Tuesday, August 26, 2014

design with audience in mind

Recently, my husband shared a USA Today graphic with me that summarizes diversity stats across a number of Bay Area tech companies. Surely, this would be a good blog topic, he told me. He knows me well. Here is a screenshot of the visual:

Online version can be found here.

First, let me mention how cool I think it is that companies like Google have started sharing their diversity stats. I expect that with this transparency, we'll see movement towards more diverse workforces over time.

Next, let me discuss what an annoying user experience it is to try to look at the diversity data with USA Today's visual. It shows the breakdown for the given company (Apple, in the above screenshot) by gender on the left and ethnicity on the right. The various tech companies each have their own tab; you can toggle between companies using the numbered tabs along the left (not sure what the numbers on the tabs mean...if anything).

What is the first thing you want to do with this data?

For me, the stats for a given company, on their own, are not so interesting. It's by comparing them to the other companies that we help build context for what is good (or if not good, then at least better), what is worse, and so on. In other words, the single thing I want to do most is compare the stats across companies. The way this visual is organized makes this a lot harder than necessary. If I want to compare the proportion who are women at Apple (for example) to other companies, first I look to the Apple tab and commit 30% to memory, then I click through the other tabs one by one to try to put that 30% into context. This is annoying, but possible.

It gets more annoying and difficult if you try to do it by ethnicity. Try comparing the proportion Hispanics make up of the various workforces, for example. It's further complicated by the fact that the slices on the pie move and the order in which the companies are listed changes as you toggle between companies.

This is not an ideal user experience. My guess is that there was some desire to make the visual "interactive," which it sort of feigns via the tabs of various companies along the left. But really all this does is allow you to see the various static graphs, one at a time. Why not replace with a single static visual that makes the task your audience is going to want to do easy?

In other words, let's design the visual with our audience - and how they are going to want to interact with the data - in mind. If the goal is to compare across companies, I might do something like the following:

(Note that the title and takeaway at the top were preserved from USA Today's visual; I'm not sure I would have been quite as negative.)

The above version allows me to see things that were very difficult to get to with the original. eBay is doing the best from a gender diversity standpoint, but worse when it comes to racial diversity, where Yahoo is doing better than the others, etc.

Bottom line: design with your audience in mind!

Click here to download the Excel file with the above visual.


  1. I think the redesign feels right on target. However, it seems to me that your color scheme for the racial chart has a pretty strong "skin color" bent to it. I've seen it mentioned multiple places that such associations are fraught with peril. What are your thoughts on that?

    1. Hi Brian,

      Great question, and I'm not sure there's a single right answer here, but I can give you some insight on my thought process when it comes to my color choices. I definitely wanted to use different colors for the gender graph and the ethnicity graph - to not reuse colors across the charts and imply visually that a segment on the left is related to a segment on the right (as Neil points out in his comment).

      When it comes to my specific color choices on the right - my view is that if there are colors you can leverage that help with speed of understanding (and don't have negative connotation - which I don't believe they do here), then it makes sense to do so. Whether it's appropriate in a given situation comes down to audience: will the color choices help interpretation (without offending)? In any case, you wouldn't want to work against constructs that may already be in your audience's head. For example, if one of your segments is "Black," you wouldn't want to use that color for another segment (though could choose not to use the color black at all). I recognize that some may disagree with my color choices here. I'd be curious on others' thoughts when it comes to this.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Very well done revision. I agree with your comments. One additional item you changed from the the original graphic was the color palette for the gender and ethnicity charts. In the original chart they used identical color palette, which indirectly makes a visual link between the Male and Asian wedges and the Female and Black wedges in the two charts. I was happy to see in your revision that you fixed that problem by using two unique color palettes (blues in the left and orange/grey in the right) breaking the visual link between the data points in the two charts. You did not specifically called out that change in your description, but I think it is an important one worth noting.

  3. Very good transformation. The horizontal bar charts really tell you much more at first glance. Honestly, my initial reaction at the pie charts was to move on to something else - they are too difficult to interest me (unless of course my life depended on it :)).

  4. Cole, Great job!!!! Your two charts capture the information without the user flipping between charts. In addition, we all know that pie charts should just be avoided.