Wednesday, April 23, 2014

focusing with color

In my previous post, I discussed the distinction between exploratory and explanatory analysis and showed how you can sometimes leverage the same visual when moving from the former stage to the latter, with some minor tweaks. Today, I'd like to consider another example of this and also illustrate how you can use iterations of the same visual to focus your audience with color.

We'll continue with the imagined scenario where you work for a car manufacturer. Today, you're interested in understanding and sharing insight around top design concerns for a particular make and model. Your initial visual might look something like the following:

The above visual could be one of those you create during the exploratory phase: when you're looking at the data to understand what might be interesting or noteworthy to communicate to someone else. The above shows us that there are 10 design concerns that have 8+ concerns greater than 1,000 (the rest of the tail has been chopped off, which would probably be worth a footnote with a little detail on how long the tail is, perhaps how many design concerns there are in total, etc. if you're using this to communicate to others).

You can leverage the same visual, together with thoughtful use of color and text to further focus the story:

Continuing to peel back the onion, we can go a level further than this, again using the same visual with modified focus and text to lead our audience from the macro to the micro parts of the story:

Repeated iterations of the same visual, with different pieces emphasized to tell different stories or different aspects of the same story (as above) can be particularly useful in live presentations, because you can orient your audience with your data and visual once and then continue to leverage it in the manner illustrated above.

If you're interested, you can download the Excel file with the above visuals here.


  1. Like the article, but 3 of the top 7 are noise related--you missed wind noise.

    1. Good catch, Vince! Total oversight on my part. You're right that the wind noise bar should be highlighted as well, along with a call out change to "3 of the top 10 design concerns are noise related." Thanks!

  2. Speaking of color, here's a great example of (not) focusing your audience's attention: