Visual Intelligence – Stephen Few

At Auximiti we are always moving forward and striving to provide the best information at all times.  Sometimes, this leads to releasing weird, awkward, or unhelpful features.  Our recent analytics iterations in our platform’s admin console were live for a couple days for each iteration.  Starting with getting data into a graph, we began to understand what we were working with.

First Version of Data Report – Auximiti

Initial Release: You can see the dates and the number of uses are highly visible but the colors don’t help.  You also don’t know which day of the week matches each bar.

These were obvious flaws that we could jump on and correct, which we did in our next iteration.

Second Version of Data Report – Auximiti

Iteration 1: Here we see a lot more information provided in an easy to understand presentation. Labels on the graph gave context.  We can see which date corresponds to which day of the week.

We wanted to dive deeper to get an analysis of the hour to hour data.  Little did I know that Stephen Few and a few of his 8 Core Principles of Data Visualization would guide our development and address our problem.

“The best software for data analysis is the software you forget you’re using. It’s such a natural extension of your thinking process that you can use it without thinking about the mechanics.”

– Stephen Few –

Iteration 2: We’re looking at his principles of Explore and View Diversely which address finding new ways to look at the same data.  Solving problems and proving new hypothesis posed by the user.  We wanted to view our data at a more granular level, hourly in our case, to see if new insights could be derived.  Unfortunately we had really run into the problem of creating a ridiculous chart.  Just look at all the colors!

Third Version of Data Report – Auximiti

From here we had an obvious question to answer:  What are we going to do about our color scheme?  Now at this phase, our fearless leader David had been channeling Stephen Few which he had read and was familiar with his ideas on data visualization.  He pointed me in the right direction with a simple statement.  “Don’t use color unless the color has purpose.”  What an amazingly simple statement to wrap up our problem.  In relation to the Core Principles, we we’re still on track with Stephen Few.

Iteration 3: We’re going after the principles of Compare and Attend which are defined as ways to show the user what is important and why, without getting in the way of their cognitive processes.  Our cognitive block? These distracting colors and no correlations. A busy hour switching from 1 PM Monday to 4 PM Wednesday would not change color.  This was a flaw which there was no choice but to address.  We wanted people to get information at a glance.  We settled on a purposeful use for color that showcased the highest volume of traffic.

Fourth Version of Data Report – Auximiti

Now, you can immediately understand the information.  When you have busy days/hours in red and easy to view comparisons to the rest of the data.

Looking forward we are planning to expand on the Compare principle by matching multiple locations and devices up with each other in a single chart, showing where business differs and where it is similar.  We will probably have to iterate again on colors and labels until we get the display to deliver actionable information at-a-glance.  This time we will be starting from a much better perspective.

The full list of Stephen Few’s Core Principles of Data Visualization

Update:  Our comparison charts look fantastic and let our users login for straight-forward information.  This is something we could port to wearable technology or augmented reality!