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The UX of data

Bettina Kast, 7 minute read

Dr. W. Edwards Deming once said, "Without data, you are just another person with an opinion."

In the age of ubiquitous data, the “new normal” of customer behavior is constantly redefined. When you gain a deep understanding of your customers, you can be proactive in making and adapting informed decisions for your business. Better data presentation also facilitates better business decisions.

Here are some principles to consider when authoring and using data products, such as insights, reports, dashboards, and any form of data visualization.

Define a purpose

Before you consider including data into your product, think about the following aspects:

  • Is the data supposed to answer vital strategic questions?
  • What value does it provide?
  • Will it help solve problems, and what are the priorities?
  • Where do you want to use the data?
  • Who will work with the data, and how will they use it?
  • Why do you want to use the data? Do you need to show any data at all, or could you achieve better results taking advantage of automation tools, decision logic, and routing of messages?

Once you establish that data must be visible on a screen or in a report, make sure that performance will not be an issue – it can impair the experience.

Understand constraints

Think more data is better? It’s not so simple. Before you get started, consider:

  • Is the data structured, unstructured, real-time, or run-time? What systems will have to be in place?
  • Is the data sensitive? Can everyone have the same access to the data, or are there restrictions for certain users?
  • Are there any industry or governmental regulations to consider that impede if and how data can be stored and used?
  • How timely does the data need to be, and with what frequency will you consume the data?
  • Can you edit the data? Is it necessary to have roll-back options?
  • How many records will have to be processed and in what time?
  • What are potential consequences in case of a data leak? What remedies need to be in place? How will you protect your customers?
  • Is the data stored in a distributed or centralized way? Who maintains the data?
  • Can anyone use the data, or is subject matter expertise required to interpret the data?
  • How do you manage data bias and avoid skewing insights before creating them?

Know thy data

Spend some time with your data. Understand what its variables are made up of. Explore its types, ranges, and how its values are distributed.

All this will help you raise important questions about your data, which in turn will help you gain the insights you are looking for.

Make data visual and more visible

To paraphrase a saying by Arthur Brisbane: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a chart is worth a thousand data points.

The right data visualization method enables you to find relationships between data, confirm ideas, or persuade someone with data. It can help you understand the consequences and risks and turn your understanding into the right decisions and actions.

At Pega, we provide a curated set of good visualizations to match your data set across various areas of application. These are visualizations that meet business, statistical, and technical needs for activities involving:

  • Analyzing and planning.
  • Monitoring and controlling.
  • Communicating and instructing.

Make data more meaningful

Presentation of data is all about making visual choices. Take advantage of encoding methods such as:

  • Conditional formatting
  • Thresholds.
  • Inclusion of regions.

Drawing attention to values that are meaningful to your business is a powerful tool. These methods enrich a chart and make it more meaningful. They help with accelerating processing speed and recognizing trends and patterns.

You can also choose from a wide variety of palettes to color encode your data and make it more meaningful. In Pega’s design system, the color palettes harmonize with each other. This ensures they do not compete, which is important when combining many visualizations on one screen.

Make visualizations inclusive

One way to make products inclusive is through accessibility. Anything we design at Pega, we design with Section 508 in mind.

For example, color palettes must have enough contrast to work:

  • In combination with text.
  • In different conditions and situations.
  • For people with vision impairments.

We also ensure that palette colors are accessible to everyone with color blindness by testing them with digital simulators. Then we confirm they work as intended in usability studies with colorblind people with different colorblindness profiles.

Making data products inclusive does not only serve people with permanent disabilities; everyone with situational and temporary restrictions benefits from inclusive design.

Think about context

Think about the type of data product and in which context it will be used. Consider the following questions about your context:

  • Will you include a chart in your application, a report, a dashboard, or a presentation?
  • Will the visualization be used on a desktop computer in a back office, in a call center, or on a touch-screen in an emergency room where every second counts?

Consider also:

  • Localization – Will the chart be used across geographic regions?
  • Other cultural requirements - Inclusion of differing number systems particular to geographic regions.

Use data to build great UX experiences!

Data is the raw material end-users need to make informed decisions. Use the information above to help think about how data can enhance understanding in your business, then decide how you want to use data to tell your story. We have access to more data than ever before in history and, with it, a responsibility to tell data stories wisely. Know your data well, be inclusive, have a clear intention, ask questions, choose ideal visualization methods, and consider context.

Pega has put great care into authoring data products to avoid skewing the story that your data will tell, making it more consumable by a wide range of diverse users. Check out for more info and tips for best practices.

Learn more:

About the Author

A Senior UX & Data Visualization Designer, Bettina Kast is responsible for making Pega's data visualization trustworthy, accessible, and elegant. Bettina specializes in data literacy and encoding, color theory and application, communication, semiotics, and the psychology of perception to create innovative data products that facilitate understanding.

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