The Adventures of Every Damn Dashboard You’ve Ever Seen (part 2)
My quest for adventure continues as I rendezvous with some new agencies and freelancers to see if anyone can make me be a bit less boring.
I’m just a normal dashboard that likes long walks on the beach, watching the sunset, and the occasional vanity metric.
I’ve been getting myself out there lately. Seeing some new people. Really exploring who I am and what I want.
But, I’ve learned it’s scary out there for a single dashboard looking to mingle. The old business intelligence professionals aren’t very happy when a fresh young dashboard like myself wants to liven things up.
The mere mention of vanity metrics, data fluff, and taking time to make our data beautiful is enough to send them into apoplectic shock.
But, you know what? I get it.
They’ve been fighting for real, data-driven, actionable reporting for decades. The mantra has been “no vanity metrics and keep users engaged by delivering concrete value.”
But the problem is, they won that fight a long time ago. In fact, they won so thoroughly that being a dashboard these days is boring. Like painfully enterprise-level boring. Industrial-level boring. Like manually filling out excel tables level of boring.
So, I’ve started my adventure. I want to find that happy medium where us dashboards add value, but are still fun and engaging. I want to find people that acknowledge that dashboards need some humanity. That user experience is as important in dashboards as every other product (*cough* person) out there.
Sometimes I like to fantasize that I’m Apple in the 90s, fighting for computers to be designed in a human friendly way. And, just like Apple, the traditionalists keep saying “no way, it’s all about data and functionality, who cares about the design. You’re just a boring computer, you don’t need to be cool and sexy.” Well, I certainly want to be. A dashboard can dream, can’t they?
So, I took some people out for drinks to get to the bottom of the issue. Each one has strong opinions on the topic. And yes, a physical manifestation of a dashboard can go out for drinks, in case you were wondering.
Carrie is an innovative freelancer building beautiful D3 charts.
Bob is a traditionalist. He’s been in BI for 20+ years.
Cindy handles monthly analytics/paid media reporting for eCommerce companies.
Bob: “The problem is that many of us have worked for decades to stop the misinformation around BI. There are literally thousands of pseudo data scientists/analysts pushing bad practices and just delivering ‘pretty’ data that delivers no real value”
Cindy: “Yep, I’ve seen this as well. It’s incredible how much bad advice is floating around. Some of it isn’t just useless, it’s actually harmful to the businesses using it.”
Me: “Okay okay okay, but really though have any of you gone more than five minutes in any BI community without hearing a lecture about vanity metrics, data fluff, and ‘delivering value’? I certainly haven’t.”
Carrie: “I haven’t either, and I almost NEVER hear anyone talking about design in BI. It’s like the industry thinks their immune to being boring. Business users are people, too. People aren’t machines. They react to more than just the data.”
Me: “Heck yes. Have you ever tried to woo your date with a big list of KPIs, a boring two tone chart and a pivot table? It doesn’t work.”
Carrie: “Exactly. I build reports that deliver value. But you know what? I also make them sexy. I make people want to look at them. Sometimes that means adding a metric that will make an old curmudgeonly data scientist spit out his coffee. But, if the dashboard is still delivering value as a whole, than so be it!”
Me: “I’d date your dashboards.”
Carrie: “I’ll introduce you sometime.”
Bob [interjecting]: “Here’s the problem. We’re talking about businesses. Not E.D.D.Y.E.S.’s dating life. In a business, time is money. If someone is looking at a dashboard every day that isn’t valuable, than that equals real money being lost.”
Cindy: “OK, so I tend to do monthly reports. They’re long and dense.They definitely aren’t sexy… You wouldn’t want to date them… They also inform how my clients are going to spend their money. So I keep them factual and value focused…
But honestly, getting my client’s whole team to adopt a new report is hard. Not everyone is going to read through 3 pages of analytics (even if they should).”
Me: “Exactly, I’ve never had a problem getting the attention of a CMO or Director that already knows they need my sweet sweet data. But, have you tried getting a 10 person marketing team to check on you every week? It ‘aint easy, even if you’re the most valuable report on this side of town.”
Bob: “But that just means you’re not delivering enough value. If you’re data is really valuable everybody will check you every day.”
Me: “First off, ouch Bob… but second, in practice people aren’t completely rational. Just bringing value won’t make everybody pay attention. People are complex, emotional, illogical creatures. That’s why human-centered design is so important. It’s why a dashboard is more than just a bunch of KPIs. I have a personality, I have style, and that’s what makes me work.”
After that the conversation turned a bit NSFW, so we’ll stop there. It’s nice when you’re the one telling the story, you can make sure you have the last word. And, in case you were wondering, dashboards do enjoy a cocktail every now and then.
But, I think you get the point, right?
A lot of it just has to do with your personal preferences. I like a redhead with vanity metrics and glasses, but Bob prefers a practical brunette with a stable job and standard KPIs.
If you’re out on Tinder looking for a sweet dashboard that’s responsible, reliable, and practical you’re going to find lots of them to swipe right on.
But you’re not going to find a lot of wild, adventurous, sexy dashboards. Especially ones that still deliver real value.
I think the BI industry could use a few more of us. That being sexy and practical isn’t mutually exclusive. That maybe it’s not such a bad idea to be a little less boring.
So I implore you, don’t just blindly take the boring data-only approach to your dashboards. Swipe right on a dashboard like me. Give us a chance to impress you. Hey, maybe your whole team will actually use us? Maybe we’re that little spark you need.
Disclaimer: I’m adding this again, in case it wasn’t BLATANTLY OBVIOUS this post is supposed to be tongue and cheek. My last post about E.D.D.Y.E.S’s adventures received some very angry messages from several BI professionals, data scientists and data analysts…. seriously guys? So to be abundantly clear: if you’re new to the field of BI, don’t take this advice literally. It’s supposed to give a light comedic voice to the “other side” in an industry that takes itself too seriously.
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