Micro-visualizations: Small visualizations that make a big impact

Columbia 11 & 12

We hear a lot about visualizations for big data these days, but what about small data? The power of communicating data visually can’t be overstated. When designing for expert users, we often need to convey a lot of information at a glance to help them make quick decisions and work efficiently. For infrequent or novice users, a visual overview of a process or concept can provide orientation and help reduce the risk of mistakes. Enter the micro-visualization, a way of packaging detailed information in an easily digestible, visual way. In this presentation, we will present examples of several different types of micro-visualizations and discuss how they can be used effectively to improve user experience.

We will share real project examples of micro-visualizations that fall into these categories:

  • Status: On dashboards and information-packed list views for applications, we use icons and color treatments along with hovers or expansions to convey information about deadlines, completion, recent events, and other status information.
  • Growth graphs: For novice or infrequent users, a gamification strategy can be useful—showing a graphical representation that evolves as they progress.
  • Process visualizations: We’ll show examples of visualizations of process completion, such as a complex freight movement with multiple stops showing the status of each stop.
  • Performance statistics: Dashboards often contain indicators of individual or team performance towards goals—we’ll share some examples from financial, HR and other workflow applications showing alternative ways to communicate performance.
  • Timelines: Plotting information over time can help users anticipate whether problems are likely to occur in the near future. We’ll look at examples from a scheduling application and from a shipping system to help users visualize the potential impact of any changes on the ability to meet a deadline.
  • Concept models: When there is a risk of misunderstanding, a picture is worth a thousand words. Examples include a visualization from a financial application to help an infrequent user preview the implications of their data entry before committing to a complex financial transaction.
  • Trend indicators: Visualizations such as sparklines, trend arrows, and other symbolism help communicate ideas about whether a trend is increasing or decreasing, and the urgency of any issues.
  • Workload: A dashboard for managers and staff members gives an overview of workload and micro-visualizations let them quickly see the amount and complexity of work in the pipeline.