Data Visualisation 3 – The Powerpoint Analogy

Consider a 13th century Samurai sword, crafted by someone who dedicated their life to perfection, creating a blade so sharp it can cut falling silk, so strong it can slice through trees. In the hands of the Samurai the sword represents justice, protection and a way of life based on simplicity and harmony. To many people it is a thing of beauty. Yet not so long ago in the UK such a sword was used to kill innocent passers-by, by a man clearly unhinged. Does that make the sword evil? Does it diminish its beauty or its usefulness? Clearly it does not. PowerPoint is the same: just because many of its 450 million users use it badly, that does not make it a bad piece of software. It simply exposes some inadequate communication skills.

The solution is apparent: we need not change the tool*, merely change the way we use it. A change in thinking is required: that paradigm shift we have referred to. The way many people need to think about PowerPoint must change. If we reassess the manner in which we use it, and perhaps accept that it has its uses and its limitations and that it is not the perfect medium for all forms of communication, it will work better for us.”
Nick Oulton in his book, “Killer Presentations: Power the Imagination to Visualise your Point: with PowerPoint“.

Nick Oulton makes a strong case for DBP (Death By Powerpoint) not being the fault of the application, but the way it is used. The same is true of your OSS’s data.

OSS data exists for one of two reasons:

  • To present a set of information that provokes actionable insights
  • To present a set of information that is easily assimilated by viewers

All too often OSS data falls into a third category:

  • To present (or record) a set of data that nobody understands or knows what to do with

If your OSS data falls into the last category, then it doesn’t need to be presented to anyone. In fact, there seems little point in recording it at all because it will just fill up space in your storage.

Conversely, if you are able invest the time and resources to make your data talk (or more to the point, to communicate) then the cost of your data storage and OSS tools becomes justified.

If you don’t know what to communicate to the user, then you need to spend more time with them to understand what they need to see.

Do you measure what data gets used in reports, whether scheduled, ad-hoc or in-app? If certain elements of data are not getting used, nor have any likelihood of being used, then there’s no real point in going to the effort of recording and maintaining them.

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