data presentation

Not Knowing Where To Start

Books, movies and music all have a beginning. Data, when presented or shared, often does not have an intuitive starting point.  The challenge of not having a clear beginning is that when you see a dashboard littered with a dozen competing charts it’s easy to disengage. Tables of raw data can be even worse. Dashboards or reports are often designed to deliver everything and the kitchen sink.         

Here are a couple of examples of dashboards that miss the mark in terms of telling their audience where to start.  In both of these cases the user has to be familiar with the data and know how to read the information correctly.  Beginner or infrequent users will struggle to understand the value of this data.  Without guiding them, the users can lose interest and choose to avoid using the information altogether.

               http://www.dashboardzone.com/health-metrics-dashboard-from-idashboard

               http://www.dashboardzone.com/health-metrics-dashboard-from-idashboard

              http://www.informationbuilders.com/products/webfocus/operational_dashboard

              http://www.informationbuilders.com/products/webfocus/operational_dashboard

Good dashboards or reports start with a high-level summary and then let users progressively and logically drill into more complex details and context. They are also simple and uncluttered. They use white space and have a clear visual hierarchy.   Here are a few of alternative examples to get the wheels turning.                        

Even this more advanced interactive visualization, called a TreeMap, offers clarity on where to start and how to use it.

To have your audience follow your story it’s important to get them started on the right path.  Think Steven Covey’s, Begin with the End in Mind.  Just like a story your audience is along for the ride.  Carry them from initial explanation to a new, shared understanding.   Only then will they begin to value the effort you put into assembling and presenting the information you’ve given them.

For a demo of our product, Juicebox, schedule an appointment.

Find out more on effective data visualization from our book, Data Fluency. Excerpted here 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.



Tufte shares wisdom for data presenters

Tufte1
Tufte1

For a famous person, Edward Tufte is adept at avoiding the papparazzi. You probably know this iconic Tufte teaching picture. But it is pretty hard to find another picture of him.

Until now. The clever folks at AdAgeStat were able to get a shot (undoubtably with a bowtie camera) of Tufte for an interview on their AdAgeStat blog.

Tufte in full color
Tufte in full color

The interview is worth a read. It covers some of the typical Tufte hobby-horses, like this rant about PowerPoint:

"PowerPoint benefits the bottom 10% of presenters by forcing them to have points, some points ... any points at all. And the best 10% of presenters have such good content, style and self-awareness that PowerPoint does little damage. PowerPoint should be used solely as a projector operating system to show 100% content, without the bullet grunts, logos and the formatting nonsense from the Strategic Communications Department, and the $20 million Pentagram corporate format guidelines."

That stuff aside, there were some great nuggets about data presentation. For example his take on presenters and credibility:

"Presenters need (1) to tell a coherent story and (2) to convince their audience of their credibility. A good way to gain credibility is not to have lied to the same audience last month. Another is to demonstrate that you are not a cherry picker, basing your case on evidence selection rather that on evidence. Another necessity is to demonstrate your mastery of detail."

In my experience, providing your audience with some (limited) flexibility to interact with the data is a great mechanism for building credibility. Have the confidence to allow access to more than cherrypicked data and you won't come across as manipulative.

Tufte pushes back on the notion of being "overwhelmed by data" by saying:

"Overload, clutter, and confusion are not attributes of information, they are failures of design. So if something is cluttered, fix your design, don't throw out information. If something is confusing, don't blame your victim -- the audience -- instead, fix the design."

In the world of business intelligence and reporting software, there isn't a lot of empathy with audiences. The focus is squarely on the user trying to create something, not the reader trying to understand the content.

Finally, he hits on a seldom-discussed gap in data analysis by noting that "good content reasoners and presenters are rare, designers are not."

In conversations with people like Andrew Abela and Nancy Duarte, we've thought a lot about how tools can help people better present data. In the end, it is still a very human art form to synthesize understanding about a problem and construct a logical argument or story around it. Tools can only help facilitate and guide the process. That's what we are trying to do with Slice.

Slice is data presentation for the rest of us

carousel-reports2

Ok, we're gonna take an informal survey. Raise your hand if you've ever experienced this:

You’re sitting through yet another dull, data-heavy presentation packed full of repetitive charts. A question gets raised, and the presenter flips furiously to find a relevant chart on page 53. A colleague squints at a dense table of numbers, wondering what it all means.

We've all been there. And oh! how painful. Too many times we've seen the aftermath of the indiscriminate boardroom presentation bore-athons. Well, it's time to make it stop!

As a result, we at Juice challenged ourselves to find a way for ordinary business folks to create engaging, interactive presentations that leave the dreary days of Death by PowerPoint behind and bring new life to the data-presentation experience. Our solution is called Slice.

Slice reporting solution
Slice reporting solution

Over the last year we’ve worked with dozens of organizations to refine and enhance how Slice works. Our customers come from a diverse array of industries, from research organizations to healthcare service providers to advertising agencies.

Here's what we learned. There are many great data analysis tools out there like Tableau for ad hoc analysis, SAS and R for statisticians, and a myriad of others. However, we've heard repeatedly from real users that these tools fall flat on helping people become data presenters.

Slice solves that data presentation problem.

Once you've done the analysis and you know what to communicate, packaging the results in the proper way is critical. But, to do it right

  • You want the design to be striking, but you're not a designer;
  • You want engaging interactivity, but you're not a developer and the IT wait list is overflowing;
  • You might cobble something together using Excel and PowerPoint, but mediocrity is not what you're looking for.

Slice removes these constraints by focussing on the last mile of business intelligence: presenting data with the visual precision, interactivity and excellence in a way that sparks engagement.

We are really excited about how Slice makes a difference for people who have struggled too long with delivering data-rich presentations or reports. Interested in seeing the advantage Slice can give you? We've just released a new version and we’d be happy to set you up with a 30-day trial. Go to our Slice page, fill out the form, and we'll be in touch.