Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Looking good? The importance of design in Management Information

I have already talked about the principles behind making great Management Information (MI) but there is one final area that is often overlooked, despite being the most obvious: design. Truly great MI has to be well designed in order to have a real impact and to be really appreciated within a business.
Nowadays there is an ever-evolving love affair with data visualisation. Some see it as an opportunity to bring data and analysis to a wider audience through more relatable visuals whilst others see it as an art form in itself. However, data visualisation for me should do one of two things, either tell a story or bring a complex data set to life.

You will probably have seen infographics that tell a story, usually breaking down a topic to its key facts and broader implications to make for an engaging read, such as this gem on ‘Documents’. Infographics do have their use within a business however they are most powerful as marketing tools and a way of engaging with clients both new and existing. Turning complex data into a visual that makes instant sense is a difficult thing to do, as anyone who has ever tried to represent a large data set in Excel will know. Take for example this chart which shows the connections and activity of Facebook users across the globe . By transposing the data onto a familiar image (the earth) and representing activity through the neon lines we can easily relate to the data and instantly pick out interesting talking points such as China, South America and Africa. Not only is it functional, it is also beautiful, and I am a great believer in spending time on designing charts to both look good and be useful, it makes explaining them much easier.

In my time as a Consultant and as an Analyst at TDX Group I have put together many reports and MI dashboards, and have always been willing to put the extra time and effort in to making their appearance as good as their content. In a recent project I presented some example MI in the client’s branding, which enabled them to relate to the examples in a more meaningful way. Then the discussion could focus more on the concepts of building an MI suite as opposed to focussing on explaining unfamiliar examples.

I have also found that spending the time to make a chart look right has a great impact on how it is received. The biggest challenge is usually finding the best way to represent the relationships between data points and how they affect one another - the message is often lost when each point has its own visual but when combined into one chart it can change the conversation.

To me the design elements are just as crucial as getting the KPIs and the data correct. The design is often what will enable your MI to be read and understood on a wider scale. A well-designed MI suite reflects a knowledge and understanding of the business that gives confidence to those who rely on it on a daily basis.
By Stephen Hallam, Consultant, TDX Group

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