Fixing Report Visuals

I’m not a visual designer, and I find that as I learn a bit more, many of my previous reports contain lots of silly mistakes. They’re often full of data, which I like, but which can be hard for others to follow and understand.

I need to do better, and I do ask for help at times from friends. I also need to get a better process for evaluating if I’m doing a good job. I was thinking about that as I saw a makeover article from storytellingwithdata. It gives a short process of things to consider when building reports.

With most of our software, we go through iterative approaches, either by ourselves, or with others, to try and build something that meets the needs or a client. Reports involve the same process, but I know that often the report process is my showing them something very raw and them asking for changes.

What can be more time consuming is that the numbers are often the thing a client is concerned with early on. Are we calculating things correctly and including enough data. We might go back and forth quite a bit on this part of the report process.

Once we agree, and they are happy, I think I’m done and can move on. However, often this is where they start to now care about the visual appear. The layout, colors, etc., and I am drawn into another report writing session, spending more time on something that is far, far less interesting than writing queries or other software code.

I can see why tools like Power BI, which let the client mess with the visual design, have a lot of appeal. As a software developer, I’m out of the loop here, or more out of the loop. Let them decide they want a vertical or horizontal bar chart, or a stacked line chart. What do I care?

I know visualization, layout, colors, etc. are important. They’re not enough of my job to care, but I do think someone needs to. I’m lucky in that my company has artists, so I can send over slides, reports, etc. and get hints about what I should change. It’s certainly something I wish I’d have had in the past at other jobs, since anything beyond a simple graph or table is well outside my wheelhouse.

Steve Jones

About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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