By Scott Williams Founder and CEO of Maga Design
In today’s world, it is increasingly difficult to attain the clarity needed for organizational decision-making. At Maga Design, we’ve spent the past decade creating maps to help organizations see and define their futures. Like Wolverine (my favorite superhero), maps have powerful healing agents that help organizations overcome any toxin, especially complexity.
By: Patrick Johnson, Design Strategist UI/UX
How do you keep strangers engaged while asking them a series of questions for which you need to compile honest and accurate responses?
That was the question my team and I faced when designing for a data collecting exercise at Dig South, the premier startup expo in Charleston, South Carolina. We wanted to gather data and learn more about event goers and understand what they liked, why they were there and what challenges they faced.
We knew, out of the gate, we only had a matter of minutes with each poll participant so we’d need a solution that could quickly and clearly explain what we were asking and how to respond. We searched for the right polling software or app, but came up with options that were too involved for users and didn’t offer the simplicity and visual angle we needed. So, we rolled up our sleeves and created and built our own app.
As a UI/UX (User Interface/User eXperience) Strategist, it is important to always focus on the user and how human behavior plays a role in what you develop; keeping mind that advancements in technology must work in balance with our current behaviors while influencing change for the better. This type of design thinking originated from my background in urban design where I used this thought process to create physical spaces where users felt connected to and could navigate easily upon their first experience. So when we built our polling app called POHLer, we kept it simple yet powerful and tapped into the specific behaviors and needs of our users.
Design Considerations: How They Influenced the Final Product
(Handy) Technology is our hook. Technology, such as tablets, gives users the ability to simply touch a device to operate it. By handing a user a tablet, we found they are more willing to complete a poll due to the intrigue and simplicity of the technology.
Keep visuals top of mind. Visuals are applied to each poll question we feature on the app. This helps users better understand the question so they can then more quickly process answer options, that in turn helps to provide more accurate selection and response process.
Keep it simple. Simple UI (user interface) components were designed for each process and layout of the app: Questions featured multiple-choice answers to increased the speed at which a user could take the poll and allowed for the direct comparison of data.
Don’t force it. Ever taken a survey and just selected answers so you could be done? That’s want we wanted to prevent. All of the questions asked were optional so a users never felt pressured to make a selection they weren’t confident about. This strategy helps reduce the stress on a user and provides more honestly with answers.
Show the impact. It’s critical to show users that their input matters and will make a difference. Otherwise why would they want to invest the time to offer their opinion? The results of the poll were posted live on display screens throughout the booth so users could see immediately how their answers stacked up with others. We also captured participant’s home zip codes and displayed the geographic results in order to showcase the geographical reach we were achieving.
Reduce reluctance. In order to spark interest we needed to create an environment that would draw participants in, make them feel comfortable, and intrigue them to take the poll. In order to accomplish this we used a mix of monitor displays that showcased result and a video explaining what we were doing. We also incorporated furniture that you would find in a home such as a wood dinning table with chairs, couch and rug. This gave the user a familiar context that was comforting which in turn help to increase participation and interest.
All of these components came together to produce a final product and process that is helping us gather information in a simple yet effective manner. Each time we utilize POHLer we find insights we would not have imagined and in turn this provides us with valuable user feedback. In all, it is about learning how to design technology so that it taps in to how people really interact with it.
Writing, like it or not, is something that everyone has to deal with in the modern world. Whether it’s a school assignment, a text message or a business email, words have become the dominant form of communication in nearly every setting.
But what about drawing? Drawing not merely for artistic purposes, but to effectively communicate a point. Wired recently interviewed Michael Gough, head of experience design at Adobe, who lamented the general attitude towards drawing: it’s an artistic pursuit that only the talented should pursue. Instead, drawing is “as important a form of literacy as reading or writing,” Gough contends, something that should be taught to every kid growing up.
The biggest obstacle to a wide acceptance of drawing as a regular means of communication is the belief that drawing requires artistic talent. People are deemed to be talented artists at a young age and shuttled into artistic subjects, or are shepherded away into other subjects if their doodles aren’t immediately recognizable.
Yet just as an email doesn’t need to convey a deeper thematic meaning to be effective, a drawing need not be a masterpiece hung in the Louvre to be a worthwhile pursuit. Here at Maga our offices are filled with talented artists, yet most of the doodles on the whiteboards that make up our desks and walls are rough sketches. An art critic may not deem them to be “good” drawings, but they accomplish their purpose: to visualize and thus make understandable a complex issue, process or pattern.
So don’t be worried if your drawing doesn’t come out exactly as you envisioned. Most of the time, it isn’t the product that matters but the process. Grab a pencil, a marker, a stylus or a pastel. Sketch, scratch, draw or doodle whatever comes to mind, and new insights are on the way.
There’s a lot of buzz out there right now about the idea of big data and what you should (or should not) be doing with it. It’s accurately understanding the human component that is going to drive the success of strategies formed off big data. Businesses are scrambling to harness big data in order to make better decisions. Many people are touting the power of predictive analytics, these algorithms that ride on top of big data sets and make conjectures about what the future might look like based on the past.
There are a growing number of business platforms that produce visualizations from data – think bar charts, pie charts and scatter-plots – to support decision makers in strategizing for the future. But if there’s one takeaway from the past that we can carry with us into this future, big data – driven world, it’s that human beings are unpredictable. Therefore, any predictive analysis that is only keying off of the numbers isn’t telling you the whole story.
Most big data visualization engines take data that is automatically generated and plug it into a static display. Increasingly there are more platforms that are allowing decision makers to interact with those displays and ask questions of the data. But very few tools are designed to marry up a database to the stories that you can’t get from numbers alone. Unfortunately, we are still a few waves of development away from being able to plug our brains into an engine that can make sense of all that neurological activity. Some information is only gotten through the act of circling up around a whiteboard and sharing experiences and perspectives. The ability to capture those human insights and somehow package them to ride alongside of or on top of pure data analytics is the key to leveraging the full truth that big data stands to share.
So, what can we do in the mean time to tell these stories behind the numbers? See Part II of “Storytelling on Top of Big Data” next week.