If you want to sell better data visualization practices you can’t use the same approach with everyone. Marketers use archetypes and like to create stories around them like if they were real people. Their marketing messages are then tailored for Jane (archetype #1) or Theresa (archetype #2).

Let’s try this. Allow me to introduce you to three of my co-workers.

Co-worker #1: Anna, a Newbie

Anna was asked to create a chart, something that she rarely needs to. After playing with the wrong Excel options, she comes up with a really ugly and inefficient chart (misconceptions about charts don’t help). I show her how a simpler one could solve several perceptual issues. She changes her chart but keeps some of the chart junk (she finds my chart too minimalistic and laments her lack of of graphic design skills).

Anna is now aware of what “data visualization” means – clearly more than creating a few Excel charts. She should work on her data analysis and communication skills and stop worrying about graphic design skills. Corporate culture and peer pressure will push her to the dark side chart junk side of data visualization. I hope this seed is strong enough to withstand it, but only time can tell.

Co-Worker #2: Peter, a Middle Manager

Peter agrees that some of our processes are terribly inefficient and wants to change them. We could try to improve data visualization, but that doesn’t make much sense if everything else remains the same.

I’ve been sharing some tips with Peter on how to create better charts and he starts to recognize a bad chart when he sees one. Problem is, his previous model (Excel defaults, PowerPoint templates) is shattered, but he is unable to create a new one. He feels lost.

My tips seem to make sense at the lunch table but when he tries to apply them something is missing. Tips have this effect on people: they create an illusion of knowledge but the lack of context renders them almost useless. He needs a crash course on information visualization.

At this level, we are not discussing how to improve a chart. Instead, we must discuss how to add best practices in information visualization to the data management model. Selling this to top managers isn’t always easy. But Peter likes to bang his head on a wall…

Co-Worker #3: Frank, A Professional Chart Maker

Frank creates presentation charts every single day. Ten years ago he was creating exactly the same charts, 3D effects and primary colors. He doesn’t recognize the problem and the audience seems to be ok with this routine. If he needs something a little more complex than 3D pies and bars his manager asks me to help. This could spark his curiosity, but it doesn’t.

I believe Frank will never try to improve his data analysis, management and visualization skills, unless he’s formally ordered to do so. He’s not dumb, he’s just a little too comfortable in his comfort zone.

It’s Your Turn

I want to add more details about Anna, Peter and Frank and I’d like you to help me. How do you see them? How are you going to sell them our product (better data visualization practices)? Would you like to add your own characters? An imaginary boss, perhaps? The IT guy? Tell us about them!

Photo Credit: Smaku