Books, Data Visualization, SQL Saturday

I’m speaking in January about data visualization

I am excited to have two opportunities to speak in January. The first is the Kansas City SQL Server User Group. I will be speaking at the monthly KCSSUG meeting on January 16th at 2:30pm CST. You can RSVP for the event here. Next I will be speaking at SQL Saturday #271 in Albuquerque. At both events, I will be presenting on The Accidental Report Designer: Data Visualization Best Practices in SSRS.

This presentation is geared towards data professionals who may not see report design as one of their main responsibilities, but who occasionally have to deliver information through reports, dashboards. I think most people have to do this from time to time in their jobs, so anyone could benefit from this information. I am passionate about the content in this presentation because it changed the way I work and has positively impacted my career path. My interest in data visualization started when I read Stephen Few’s book Information Dashboard Design while working on a marketing dashboard at a previous job. I strongly believe that the way you display information to the end user can enhance or render useless any great data model/ETL you have created. The end user of your report is probably missing the point if you aren’t providing useful information in a consumable format.  Poor report design, in addition to being ineffective, can actually mislead your audience. As a data professional, this should concern you.

As an example, let’s look at some crime data for my neighborhood that I pulled from I want to know: what was the most common crime committed in my neighborhood in 2013?
First, take a look at this graph:

crimes donut chartThis is a 3-D exploded donut chart that shows the number of crimes committed by type.

Now let’s try to answer the question with this graph: crimes bar chartThis is a bar chart that shows the types of crimes committed as a percent of total crimes. I think you will agree that you immediately see from this graph that non-aggravated assault is the most common crime, followed closely by stealing from an automobile.  I can easily see the percent of total incidents that each type represents and how each type compares to other types.

Even if your data isn’t saving any lives, you can still learn to make professional data visualizations that effectively communicate information while being visually appealing, which can impress and earn trust from your management, clients, and other audiences. If you would like to learn more, I would love for you to attend my session in KC or Albuquerque. If you can’t make it, feel free to check out the slides on the Presentation page.

Data Visualization, SQL Saturday, SSRS

I’m speaking at SQL Saturday #190 in Denver

sqlsat190speakerI’m looking forward to speaking at SQL Saturday #190 in Denver, Colorado. This will be my 6th SQL Saturday at which I have spoken. It’s becoming a habit! The title of my session is The Accidental Report Designer: Data Visualization Best Practices in SSRS. Here is the description of my session:

Whether you are a DBA, a developer, or an analyst, there is a good chance that you will have to create reports for coworkers, company executives, or clients. As with any UI design, careful consideration should be given to your data visualization design to ensure you are effectively communicating the intended message and providing a good user experience. While the principles are applicable across reporting platforms and tools, this session will contain demos and examples implemented in Reporting Services using SQL Server Data Tools. Learn how to make information (not just data) the focus of your report and provide your audience with something better than just shiny!

I’m passionate about data visualization. Data professionals work so hard to gather, integrate, cleanse, aggregate, and deliver data to users. Creating a good report turns that data into actionable information, taking it the last mile. Consequences of bad report design range from failure to provide appropriate business insights to misleading users and causing them to draw incorrect conclusions. As much as I enjoy my job as a data professional, my job does not exist simply for my enjoyment. My goal is to create solutions that provide timely, accurate, usable information to ultimately help businesses cut costs or create new revenue. I’m missing the mark if I allow poor report design to jeopardize my efforts.

Report design is not just for BI professionals. Pretty much everyone (business users, data professionals, developers, managers) has to create a report at some point in their professional lives, whether it is built in Excel using static data or embedded in a web page using .NET and javascript. While there is no one true way to design a report, research (and some common sense) shows that some methods are more effective than others. I frequently encounter two common mistakes. In our strive to make things visually appealing, we often lose sight of the goal of effective communication of the appropriate information, opting for bling over business insight. On the flip side of that, many people default to a wide table full of hundreds of lines of data rather than spend the time to plan our graphs or charts to highlight the important trends and indicators.

When I began learning data visualization best practices, I felt like my eyes had been opened to a facet of my work that I had been unintentionally ignoring. I realized I had been making several common mistakes simply because I did not understand the user experience I was providing through my design choices. If you are a developer, it is important to realize that reports/dashboards/data visualizations require as much planning and thoughtfulness as any other user interface design. It is not enough to slap the graph on the page and move on.

Here are some online resources for those who would like to learn more about report design and data visualization best practices:

PerformancePoint, SQL Saturday

I’m speaking at SQL Saturday #197

sqlsat197 speakerI’m excited to be speaking at SQL Saturday #197 in Omaha on April 6, 2013.  If you are in the Omaha area (or can get there), I would love for you to attend.  SQL Saturdays are a great opportunity for free training on my favorite technologies. I’m fairly new to speaking at SQL Saturdays (this will be my third time).  There will also be some great, more experienced speakers at SQL Saturday #197, including: Bill Pearson, Kevin Bowles, Chris Schmidt, Bill Fellows, Chris Shaw.

This time I have decided to switch things up and speak about Building Dashboards in PerformancePoint. Here’s the description:

PerformancePoint can be a useful tool for delivering a dashboard to users through SharePoint. The data visualizations for your dashboard can come from PerformancePoint, Excel Services, Reporting Services, or a web page. Understanding the features and limitations of these sources of data visualizations can help you create a dashboard that best meets your users’ needs.

I’m not sure about the future of PerformancePoint, but I have implemented several dashboards in PerformancePoint lately. As with any technology used for dashboard design, I think it’s important to understand the effects of our design decisions on the user experience and on ease of maintenance and enhancements.

Data Visualization, SQL Saturday, SSRS

Links on data visualization best practices in SSRS

I compiled a great list of links on data visualization and SSRS tips in the process of creating my presentation for SQL Saturday #159 and #165. Happy reading!

My favorite Perceptual Edge/Stephen Few blog posts:

Articles on Graph Choices:

SSRS Tips:

Design Tips: