After asking the engineers to review alternative designs for the Client Page, I got the following feedback:
- prefer the the one that utilizes all the space
- not sure the graphs are adding anything useful
My first reaction was: typical engineering response. But it made me think hard about the purpose of my design choices, which is exactly the point of soliciting feedback.
The engineer was expressing the ideas that information density is good and gratuitous graphics are bad. And I completely agree. However, I would also argue that gratuitous density is bad and informative graphics are good.
The loan table displays 4 columns – loan name, loan number, account balance, and account status. There are other data that we could include, but this is a summary page. As a summary – it is important to show enough information for the user to understand without needing to drill down to the details page, but no more. Any more information clutters the space, makes it harder to find the important information, and can be visually overwhelming. So, as designers, we must find that balance that presents just the right amount of information that can be easily deciphered.
As for the overall information density – it is a good idea to utilize the space on the right of the tables (if we don’t extend the tables with more columns) for something – notes, performance history, and/or question groups.
Gratuitous or Informative Graphics
In technology, gratuitous graphics are pervasive – and problematic. They may look pretty, but if the user can’t decipher them and/or they take too long to display, they aren’t useful. But good graphics should be easily understood and faster to decipher than the equivalent table of numbers. From my user research in India and Kenya, users had asked to see the PPI (progress out of poverty) number on the client page and I thought the change over time would also be useful. The beauty of this graph that it doesn’t really even need an explanation of axis – just seeing the overall trend and how many data points there are is useful. The PPI score and date provide all the necessary data. I think this graph is easily and quickly understood.
The loan performance maybe less so. Does this represent all loans? All loans minus savings? What do the different regions represent? Is red the amount in arrears or what is currently due? Perhaps this graph takes some time to learn, but the tooltip explaining the regions should help. Now that I think about it, perhaps a bit of text saying “Total Balance: 123” would help. Or perhaps this information isn’t suited to a pie chart – it’s impossible to tell how much the overall circle represents.
But the engineer was right to question the usefulness of these graphs. The pie chart actually started life as a placeholder for “some graphics that might be useful” and without some further thought, it is still a placeholder. And the option that adds a third graph (2) to utilize space is just as bad as the ones that adds more columns to the tables just to use up space (2 and 4).
My preference is for the fewest columns that provide the most information in the loan and savings tables, but to maximize the space to the right (perhaps by showing a bit each of performance history, notes, and question groups), and either 1 or 2 graphs, depending on if I can create 2 that are useful (and white space is good). Of course, ultimately, we should get user feedback on these design choices, particularly the usefulness of the graphs.