When we think of Visual Design, we often start with visualizations, charts, widgets, etc. Because the visual presentation of data ultimately determines whether a message is successfully communicated to an audience, it’s important to think about Visual Design in a holistic, structured way to maximize the success of business applications.
Numbers have an important story to tell. They rely on you to give them a clear and convincing voice. – Stephen Few, author of Now You See It: Simple Visualization Techniques for Quantitative Analysis
Business analysts, end users, and IT professionals are always trying to give a voice to numbers through effective, compelling visuals. This is the essence of using any visual data discovery or data presentation tool. Because the visual presentation of data ultimately determines whether a message is successfully communicated to an audience, it’s important to think about Visual Design in a holistic, structured way to maximize the success of business applications.
But what exactly do we mean by Visual Design? And what does it mean to “think visually?” It’s best understood with a structured approach, framed by the diagram below:
When we think of Visual Design, we often start with visualizations, charts, widgets, etc. But forms of presentation change based on the content, which always depends on who the audience is. Thus the starting point of visual design should be with the ‘Audience’ and not the presentation.
Who will be consuming the information? Identifying your audience is pivotal because both content and presentation shift according to the requirements of the audience. Answering the following questions can help you better identify and understand your audience:
- What is/are the role(s) that the audience plays in the whole process?
- Is there more than one role?
- Are there multiple levels of users? Level can be determined by the tiers of data summarization required for a given role as well as the scope of the data in question. For example, a CEO typically wants to see the whole company’s performance, and hence requires the highest level of summarization and complete breadth of data. Meanwhile, a business analyst in finance needs details of financial data only. Thus, these two roles would be at two different levels.
- How often is your audience going to look at this data? Hourly, daily, weekly? Time frame and frequency are critical to content strategy and will help in determining the appropriate presentation.
What is being presented? Answering the following questions can help you determine what information should be included in an application:
- Overall business performance of a process
- Detection of anomalies or exceptions
- Identifying outliers
- Comparisons to other business areas
- Identifying areas of improvement
- Identifying Top/Bottom performers
- Identifying trends or predicting future trends based on historical data
All of these questions should be considered for each of the different identified roles and levels in the audience. Different levels are often interested in a slightly different analysis of the same data sets. For example: While a financial analyst may want to see individual cost centers for compliance and year-over-year comparisons, a CIO may look for expense optimization opportunities. Both will be based on the same data, but the purpose of the content will be different and therefore need different treatment in presentation and aggregation.
- What is the business process/case for this analysis?
- What is the purpose of this content? What business problem will it solve?
- Presentation: Once you understand who is looking at the selected data and why, it becomes easier to design the presentation layer. Some considerations for presentation include:
- How will the content be consumed? Presentation will vary depending whether the information is delivered via Web, Mobile, Web on Mobile, Mobile native app, etc.
- What will be your color theme? Is there a corporate standard?
- How will you incorporate widgets, visualizations, and charts to convey the message in the data?
- Is there an order to how this information is consumed? This will help with determining the order of presentation of data and drilling functionalities.
To summarize: visual design, when done right, should enable the user to understand “why and where” a problem occurred and “what” to do about it. This is the basis for any successful business intelligence application, as it allows users to take action based on new business insights.
The next posts in this series will dive deeper into effective presentation techniques. Stay tuned!