How the psychology of feedback explains, “What you measure you improve” (+6 examples of commitment and contrast in data design)

Hypothetical sales dashboards comparing different types of feedback. The left speaks to viewers’ commitment. The right highlights the contrast between users’ current and target states.

“What you measure, you improve.” You’ve heard this a million times. It sounds nice. It seems plausible. There’s a bunch of evidence supporting it.

But how does this actually work?

What is it about seeing numbers that nudges people to action? What separates an admirable, “actionable” dashboard from all the…

Visualizing extreme belief formation, echo chambers, polarization, and attitude latitudes

The world is full of people who are immune to data and reason. We’ve got Q-anons, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, and many millions of delusional people who think cats make fine pets (which is exactly what the whiskered illuminati want you to think).

But what can we do? If you come at…

How can information design strengthen our resolve?

A trip to Mars means ~260 very boring, anxious days for a few lucky astronauts.

It’s hard to do hard things. Continuing to do hard things is even harder.

American culture glorifies persistence. When we hire, we hire for “grit.” We lionize the leaders who saw us through our longest, most difficult times (e.g. MLK, Washington, Churchill, FDR, Moses, Frodo). Resiliency inspiration porn saturates social…

What can we learn about Observable Plot (and parking lots)?

Charts showing the parking lot surface area in km² for various US counties.

Let’s explore 2 things:

  1. Observable’s new Plot library for quick data visualizations and exploratory data analysis.
  2. The minor plague that is parking sprawl.

A few reasons why Observable Plot is great:

  • It’s super quick and relatively mindless to crank out “good enough” charts and graphs. If you need something fancy…

68 questions to ask when researching a new data product.

Mime detectives ❤ data-product discovery.

As businesses becomes increasingly quantified, there’s a growing demand for new products and experiences to make sense of their data.

Sometimes this calls for specialized standalone products (e.g. Pendo, Github Insights, Yva), other times you might build on top of more general tools (e.g. Looker, Tableau). …

How accurate are the most common Covid-19 tests? What does “accuracy” even mean?

(Image Credit: Author + ProPublica’s lovely Wee People project)

A while back I was talking with my dad. He heard something wacky about Covid-19 testing accuracy: they were so inaccurate that “you might as well flip a coin.”

That didn’t sound right, but I realized my own understanding of testing accuracy was a bit fuzzy.

So, to clarify, let’s…

How long does caffeine stay in your system? Does coffee in the morning impact sleep at night?

Brains love coffee. (Image via author + VectorStock)

I have trouble sleeping. Doctors often warned me that caffeine was the likely culprit. One time, in 2015, I even listened to them. I gave up coffee for about 3 weeks. Then I realized I’m an extremely unpleasant person when uncaffeinated. So I went back to the sauce.

Instead of…

2 Simple Brain-Games for Defining “Measurable” OKRs

By now we’re all familiar with OKRs. Objectives and Key Results were invented by Intel’s Andy Grove, passed onto Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr, who then spread the gospel to his portfolio companies, most notably Google. Larry Page credits OKRs as the managerial secret-sauce behind their rapid growth.

As a testament…

Eli Holder

Indie Data / Design / Feedback Geek. Former founder, and

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