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What a Lamp Reminded Me About Data Visualization User Experience

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What a Lamp Reminded Me About User Experience in Data Visualization FeatureSome of the best data visualization and business lessons I’ve learned have come from seemingly unrelated experiences. For example, during a reading exercise in sixth grade, I learned to always know the measurement of success. During a typing contest in seventh grade, I learned that if something seems off, it probably is. By the way, stay tuned for more from that series of data visualization tips I learned before I was a teenager because it’s amazing how often this happens.

There are other times when everyday life experiences remind me of some of my thoughts on data visualization and firm my stance on my preferred techniques. I’m sharing one of those recent experiences and a very important data visualization user experience reminder.

I’ve been traveling a lot this year, which means many stops in unfamiliar hotel rooms. Despite having never been to most of these places before, I usually figure out my way around pretty quickly because of the schemas I’ve developed navigating similar situations before. See 3 Ways Psychological Schemas Can Improve Your Data Visualization for more on this topic.

However, I recently ran into a little trouble in one of the rooms. I found myself standing in a completely dark hotel room with the black-out shades closed. Fortunately, there was the usual light switch on the wall right next to the door which I was able to easily turn on right away. Unfortunately, the light only brightened a small portion of the entryway.

No problem, I could now make out a lamp sitting on the desk in the room. I would just turn that on so I could see the rest of the room and get settled in. After frustratingly searching for the switch in the (mostly) dark, I finally realized it was one of those switches down on the cord that you have to turn with your thumb. To add to the frustration, the light was pretty weak, and I would have to turn on additional lights.

So I walked over to a floor lamp. I started by looking for the switch on the cord, but discovered that the switch was a knob near the base of the lightbulb. It turns out that this room had five light sources, all with a different method for turning them on… a traditional switch at the front door; a cord switch on the desk lamp; a knob on the floor lamp; a switch near the bulb on one of the nightstand lights; a switch on the base of the second nightstand light.

I found the parallels between this experience and data visualization user experience to be uncanny.

When an end user comes to your data visualization for the first time, they are in the proverbial dark. Not only do they not know what they are supposed to be looking for, but once they find out, they don’t know how to find it. It is up to us then as the dashboard authors to help the end user find their way around with as little frustration as possible. Communicating with data is already challenging; don’t risk losing your end users by placing barriers in their way.

The reminder here is to make your user experience consistent so your audience will have an easier time finding value in your dashboard.

For example, if you are using buttons to help guide your end users through multiple views, ensure they have a similar look and feel and that they are in the same location throughout the views.

If you are using dashboard actions, ensure they consistently run on hover, select, or menu. If your user clicks to run one dashboard action, but then tries this on a dashboard action set to run on menu, they will likely think something is broken and give up. For more on dashboard actions, see 3 Creative Ways to Use Tableau Dashboard Actions.

If you are using filters, try to make them the same format throughout the workbook (i.e. multi-select, single-select, wildcard, etc.). With this one, in particular, different filters may call for different formats, but these types of decisions should all be made in an effort to make the user experience more intuitive.

With hotel lamps, as in data visualization, reducing your end user’s frustration by making their experience as consistent as possible will improve your chances of creating a positive impact.

Thanks for reading,
– Ryan