I recently subscribed to Disney+ and it wasn’t just the collection of Star Wars programs that captivated me but also the collection of National Geographic Channel programs, specifically the TV show called Brain Games. Just as the show set out to do, it showed me how our brains might not be operating the way we expect. It made me think about my article and webinar on using the “Left Brain <-> Right Brain” approach to report design. In this article, I revisit my use of the “brain” ... no pun intended, or perhaps pun intended 😉 ... in how one should approach using SAS Visual Analytics more analytically (v7.5 or higher, but particularly the Viya releases).
To recap ... what I once thought was gospel, I advocated for the right side of the report page to be traditional data visualizations to tell your story (ala ~creativity). And the left side to be visualizations that are more data science in nature, to give your report consumers analytical context as to what’s so important in the visualization (~numbers to back it up). The two mindsets shall communicate with each other the same way you link any two visualizations — by way of actions/linking.
Fast forward almost a year, after watching multiple episodes of the aforementioned Brain Games ... by coincidence, maybe not 😉 ... I had the benefit of being on a business trip throughout Alberta, Canada (presenting at their local SAS Users Group meetings) with SAS’ own Cheryl Coyle. Cheryl is not only a Distinguished User Experience Designer for the SAS Visual Analytics Usability Lab, but also happens to be a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology. In promoting the notion that Data Can Be Beautiful, one of her core messages is how the brain processes information and looks at reports (or what’s on the screen in general). Report viewers (consumers) process it more effectively from Left to Right, so the most important summarized info should be on the Left (and NOT on the Right).
Given this new insight, I offer an updated (reversed) recommendation. The left side of the report page should be traditional data visualizations to tell your story (ala ~creativity). The right side of the page should be visualizations that are more data science in nature, to give your report consumers analytical context as to what’s so important in the visualization (~numbers to back it up). The two mindsets shall still communicate with each other the same way you link any two visualizations — by way of actions/linking. To illustrate this, check out these examples using public non-personally identifiable Occupational Safety and Health-themed data obtained from the Government of Alberta website and then edited further to be truly fictionalized.
Example 1 of 5. The What & How of visual data storytelling (e.g., Accident Causing Events)
Example 2 of 5. The Where & Which of visual data storytelling (e.g., Regional Injury Comparisons)
Example 3 of 5. The When & What Will Be of visual data storytelling (e.g., Extent of Injury Trends)
Example 4 of 5. The Who & Why of visual data storytelling (e.g., Human Factor Analysis)
Example 5 of 5. the What Else & How Much of visual data storytelling (e.g., Accident Report Exploration)
Does this mean that my original Left Brain <-> Right Brain metaphor can no longer apply? On the contrary, it applies even more so! It’s just a matter of perspective as depicted on the aforementioned Brain Games television program. When you are face-to-face with somebody, obviously your left is their right and vice versa. Think of the SAS Visual Analytics “right brain” (the monitor screen in front of you) facing the report viewer’s left (as you look straight ahead at the monitor screen), and vice versa. That’s still Left Brain <-> Right Brain because SAS Visual Analytics is looking at us, the report viewer. From its point of view, the dashboarding content IS on the right. And integrated analytics content IS on the left.
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