Humanizing data visualization
What is the ultimate goal of data and why is it so important? From the dawn of civilization, data has been the key to power. Ancient Indians captured data from living experiences and captured them in the Vedas and the Upanishads, giving birth to one of the most advanced civilizations thousands of years before the Egyptian pyramids. Alexander the Great built the Library of Alexandria to house ‘all the knowledge in the world’ under one roof. Subsequent emperors made it a rule that all ships must turn in their scrolls for copying in exchange for permission to dock in Alexandria and trade with their wealthy population. Today, data is causing all sorts of disruptions and political upsets across the planet. But not all data is created equal. Knowledge is power. The quality of knowledge, one that will give you the right kind of powers, ultimately depends on the data you have available. Indeed, lots of data is useful. However, when it comes to user interfaces, too much data can take away users ability to make the right decisions. A tsunami of data is allowing AI and algorithms to transform the world we live in. But humans can only handle a limited cognitive load. So interfaces that are designed for humans must be precise and empowering. Interfaces for data visualization must enable the user to focus on the right set of data to make the decisions that will produce insights and the desired outcomes. The high availability of data and sexy visualizations make it tempting to overburden users with slick looking, data-packed dashboards or overpopulated tables that are ultimately meaningless. Users typically approach data, reports and dashboards with a specific goal in mind. The ideal user experience makes the interface invisible, offering the user the necessary data at a precise time to complete a goal or an action. For example, imagine an enterprise user whose role is to manage data and reduce IT risk . While they might need access to vast amounts of data generated by their IT infrastructure, what is truly valuable is the ability to respond to threats or events using real-time notifications and altering trends. Remember, we’re talking about designing interfaces for humans here. Think about what your typical workday looks like: the interruptions, meetings, breaks and other events. You need to be able to pick up where you left off. User interfaces that house the data should aid your work rather than become an additional roadblock. Let me be clear, I am in favor of data visualization, dashboards, tables, etc. As the Head of Product Design for Tehama , I am always advocating that we design for humans. Here’s a seven-step approach you can take to create meaningful data visualization experiences .