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Can a viz with a good design be confusing?

Can a viz with a good design be confusing?

The answer is YES … straight away and out of the box! – A great viz can be superb in terms of design but confusing to understand the data. Perhaps, that is what happened to this viz about German Car Production and Exports:

<div class='tableauPlaceholder' id='viz1498558750153' style='position: relative'><noscript><a href='#'><img alt='German Car Production and Exports ' src='' style='border: none' /></a></noscript><object class='tableauViz' style='display:none;'><param name='host_url' value='' /> <param name='site_root' value='' /><param name='name' value='GermanCarProductionandExports_0/GermanCarProductionandExports' /><param name='tabs' value='no' /><param name='toolbar' value='yes' /><param name='static_image' value='' /> <param name='animate_transition' value='yes' /><param name='display_static_image' value='yes' /><param name='display_spinner' value='yes' /><param name='display_overlay' value='yes' /><param name='display_count' value='yes' /></object></div> <script type='text/javascript'> var divElement = document.getElementById('viz1498558750153'); var vizElement = divElement.getElementsByTagName('object')[0];'1004px';'1269px'; var scriptElement = document.createElement('script'); scriptElement.src = ''; vizElement.parentNode.insertBefore(scriptElement, vizElement); </script>

While learning about German car production yesterday, I bumped onto an article explaining how to read license plates in Germany. That gave me the idea of creating this background image that I would use on my viz and must admit that got carried away by the design.

First feedback this morning was from Eva Murray as she got confused especially with the E/P letters on the license plate:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">1: Great design, Pablo! I have to admit, as a German who knows her number plates, I find this a bit confusing because some parts are 'real'</p>— Eva Murray (@TriMyData) <a href="">June 27, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">2: while other parts are your design and the data. That threw me a bit, because to me the number plate just says: a car from the city Essen</p>— Eva Murray (@TriMyData) <a href="">June 27, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">3: but then I see that I'm wrong and that E is exports and the numbers and letters have nothing to do with the actual number plate 😬</p>— Eva Murray (@TriMyData) <a href="">June 27, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

1- Panic Alert

My first reaction was “panic alert” – what was wrong with the viz? … I would guess we all have the same feeling when we upload a new viz to Tableau Public to look at it a thousand times and yet we fail to find a typo or an incorrect value or unnecessary decimal places.

Took Eva’s feedback as a constructive one and perhaps, I was so absorbed getting every element of the viz in the right place that I failed to see that the E/P letters were confusing within the overall design.

2- If you have to explain your viz …

I have heard countless times Zen Masters and people I admire in the visualisation world that “if you have to explain your viz, then there is something wrong with it” … is it really? – Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying they are not right, but I also believe a little explanation and visual aid can help understanding your viz. I added Annotations to the license plate aiming to help people understand what each letter and number represented.

If you were looking at the viz for the first time, would you have read the annotations? 

3- The “mom test”

Ryan Sleeper was superb at TCOT when he mentioned the “mom test”. Basically, you design and create a viz, give it to your mom and if she can understand it, then your are good to publish it!

Unfortunately, my mom is in Argentina and by the time I had to publish the viz I couldn’t reach her, but instead I tried the “wife test”! 

It passed and in fact, I received compliments on the viz! – Truth is, getting feedback from people who are not in the visualisation world, are always really helpful and valuable.

4- Iterate, change or delete

Perhaps all of them … or none of them at the same time. There has been many discussions on Twitter regarding not only the integrity of the data but also the approach and use of that data on #MakeoverMonday. Some participants take is really seriously, others like me, believe it is a good opportunity to try something different.

#MakeoverMonday provides – in my opinion – the freedom most of us do not have at work. The freedom to create, design and and sometimes go crazy on our vizzes. Are they right or wrong? – Personally, I use it as platform, a place where I can try and learn by doing something I may not be able to do at work.

5- Listen to feedback and learn

We all love the positive feedback when you create an amazing viz, but we also have to appreciate the constructive feedback, the one that teaches us and helps us becoming better professionals. As a German person who sees these license plates every day, Eva’s feedback was constructive and much appreciated … thanks!

Both, Tableau’s community and the #MakeoverMonday community are great in teaching, encouraging and helping others. I have used many applications in my career, but have never found such a dedicated and opened community like this one … you all rock, thanks !!!

Be brave, leave a comment below and … keep vizzing !

About The Author

Pablo Gomez

Originally from Argentina, Pablo co-founded I FOR IDEAS, a Branding and Marketing company specialised on graphic design and digital content. After working in data analysis and reporting for over a decade, he was introduced to Tableau in early 2013. Always fascinated by Data and Graphic Design, Tableau was the perfect platform to combine both of his passions.

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