The Psychology of Data Visualization techniques:
 How to Design Useful Reports

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brainIn recent years we’ve seen enormous advancements in Business Intelligence and Data Visualization across all industries with respect to the way that companies view and consume data. Much more information is now readily available, and in many cases, this shift has enabled organizations to make better-informed decisions from their data. Companies that are able to effectively harness their data to empower their end users have a major leg up on competitors, but only if they understand the intricacies of their user base when delivering this information. For this reason, it’s important to take a few considerations into account when designing visual components in your reports.

• Understand and segment your user base.

You should take care to identify the various cross sections within your organization and identify exactly who will be accessing reports. These could be different departments, such as Accounting or Sales, or different organizational levels, such as C-level staff, management, or individual contributors. The overarching theme here is that you should be able to segment your entire user base down into an organizational hierarchy so that you know exactly who needs to have access to which data and, more importantly, how to represent the different types of data. This will provide a very helpful framework when planning the logistics of your report design and delivery. 

Your users will come with varying degrees of technological experience. For example:

–  An Administrative Assistant who may have very limited technical experience, but may need a very simple way to pull financial data out of the reporting system for use within Excel — no mobile access required.
–  A President/CEO with moderate technical experience who wants to see the health of all departments within the organization at a glance, including mobile access while traveling.
–  Highly skilled IT Administrators who want to be able to track system downtime at a glance.

It’s clear that all of these groups have separate needs, and because of this, it is extremely important that you understand your users and target their needs. Simply rolling out the same report to all users may not be the most efficient way for your users to analyze and interpret their data.

• Customize complexity depending on situation.

You should always keep in mind the psychology of your users when they are viewing or creating specific reports and scale complexity accordingly. If your end user is primarily in front of a desktop computer, they will be able to handle more report complexity; if they are viewing reports primarily on mobile devices, they will want their reports accessed in a much more simplistic way. Keeping in mind what your users need is the best way to cultivate an efficient, well-informed company.

• Frequency of information delivery.

Another critical point is determining the frequency that your users need to receive data and how current they need that data to be. For example, if you’re designing a dashboard to be used within a POS (Point Of Sale) system that shows inventory levels of supplies in your store, employees will need immediate access to real-time data so that they know to reorder stock today if an item that you will run out of tomorrow is selling fast. On the other hand, if you are designing a dashboard to visualize data of online software sales where inventory levels are not an issue, it might be appropriate for the dashboard to correlate sales data between the last two quarters. In this situation, your data may be days or even weeks old and still provide the same value to the end user. With both of these examples, it is clear that time-to-decision is an integral part of the psychology of data visualization for your end users.

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