I am writing this in April 2020, as some countries are starting to relax the restrictions put in place to manage the pandemic we have been dealing with.
I was motivated into writing this this blog by a recent LinkedIn post. It received many comments, and confirmed my observations that the trusted, ‘single source’ of data on COVID had become a single table provided by Worldometer and updated daily. People weren’t reluctantly using it because there was nothing better available, there were alternatives that were much sexier.
I have come to the opinion that:
- General data literacy is greater than I thought, or it has dramatically increased.
- Users do have a tolerance for data that is updated inconsistently (i.e. not all countries submit their data at the same time).
- There is still an appetite for raw numbers over written articles.
- Data quality issues are not show stoppers (i.e. outliers where countries are reporting unrealistic infection rates)
Now this is great for those of us who deliver data, but does this mean that I have wasted the last 15 years where I have tried to deliver data in a ‘sexy’ dashboard that delivers an entire story on a single page?
Happily, I don’t think I have, and I love the fact that a single table is providing the majority of us with everything we need. My lessons learnt are:
- Users are comfortable with consuming data in a tabular format, don’t force a user to read a chart unless it is easier for them.
- Allow users to navigate, drill and sort so they can discover insights for themselves.
- There will still be users that need real-time, streaming data at the lowest level of grainularity, however this is not the norm.
- Probably most importantly, less is more. I have certainly been guilty of adding meaningless variety to simply fill the space available, resist the urge.
Having said all of the above, I recommend that we keep the following in mind:
- The worldometer format is not the pinnacle that we should aim for, what makes it stand out is that it is simple and reminds us what users actually find intuitive. It doesn’t mean we need deliver all our visualisations in this way, we should simply keep it in mind.
- If a data consumer has the perception that a ‘real’ dashboard needs a three dimensional, rotating, pie chart, and you have had the conversation that it ‘might not be the best way of presenting the data’ then sometimes you might have to ignore the advice in this blog and instead, include the ugly pie chart!
Further reading https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/about/