Analytics 101Data Visualization

In Analytics, Second Impressions Are Lasting

There’s an old axiom we have all heard: “first impressions are lasting”. It’s one that your mom teaches you when you’re 13 and about to head in for your first day of school without combing your hair.

Or that your dad teaches you when you’re 22 and he reviews your resume with five typos and three different fonts. If not your mom or dad, perhaps some mentor has taught you this axiom. And when you first heard that first impressions are lasting, it probably just clicked and you didn’t argue it because it is just common sense. How could anyone argue against it? Well, I’m not going to argue it either—I’m just going to expand on it as it pertains to analytics by stating this claim: First impressions are important, but in analytics, I have found that it is second impressions that last.

What do I mean? Well, in 22 years of working in analytics and business intelligence, I have learned that analytic dashboards and reports make two impressions on users and analysts. They are what I call: the 1-second impression and the 60-second impression.

  1. The 1-second impression: This is the first impression, and it is all about the aesthetics, or as we call it – eye candy, and the visual appeal of the dashboard. Does it catch your eye enough to make you want to explore it.
  2. The 60-second impression: This is the second impression and it’s all about meaning and utility. It’s the lasting impression that keeps you coming back to any analytic dashboard. After exploring for a minute, does this eye-catching dashboard tell me anything useful? Does it help me glean information better because of the visuals?

How many times have you seen a super cool report or analytic that just has that appealing eye candy that makes you just say, “Whoa that’s cool!” When you see a dashboard that is as cool as a USA Today infographic (I know, I’m dating myself with that reference), you just want it.

Your data may not even have geographic info or gender information, but darn it, you want a map and a breakdown by sex. Or, a donut pie chart that’s red and blue just because it looks awesome!

When you see a dashboard and say, “This is what we need” without ever exploring what the dashboard is telling you, it is natural. Your desire for rich visual appeal validates the importance of the 1-Second Impression.

But, while that visual appeal is important, aesthetics are only half of the equation to making useful, dashboard analytics. I have seen many beautiful dashboards developed, yet users never adopted them and used them regularly. Why? More than 90% of the time, in my experience, the adoption failure has been due to a bad 60-Second Impression.

60-Second Impression Fail. Why do even the most gorgeous dashboards fail? Well, how many times have you seen a beautiful looking infographic or a new dashboard at your place of business on the web and started to explore it only to find that it doesn’t tell you much. Or, that the visuals are downright confusing.

1-Second Impression: 4 out of 5 stars
60-second Impression: 1 out of 4 Stars

Here is an example. I receive a “Viz of the Day” email from one of my favorite vendors and leaders in the space, Tableau. The eye candy that analysts can produce with Tableau is infinite. But I would argue that a high percentage of the Viz of the Day emails I receive are “over-eye-candied” and would never be adopted or used. It’s like over-engineering but with visuals.

Take a look at this Energy Consumption by Country dashboard. It’s got enough eye candy to lure you in— the 1-Second Impression passes. But spend 60 seconds trying to glean valuable insights from it, and it might make your head hurt the way it did mine.

How do you know when a visual analytic fails the 60-second impression? When the answers to either of these two criteria are no, you have a recipe for failure:

  • After exploring for a minute, does this eye catching dashboard tell me anything useful?

This Energy Consumption by Country dashboard doesn’t help me discern anything, because there is too much going on with very few labels. There is no legend to help me understand which energy source is which bar.

  • Does it help me glean information better because of the visuals?

This is perhaps the worst part of this dashboard. The colorful ribbons don’t help me understand better than if they were a simple line chart. Sure they look nicer at first glance, but they are over-eye-candied and don’t add value. This Energy Consumption by Country dashboard doesn’t help me understand energy consumption any better than grid of data with thousands of rows of data.

A good way to think of it might be: Would it be useful if someone made a dashboard of your checking & savings account info visible to you when you logged into your bank? Maybe. But, if it made dramatic visuals of your mortgage payment each month being your largest expense, you wouldn’t be impressed. You already knew that and don’t need it visualized gloriously. So, it’s nothing useful, and the visual doesn’t help you glean anything you didn’t know.

60-Second Impression Success. Ok, so what does the opposite look like? Let’s take a look at this COVID19 Trend Tracker. It has the visual appeal to lure you and get you exploring. The aesthetics are solid, but they aren’t overdone. And when you spend a minute exploring this dashboard, you soon realize that it allows you to spot trends in a way that would be impossible to do so with simple grids and single dimension charts.

1-Second Impression: 4 out of 5 stars
60-Second Impression: 5 out of 5 stars
  • After exploring for a minute, does this eye catching dashboard tell me anything useful?

Yes! You can easily spot trends by locale and further explore using filters.

  • Does it help me glean information better because of the visuals?

Yes! Consider the raw data behind this dashboard. Thousands of rows and hundreds of columns underlie this dashboard. Maybe you’re more adept than the average human, but gleaning trends from a table like this Raw Data table below would be nearly impossible. I think it’s clear that, in this case, the visuals very much add value.

Conclusion

There are so many analytics tools on the market today that enable slick infographic style reporting, which many business professionals just want them no matter what. However, no one wants to waste time and money on a project that users never adopt. How can you avoid wasting time and money on a visual analytics project? Understand the two impressions, and focus on the lasting one—the second impression: the 60-Second Impression.

The 1-second impression: The visual appeal is important, but not the only important aspect.

The 60-second impression: This is the lasting impression! This is the second impression and it’s all about meaning and utility. It’s the lasting impression that keeps you coming back to any analytic dashboard. After exploring for a minute:

  1. Does this eye-catching dashboard tell me anything useful?
  2. Does it help me glean information better because of the visuals?

We hope you found this useful. Good luck with your projects!

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