Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Users don't want 'clever' dashboards

You're an analyst. Probably. That's why you're reading Wallpapering Fog.

If not an analyst, then at least inquisitive; if somebody shows you data then you want to dive a bit deeper and understand why the top-line numbers are doing what they're doing.

The more client dashboards we build, the more I'm discovering that while everybody always says they want to dive into the data, most people actually don't. If you give most marketing managers an interactive dashboard, they won't interact with it. They'll look at the screens in their default state, read what they can from them and then stop.

You can try to demonstrate how to interact with the data. When a marketer asks "why is my website bounce rate so high?", you can drill the number down, while they watch, and show which sources are sending the low quality traffic. They'll nod and thank you. Then next week, they'll ask exactly the same question again.

Unless you set up a screen which is specifically designed to answer the bouncing traffic question, without needing to be manipulated. A specific screen called "Sources of bouncing traffic". Then you'll have a happy client.

Who'll think of a different question, that you haven't already built a screen to answer.

I'm not being negative about interactive dashboards. I love interactive dashboards. Especially Tableau ones, but most of our clients aren't like me. If they were they'd be analysts, not clients.

If you're building dashboards for non-analysts, you may well find that they get a better reception if they're not interactive. Usually a marketer only has the same few questions on a Monday morning and if you can set up screens that answer them without being manipulated then you've got a happy marketer.

You could instead build an interactive screen, which with a few clicks will answer lots of questions, which would need multiple different static views to do the same job. Want a week-on-week and a year-on-year view? Just click the drill down button! What's the difference between branded and generic keyword searches? Click into the 'total searches' line and it will show you!

Except your marketer won't click the drill down button. They'll get frustrated that their dashboard isn't showing exactly what they want.

You can get annoyed about this. People don't want your clever interactive screens!

Or you can see the advantages.

We're doing quite a nice line in dashboards of Google Analytics data. The clients have a login to Google Analytics just like we do, but they don't use it because the GA website doesn't immediately show them exactly the stats, for exactly the date breakdown that they need, on one screen. With Tableau and Python to hit the Google Analytics API, it's very easy to set that up and automatically refresh it.

Now your client has a dashboard that they can't do without, that shows them exactly what they want at 9am on a Monday and you know what else? You don't even have to bill them for a server login because they want static views, so PDFs in their email are actually better than a login to an interactive system.

Not for everybody though, and those logins are still important. You can give analysts (or analytically minded people) on the client side some server logins, but I guarantee the Marketing Director doesn't want one. They might say they want one, but they won't use it, which is where we started. If they needed your dashboard login then they'd already be using Google Analytics.

A lot of dashboard software (and certainly Tableau) is really fantastic at two jobs. One, is making data interactive and easy to interrogate and analysts love that. The other is making refreshes of static screens really easy. Think hard when you're designing, because for a lot of people, those static screens are better.

Static screens may also be much harder to get right, even though building them feels a lot less clever. When you can't ask the user to click through to what they want, you have to know what they want before they arrive at your dashboard.

You have to really understand the client and their business. That's the really clever bit.

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