There are not many tactics that are going to improve the chances of your data visualization making a difference around the workplace more than tip number one: Know Your Audience. In fact, the tips listed in the Data-Driven Storytelling series follow a natural progression, and it is no coincidence that know your audience is discussed first. Before you create a single chart that you intend to share, putting some thought into who that chart will be seen by will dramatically improve your data visualization.
In the case of Tableau’s Iron Viz Championship, where each of the three participants is given the same dataset and has twenty minutes to create the best data visualization possible, the audience is one of the only things the contestants are guaranteed to know. Last year when one of our staff members competed, the panel of judges included Anya A’Hearn, 2012’s Iron Viz winner, Elissa Fink, Tableau’s Chief Marketing Officer, and Jock Mackinlay, Tableau’s VP of Visual Analysis. We had followed Anya’s work for a long time leading up to the contest, and had a very good feel for her style and the types of visualizations she would appreciate. We did not know Elissa personally at the time, but assumed by her CMO title that she was hoping for a viz that showed off the capabilities of Tableau. The way to Jock’s heart would be to focus on data visualization best practices and let the great story in the data speak for itself. This background on each of the judges allowed us to tailor the viz and presentation in a way that improved the chances of the viz being well-received.
Our favorite analogy for this concept is the old Southwest Airlines Wanna Get Away? campaign. In one of the commercials, a rapper performing at a concert mistakenly and passionately thanks the audience by saying “Thank you Detroit – we love you!” The crowd begins to boo and another performer informs the speaker that “Detroit was last night.” We have actually been at several concerts where the artist on stage thanks the home crowd by name. Even though the performer surely thanks every stop’s hometown in the same way, hearing your own city’s name provokes a great sense of pride and is usually an easy way to make a connection with the audience. Get it wrong, however, and the city shout-out has an equally, if not more, negative impact on the crowd.
Translating to Business
This same principle can be applied to your own corporate dashboards. Knowing your audience goes a long way to making a connection and maximizes the chances that your end user will understand and happily adopt the reports that you have created. Get it wrong, and you risk permanently damaging the chances of getting your visualizations off the ground around the office. Think about this the next time you undertake a visualization project. Here are just a few examples:
- If your dashboard is intended for a C-level audience, keep your work simple and direct. Focus on KPIs and the progression toward goals. You may also consider creating dashboards that are optimal for being saved as PDFs, to improve the chances that your work is either attached to an email or printed out and handed to a C-level executive.
- If your work is intended for fellow analysts, build in interactivity that allows them to find their own stories in the data. If you are using Tableau – quick filters, dashboard actions, and parameters are my go-to tools for achieving this.
- If you are using Tableau Public and attempting to make your data visualization connect with a mass audience, don’t be afraid to use free-form dashboards, story points, and even incorporate some graphic design elements. Believe it or not, data is thought of as dry to some. Leveraging some of these tactics will make your visualizations much more shareable.
Data visualization is not a one-size-fits-all practice. Knowing your audience will help you prioritize and make the most of the data-driven storytelling tips to follow.