Saturday, December 13, 2014

What To Do When Your Client Wants Sizzle Not Sausage

I love a good dashboard- really I do. So, you'd think I'd be pleased that a trend seems to be emerging that has more business folks becoming aware of dashboards and, by extension wanting to make use of them. But I'm not. Sure, I'm all for the opportunity to provide insight and a better means of managing business operations with an effective dashboard, but the trouble is far too many of the dashboards I've seen built don't do that. Sure, they're flashy, with widgets and gauges galore and often even visually appealing at first glance, but they're simply not designed to give the right sort of insight, or provide that insight in a way that allows them to be used effectively and efficiently. Now that's often not the fault of the person charged with designing the dashboard it may stem all the way back to the client - the person requesting the dashboard.

Unless you have a long standing relationship with your client, excellent rapport and tremendous trust it's unlikely that you'll have carte blanche to determine how they dashboard should look. In the majority of cases they will have come to you with a design already in mind. Chances are that that design will have been influenced by what they've seen elsewhere - be it in other dashboards, or in advertising from dashboard vendors or implementation consulting firms, many of whom seem to promote [just] the eye-catching nature of dashboards, showing off the latest and greatest controls and visual capabilities. And here's the hard pill to swallow, no matter how many of Few's books you've read, no matter how many industry awards you may have won for your prior dashboards, no matter if you have a PhD with a thesis written on visual cues and how people respond to them, your client is still likely to look at your with a mixture of confusion and disappointment if you suggest alternative design and layout options which are too far apart from their own ideas. If you just build and present him or her with what you believe is the better option then 8 or 9 times out of 10 he'll say it's not what he asked for or wants. Push the issue, spouting all of the theory you like, and you'll do little more than back him into a corner. He'll still want the same design, you'll still need to build it, and the company will have an ineffective dashboard - no-one wins in this situation.

So, what's the answer? Why not build prototypes for both - build him his, but also build what you think will work. Give your client what he wants and you may in turn get what you want, either through the chance to explain why you believe you dashboard layout is more effective, or he may just see it for himself and have a eureka moment. At the very least you will have opened the door for a discussion and now be better placed to have a conversation about the things you really need to know - what's the core aim of the dashboard, who will its audience be and what behaviour is it trying to produce, etc.  And, who knows, the same may happen in reverse, having seen your client's option made real you might have a similar moment and realise that it does in fact work more effectively than your own concept. That's not a bad thing, the company will have a usable and useful dashboard and you'll have discovered another design pattern that you can store away to be leveraged later.

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