with the option to see more if desired.

The visual sequence of information is important in designing a data solution that not only guides the audience, but invites them to explore more and dig deeper into the details. Where you place key metrics, position charts and the amount of information you display will all make a big difference in how your audience will interact with the information.

Rule #4: Encourage exploration. The design of the tour, like your data product, should encourage your users to explore on their own as well. When developing your data product keep in mind that the user will want to see the big picture and then be able to engage with the information at a more detailed level. All filters you use to create the data product should provide immediate follow-up to provide continuity for the user.

As your tour concludes, you can see the results of the user’s experience.  But what makes data powerful is creating an experience for the user that informs, instructs, and leads to smart discussions, decisions and actions. Turning your data solutions into guided tours will not only help keep your audience’s confidence and attention, but will maximize your effectiveness in the market with users that feel they got the full value from your tour.

Find out more about effective data visualization, check out our full list of design principles. Also check out our book, Data Fluency.

Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Wiley, from Data Fluency: Empowering Your Organization with Effective Data Communication by Zach Gemignani, Chris Gemignani, Richard Galentino, Patrick Schuermann.  Copyright © 2014.