10 Tips for Data Visualization

David Steier, William D. Eggers, Joe Leinbach, Anesa Diaz-Uda | Govtech.com | February 24, 2012

After disaster strikes or government initiatives fail, in hindsight, we see all too often that warning signs were overlooked by decision-makers. Or sophisticated technology was installed, but nobody took the time to learn to use it. It’s often labeled “user error,” or “problem between keyboard and chair.” In analytics, the problem is especially acute — the most sophisticated analytics models in the world are futile unless decision-makers understand and act on the results appropriately.

This problem often arises because designers haven’t truly considered how those using the fancy dashboards, maps or policy visualizations will interact with the analytics. They may become enamored of the model’s power and try to fit every piece of data into it. However, in offering more options and parameters to control the model’s operation, and filling up every pixel of screen real estate, designers can fail to recognize that most government decision-makers are inundated with inputs, pressed for time and can only focus on essentials. As Yale professor and information design guru Edward Tufte wrote, “Clutter and confusion are not attributes of information; they are failures of design.”