Cultural Nuances in Data Visualization

This is the continuation of the transcript of DM Radio’s program titled “What You See Is What You ‘Get’ – How Data Visualization Conveys Insight.”

Wayne Eckerson: Although, you know, visualization is a nuanced, cultural type of thing. For example, Guess – an apparel design company that makes jeans and other things like that – put out a dashboard that converted some tables to charts and graphics. They thought, “Well, this will be good. Users will like this much more than the tables.”

What they found was that, no, users did not find the charts much more usable. In fact, there was more information on the tables than in the charts. Whereas in the charts they had to click around a couple of times to get all the information they needed; in the tables it was just all there.  

So you have to be careful that when you convert something to visual format, you’re delivering more information not less information than the numeric representation. Despite the density, it’s still needs to be easy to view and observe. That really is a challenge.

In the case of Guess, they tried the dashboard a second time. This time, they decide to kind of acknowledge the culture of the company – their audience being fashion designers and merchandise buyers. They had to really understand what the fashions were.

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The second dashboard, instead of viewing things by line and bar charts, actually put pictures up of the products in a way that also helped to rank them from one to ten. The particular page they sent to me to look at really just showed women’s skirts on models.

So you are just looking at the skirt and at first blush it doesn’t look anything like a dashboard. It looks like a men’s magazine. But the users found this dashboard to be incredibly helpful in providing a heck of a lot more information than the first iteration of the dashboard or tables of numbers.

They could actually see the product and understand how these different variations of skirts ranked or what were the penetration and sales rate. It was only a few easy, quick steps to get all the information they needed.

And, they jest it up--you know—it’s kind of decorative too. They kind of broke a lot of the rules that you commonly associate with visualization, such as keeping it clean. But in this case, the decoration works very effectively.

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Jim Ericson: We profiled them ourselves and these apps were built for fashion buyers.  What a logical association to make between an image -- it was a skirt and ranking of how it goes with customers for a buyer.

I’ll talk about a role based tool to basically provide that sort of visual image compared to what they are looking at out in the field on their iPad. So you know it is a cultural thing -- the way they did it on top of a conventional micro strategy platform. It really fit with their audience.

Wayne Eckerson: Yeah, visualization is cultural. That was my point.

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