How to avoid turning your visualization into a data graveyard

My worst data visualization work has all been dashboards, and I recently realized why.

Part of learning Data Viz is experimenting with different types of visualizations to present information, and dashboards are something I’ve been looking into as I’ve started working with more complex datasets.

It’s a standard visual format that a lot of people have come to expect, but there are several catastrophic mistakes you can fall into when creating one.

To elaborate on this, one needs to look no further than Jared Spool.

A grey photo of a graveyard, with several graves in the front, a fence, and then a hill with the sun shining behind it.
A grey photo of a graveyard, with several graves in the front, a fence, and then a hill with the sun shining behind it.
Photo by Einar Storsul on Unsplash

“Dashboards are where data goes to die.” — Michael Solomon, Product Strategy Director


How I overengineered a worse solution by making an interactive visualization

A woman in motion walking on a crosswalk while looking the wrong way. Her feet are carrying her in one direction but her head is tilted to look in another.
A woman in motion walking on a crosswalk while looking the wrong way. Her feet are carrying her in one direction but her head is tilted to look in another.
Photo by Vicky Hladynets on Unsplash

I made a common User-centered Design trap when I tried to revise a bad visualization.

As a part of the process of learning Tableau, I’ve been exposed to a wealth of interactivity options. From dashboards to stories, I’ve been exposed to the world of dynamic visualization.

But I recently had to ask myself a question when remaking a bad visualization: rather than ask how to make it dynamic; I needed to ask if I should.

To explain my problem, I should talk about #Makeovermonday.

As part of #MakeoverMonday, I took a dataset from UNICEF that reviews the disparity between adolescent…


How to make sense of a complex visualization technique.

Several people walking in the dark while a several hanging lights are illuminating the rest of the room
Several people walking in the dark while a several hanging lights are illuminating the rest of the room
Photo by Robynne Hu on Unsplash

I didn’t understand the point of treemaps until I worked with a large structured dataset.

As part of an extensive user research effort, we collected open-ended survey data from 130 participants. After standardizing the data and doing thematic analysis, the next topic was to try and figure out a way to visualize it.

After analyzing the data, it was a dataset with over 20 themes and several different categories of respondents. This was a much larger dataset than I was used to visualizing: what was I supposed to do?

That’s when I first started to learn about treemaps. To understand…


What to do if your values don’t fit?

A picture of a dashboard, with bar and line charts. The bars of the bar chart are near the top of the graph.
A picture of a dashboard, with bar and line charts. The bars of the bar chart are near the top of the graph.
Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash

Sometimes, the data doesn’t exactly work the way you want it to.

When working with data, you might run into a fairly common problem: some values make it hard to fit everything on one graph;


I created a better approach to writing to fit my needs

Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

I just wrote my first book in a year after failing to do so for decades.

I’ve been writing since I was a child but never quite figured out how to complete a book: the number of half-finished novels and short story anthologies that I’ve created could probably fill a bookshelf.

Sometimes it was an issue of motivation, but usually, it was an issue of organization.

Halfway through a story, I would find that my character’s motivations completely changed or that I had no idea to tie it together. …


Scope your project with eight hats of Data Visualization Design

A hiker is standing on a slab of rock looking up at a giant stone arch in Moab, Utah
A hiker is standing on a slab of rock looking up at a giant stone arch in Moab, Utah
Photo by trail on Unsplash

What should the scope of your Data Visualization project be? That’s something that I’ve been encountering as I’ve begun creating visualizations for work.

Learning Data Visualization from the lens of multiple fields has given me a unique perspective on applying it in my work life. But unlike courses, sometimes the real world isn’t clear with the scale and scope of what needs to get done.

There have been times where I’ve wanted to create a grandiose visualization, only to have to scale it back as I don’t have time for it. …


Finding compelling stories hidden in your user research

A series of sketches of the same basic shape on pen and paper
A series of sketches of the same basic shape on pen and paper
Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Thinking like a journalist helped me turn my user research into a 1-page summary. It’s always a hard process, condensing your user research into a 60-minute presentation. We can put much hard work into gathering key points that you might not present to your stakeholders. But a 1-page summary was an order of magnitude harder: my first draft was a mess, and I had no idea how many points I could support or what story to tell.

This is where the Journalistic approach helped me: I was able to sleuth several possible data stories to write about and find a…


How to gather quantitative and qualitative data in a usability test.

A hand holding a glass ball, which shows a focused mirror image of the blurry glass building behind it.
A hand holding a glass ball, which shows a focused mirror image of the blurry glass building behind it.
Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

My usability testing process has gained a new layer of depth from learning Data Science, with only a few minor changes. Over a year, I’ve made changes to the way that I’ve approached usability testing and been able to add quantitative elements to my analysis. But I hadn’t thought about the ways that I’ve changed until I found myself in the middle of another week of testing.

Here’s how my process changed.

The scientific approach and UX

Honestly, many of the underlying factors haven’t changed that much: I’m still seeking out feedback anywhere from 5–10 users who are subject matter experts (SMEs) who will be…


The most important part of telling a story with a presentation

Photo by Sasha Yudaev on Unsplash

One of the quickest ways to improve your presentation skills is through storytelling.

At the heart of most any presentation is the desire to persuade your audience.

Whether it’s persuading them to approve a new plan or persuading them to pay attention to a particular problem, most presentations are created with that in mind.

And one of the easiest persuasion methods is telling a story: they easily engage the audience, and they’re easy to remember.

However, if we’re going to take a story-based approach to presentation, we need to understand how to use one of its’ most important elements: the…


Using user-centered design to figure out the best chart for your audience.

A paper with a line graph on it, and a pen and rule to the side of it.
A paper with a line graph on it, and a pen and rule to the side of it.
Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

There tends only to be one way of thinking about chart choosers: based on the data.

There is a very famous chart chooser done by Dr. Andrew Abela that has traditionally been how you choose which chart to use.

Kai Wong

UX Designer, Author, and Data Visualization Advocate. Author of Data Persuasion: https://tinyurl.com/rndb9bw. Substack: dataanddesign.substack.com

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