Just before Christmas, I was shown some tree decorations. They were the physical representations of the recipients’ use of doppler, last.fm and flickr.
They were lovely and widely appreciated, but I was also very aware that I couldn’t easily decode them. A few weeks later, in Ben’s write-up of them, he mentioned Matt Jones’s assertion that data visualisations need to be “glanceable”, i.e. comprehended at a glance.
That’s a great description and one that deserves further investigation. How does something become glanceable? Three elements immediately spring to mind.
For something to be truly glanceable, the viewer must intuitively have an understanding of:
1) the context (what is being presented)
2) what the data means (how it's being presented), and arguably
3) how it relates to other data (why it's being presented).
The central role of intuitiveness in data visualisation is obvious but, I think, it should also be applied to the design of all your products/services. After all, if time and attention are scarce then it is crucial that your product/service embodies as much glanceability as possible.
Put another way, it should be immediately apparent to your user what it is you offer, how it helps them achieve what they want, and why your version is superior to others on offer.
It’s not enough to be noticed, you have to be understood. At a glance.