“Simplicity = Sanity” says design expert, John Maeda, who advocates design principles that encourages people to use technology to simplify, rather than complicate our daily lives.
This principle could be more relevant in the world of data and analytics today. In Laws of Simplicity, he writes:
On the one hand you want a product or a service to be easy to use; on the other hand you want it to do everything that a person might want it to do.
This is precisely the problem with the present day dashboards. For more than a decade, the world of Business Intelligence has been flooded with metrics and dashboards in an attempt to help users across persona in an enterprise to visualize their business operations and items for attention. Despite the strong proliferation of metrics and dashboards and the investments in BI tools, only a very small percentage of the business leaders would accept that they are analytics mature.
As someone who has spent a lot of time managing Data and building BI applications in my career, I’ve asked my business users why some of the dashboards never seem to gain traction. It’s always been the case of all fancy metrics that never see their usage and adoption. The answers invariably fall under two main reasons:
- ‘My needs are different’ – indicating there is a wide array of users, wider than we could imagine and their needs are really diverse. I already know what is being shown and my needs are slightly different.
- ‘Even a slightest change to the metrics takes time’ – Dynamic nature of business operations combined with the diverse knowledge levels of the data users require frequent changes and the dashboards lacked the speed and agility of the business needs.
I am not saying Dashboards don’t serve a purpose. They absolutely do, right from our automobiles to the cockpit to many of the Information Systems – when there is a need for a collection of highly purpose driven, preconceived, visually well-curated metrics and charts that are worth staring at and that need to be stared 24×7.
The key here is the purpose-driven, preconceived metrics that serve a unique purpose and that may not cover all the data needs. Modern day data users are not carbon copies and each user and their information needs are different. Or, in their attempt to please everyone, the dashboards become so complex to use.
What is the solution?
According to Maeda, one of the simplest way to achieve simplicity is through a process called thoughtful reduction. A thoughtful reduction of the unnecessary features without affecting the overall functionalities.. However counter-intuitive it might sound, a careful reduction in functionalities might turn out to be far more powerful than addition.
What could be the unnecessary in the world of dashboards?
Instead of adding complex charts and more metrics to serve every purpose to answer every possible question for every user, why not do the inverse?
We all have questions on data and we do not think in terms of dashboards and metrics. In the absence of the ability to get answers, we end up consuming a collection of metrics that is curated by someone else.
Instead, why not let the user ask a question, the question they have in their mind right now and get the answer they care about. Build on top of that answer and continue the conversation as a meaningful set of information around a context.
Does that mean, we end up losing the ability to curate a dashboard – a purpose-driven collection of metrics around a particular context? No, that’s where the second method as prescribed by Maeda on achieving Simplicity could help – Hiding the complexity.
Hiding the complexities
When all features that can be removed have been, and a product has been made slim, light and thin, hide the complexities through brute-force methods. Hiding the complexities allows the owner to manage the expectations themselves.
With a Conversational platform that can respond to questions, show only the answer that the user cares about, hiding the rest. Nothing else. The other functions are at disposal to the user and available on demand.
If you like the answers you get, Pin them for reuse, Stitch them together into a Story that you can present. A story that is curated by you for your need – not by someone else. Collaborate on that story with other users who care. The possibilities are immense, just that they are presented on need.
Gartner predicts that, by 2023, data literacy will become essential in driving business value, demonstrated by its formal inclusion in over 80% of data and analytics strategies and change management programs.
Simplicity in the data applications that are available at our disposal is one key driver to achieve this.
Ask us how Kea can help.