Imagine that you report to me (your managing editor in a news publication). You wish to make a proposal for a visualization based on these numbers. How would you convince me that your idea is relevant? You will need to show me detailed sketches (made by hand or through a design program) to do that.
By "these numbers," he is referring to these data about the changing number of tenured faculty at U.S. universities. I've downloaded the data, but I'll need to do some more reading and digging before I'm ready to do something with them. I have to figure out the "So what?" before I draw up a presentation of the data.
In the meantime, I thought I'd share a bit about the process I use when building a data display...something I worked on this week.Over the next month, I'll be sharing some data with groups of small districts. The data is not so much a report---they already have some of it in various forms---but something to explore in common. These groups of districts will be trying to identify some common ground as a starting point for some work together.
I started by finding all of the data I could about these districts: fiscal, staff, and student-level. Then I pared down the data sets by thinking about what the audience would want to see. Next, I got out my pencil and some scrap paper. It was time to draw some scenarios. I think that even if my digital tools weren't limited to Excel, I would still begin with an analog model. I like to list the types of things I want to show and then figure out how to arrange them. Mind you, this is only a starting point. I often find myself in the middle of developing something, only to find out that it didn't make sense after all.
Finally, I get knee deep in Excel. For this project, I ended up with three different displays: one that showed overall trends in student performance, another to dig deeper into performance in various subject areas, and a demographics overview for each district.
Here is the first one of the series. I am still struggling with it in terms of whether or not to go with clustered columns instead. Such a display does make it easier to compare data over the years, but since I am including both regional and state level data for three different years, clustered columns get a little busy. The reason why I am leaning toward the version shown is that it is easier to compare patterns between the region and state.
The second display shows trends for graduating cohorts---although these students may be many years from walking across the stage. The purpose of this display is to look at performance for the same set of students. For example, how did a group of fifth graders score when they were in fourth and third grades? The current grade levels of students are in parentheses.
Finally, here is a sample of the district overview.
For me, these sorts of designs are a slow process. The last graphic took me most of a day to derive. Sometimes, graphs don't turn out in the way you think they will. Or they take more space. As hard as I try to be consistent with colors, labeling, and fonts---there is always something I miss. Sometimes, I build something only to find out that I don't need it. And, no doubt, the day after I share these, I will see two or three other ideas I wish I would have incorporated. But I'm feeling pretty good at this point in the build.
Now, about those tenure data...guess I've procrastinated long enough...