Design Thinking / Tableau

Designing Data Driven Applications in Tableau: How We Brainstorm

Everyone loves the idea generation phase. So, why it is the second step in our Designing Data Driven Applications in Tableau series and not the first?! There’s nothing like a fresh whiteboard, some stickies, and everyone chiming in.

In the last post, we looked at the current state.  In this one, we’re putting caution to the wind and coming up with ideas.  Lots of them!  Anything and everything to do with the smart home.  But this time, we already know the following:

  • I got no love for Alexa or her friends.  We are doing a smart home from scratch.  Yup, roll up those sleeves, we’re digging in!
  • There’s an engineer in the house.  Teleportation, here we come!
  • And an analyst!  We can make sure those numbers line up.
  • There’s already parts installed.  With data.  And a dashboard!
  • Lights, music, action!  We want the works, but don’t expect to shout for the show to start.  We’re primarily sticking with touch interaction.
  • There’s an artist in the house.  A very picky one at that.  Whatever the UI is, it better be stunning.  That’s why we’re using Tableau.

With these things in mind, we can start coming up with whatever comes to mind.  We’ll do whatever it takes to get an idea, keeping in mind the above frame.  So, we know we’re not buying something off the shelf.  But, that lets us focus on what we want.  We can pull ideas from anywhere.

The process looks like this

  • We want brilliant ideas.  It’s like building a rocket ship and we’re not engineers – everything is on the table and there ARE no dumb ideas.
    • We’ll hit the sticky notes, maybe quietly on our own and then put them up.  Or, we can put them up and work off each other.  Every idea goes on the board, as even off the wall ones tend to spark viable solutions.
    • We might discuss, calling up our favorite movies and Star Trek episodes.
    • We’ll eventually create groupings, maybe look stuff up, and try to consolidate.
    • We may even shop our sticky notes around in the form of poster boards or open whiteboards. You never know what other people will come up with.
  • We make sure it hits the mark.
    • We’ll verbalize how it works.
    • If we really like it, we might start drawing something.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or even legible.
    • We may even start making a very low-resolution version – think hand drawn paper booklets or origami.
    • We’ll make sure it fits the frame.
  • When we’re ready, we’ll make a decision.

This part can go by pretty quickly or it can take awhile.  If you want to see this in action, hit Netflix and watch Bjarke Ingels design his demo for the Serpentine Pavilion.  You’ll see one person start to design with paper what they ultimately end up doing – it’s quite neat.

What we did for our smart home was a little less dramatic.  We hit the whiteboard.  We talked.  We made very low resolution sketches, not of charts, but of some interface ideas.  What was important?  What needed to be on the first screen?  How much were we controlling at the console versus simply getting information about?  What needs to be a deeper dive for the computer?

As far as what it looks like, the pickiest user is designing it.  We know there’s going to be 2 sizes, so it may get the device designer treatment.  Here’s some questions we want to answer:

  • What’s the temperature inside and outside?  (AKA, how many layers of stuff do I have to wear?)  No lies, this ranked as our number one question.
  • Do we have any ‘issues’?  Are utilities operating within the norm?  Is my shower going to be hot right out the gate or should I warm it up a bit?  (The engineer tells me the hot water tank ‘triggers’ when you pull it.  It sits all night, so run a hot tap – who knew?!  And yes, we may code something here because, yeah, we’re going excessive.)
  • Are there any spikes anywhere and what can I do about it, if anything?  This could be excessively cold water coming in (hooray, Ohio weather), electrical surges to a particular fuse (maybe running a blender, mixer, microwave, and toaster oven is too much for one fuse?), or a heat wave that requires a switch from heat to AC (you do not want to know how often this happens)?
  • What’s going to be affected if we turn a fuse off?  Living with an engineer has its ups and downs – one down is the constant desire to tinker.
  • What’s our usage look like and what influences that?  What can we do to be more energy efficient?  (AKA, am I leaving the one incandescent bulb on all the time?)
  • How can I Star Trek up my house?  Should certain lights be on at certain times?  Do we have a pattern for turning on lights and can that be a program or specific setting, such as ‘guest are coming over’)?
  • What would delight us?  You know that gentle wakeup we all dream about, the lights softly coming on or, as dusk starts, that the lights also progressively pop on as if by magic.  Yeah, it’s possible.
  • What do I not want people seeing about my home energy usage?  How do I want to restrict this?

With these ideas in mind, I know what’s important:

  • We’re excessively temperature focused.  This will probably be on a small banner somewhere so we can see weather and inside temperature at all times.
  • I have control of only so many things, such as lights, audio, and (hopefully less needed) heat.  Lights are big, as they set the mood.  Audio is nice, particularly when cleaning.  These will probably go as 1-click buttons on the left-hand side.
  • Everything else is ‘status’ and notification only.  Some items I want to see right away, such as notifications, or anything out of the norm.  Others I want to be able to get to, but they can go on a second screen.
  • My home is a work of art.  I want this UI to beautiful.  I have big hands, so I need to keep in mind we’ll be using a touchscreen of unknown quality.  I don’t want whatever we use as a console to detract from the art I have, so it will be small.

These 4 bullet points will guide my prototypes.  If I had just jumped right into the brainstorming, I might’ve missed our obsession with temperature or weighted it lower.  I’m designing it, so I know about my art obsession, which is one of many reasons off the shelf will not do.

Designing Data Driven Applications in Tableau

Part 1: How We Scope or What Is
Part 2: Brainstorming or What If?
Part 3: Prototyping or What Wows?

Coming soon.

Part 4: Deploying or What Works

Happy hexagons!

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