By @SimonCocking  interesting Q&A with Jeffrey Shaffer, co-author of The Big Book of Dashboards: Visualizing Your Data Using Real-World Business Scenarios.

The Big Book of Dashboards: Visualizing Your Data Using Real-World Business Scenarios, reviewed

What is your background briefly?

I started my education and career in music, but went back to school for my MBA and stayed in the business world. I am currently the Vice President of IT and Analytics for a financial services company and adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati where I teach data visualizations.

Does it seem like a logical background to what you do now?

When deciding on college I was considering music or some sort of computer related field. I ended up deciding on music, but I always loved computer science. So I took courses and worked with computers throughout my life. My path career path went from music to business operations to information technology to business intelligence and analytics. So it wasn’t really a conventional path, but it’s been a fun journey.

What would you say in a one minute pitch for what you are doing now?

My technology team consists of programmers, database administrators, business intelligence and data science, so I often have my hands in all sorts of projects. On nights and weekends I teach at the University of Cincinnati. Then I fill the rest of my time with training workshops for companies and universities as well as public workshops and I blog on my website

Congratulations on the book, what feedback in general have you had to it?

The feedback on the book has been terrific. Business professionals from a variety of fields have reached out telling us that they use our book on a regular basis, as a desk reference, for creating dashboards and other data visualizations in their organizations. Professors have reached out to us as well about using our book in their classroom. One gentleman emailed recently to tell me that he purchased three copies of the book so that he would have one handy to reference wherever he happened to be.

What inspired you to write it – is design getting better, more user-experience friendly?

There are a number of books about data visualization and there are even some books on dashboards. What we found is that most of the books written about dashboards focused on what-not-to-do. For example, in Stephen Few’s book, Information Dashboard Design, most of the examples are explained by Steve as bad examples with lengthy critiques. While this is helpful in learning what not to do, it doesn’t provide enough examples of things that work well. We wanted to provide lots of examples of effective dashboards, ones that are being used in the real-world, and explain why and how they work so people could use them as templates for their work. I do think that design is getting better and the user-experience in friendlier with the tools that we have today, for example Tableau, but we still have a long way to go. Hopefully the book will provide templates for a roadmap to help people think critically about how they visualize their real-world scenarios.

What trends and / or functionality in design dashboards would you like to see in the future?

I want more control of the design process in the creation of dashboards from the UI. I don’t think that tools like Tableau will ever be as fluid in design as Adobe Illustrator, but I would like to see tools such as Tableau move in that direction.

Who are your sources of inspiration?

There are too many people to list them all. I am inspired by the work of many in the data visualization community and the Tableau community. If I had to name two, then it would be Giorgia Lupi and Nicholas Felton. I really love their work and my visualizations are heavily influenced by their work.

What tips would you give to new companies looking to do design of dashboards well?

First, learn the basics of data visualization. A solid foundation is important before creating business dashboards. This is why we devote the first part of the book to this topic. Once the skills are developed, then I like to start with two important questions. Who’s the audience? And what’s the message? In other words, who will be the user of the dashboard? Will it be executives in the C-suite or will it be a manager or supervisor. It is important to know what level of detail needs to be provided and understand what it is they are measuring. What’s important to them? What are the key performance indicators that need to be monitored? Third, I encourage collaboration with both the subject matter experts, specifically the people who will be using the dashboard, as well as getting feedback from others. Having additional eyes is always helpful in the design process. Finally, take inspiration from others. Find things that work and incorporate that into your work. This is the whole point to The Big Book of Dashboards. It’s to help readers find that inspiration, maybe providing a template, or a spark of an idea that they can build on.

Jeffrey A. Shaffer is co-author, with Steve Wexler and Andy Cotgreave, of The Big Book of Dashboards: Visualizing Your Data Using Real-World Business Scenarios (Wiley, 2017). He is Vice President of Information Technology and Analytics at Recovery Decision Science and Unifund. He is also Adjunct Professor at the University of Cincinnati, where he teaches Data Visualization and was named the 2016 Outstanding Adjunct Professor of the Year.

He is a regular speaker on the topic of data visualization, data mining, and Tableau training at conferences, symposiums, workshops, universities, and corporate training programs. He is a Tableau Zen Master, and was the winner of the 2014 Tableau Quantified Self Visualization Contest, which led him to compete in the 2014 Tableau Iron Viz Contest. His data visualization blog was on the shortlist for the 2016 Kantar Information is Beautiful Awards for Data Visualization Websites.

Top data design trends to watch, Steve Wexler, co-author The Big Book of Dashboards

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