Making big datasets accessible

teenage pregnancy1The attached interactive is all done in PowerPoint, with the aid of VBA. Graphics such as the ten-by-ten boxes are easily automatable with macros, making it easy to generate more interesting and eye-catching graphics on a larger scale (there are about 150 countries included in this graphic). The hyperlinks and screen tips were also automated.

There’s plenty of flexibility in terms of altering the page size and other elements. Plenty of scope in terms of design, and to add in explanation, survey notes, commentary etc. All the functionality should work on smartphones, and there’s potential to add javascript animation as well.

The point here is that large amounts of data do not necessarily mean charts and tables. With VBA, any interesting graphic can be repeated for drill-downs as required. For the right kind of project, this may be more appropriate than going to the lengths of uploading the data into a database to be accessed via a dashboard. It enables the researcher more control of how the output will look, and what kind of story they want to tell with the research. And, of course, without the need for back-end data loading, it’s cheaper.


Incorporating Professional Design

Mid Term GreensThis simple infographic, Mid term Greens, was created in PowerPoint to demonstrate that PowerPoint can be used for more than just bullet points and standard bar charts. Graphic designers don’t tend to use it, but most of what a designer would produce can be replicated in PowerPoint, including font style, size and positioning, graphic objects, background and transparency effects, etc.

I did this to demonstrate that data visualisations can be varied and customised to a much greater extent than it is now even with using the tools many of us are already using. A fully functioning PowerPoint report like this is “automatable”. You could have a range of single-screen infographics, each of which summarises the users of a particular brand, or a market segment, or a particular type of service offered, produced easily in PowerPoint through VBA automation. This could be a great way of making data available in attractive and easily digestible ways.


Telling a story by going interactive

immigration_perceptions1This immigration summary report uses extracts from a twenty-page pdf published by Ipsos-MORI in January 2014. The icons, leading down into more detail, provide a fresh alternative to the written report in pdf format.

In the online world where attention spans are incredibly short, icons with snippets of information, allowing people to drill down if they are more interested, may encourage people to read further.

It’s a proof of concept and incomplete: for the full report see here.


Separating story from detail with drill-down layers

midtermgreens_detail1Mid term Greens in detail is an example of how an interactive can be structured to tell a story, and to enable drill-downs for detail – here demographics but it could also be trend over time, comparison with different levels or brands, etc etc. This approach means that it is still possible to construct a narrative in a research report (which is not always that easy with a dashboard) and makes detail available without it getting in the way of the story.


Seeing everything at once: getting more insight from an overview

Segment mapThis is a visualization of key performance scores for seven different brands on four different measures, for four different time periods and six different segments! Sounds like a lot – but with the right design a lot can be understandable. This was produced using a simple PowerPoint VBA macro (which also pulled the data in) and converted to html. The actual figures are viewable as screen tips.


Doing Magic in PowerPoint

I use VBA* in PowerPoint to make changes to PowerPoint presentations that would take a very long time to do by hand. So far I’ve written code that:

  • Positions logos on the page and allows for re-ordering based on ranking values
  • Populates ten by ten “count boxes” simply by entering a number instead of having to manually make each one
  • Adds low base warnings throughout a presentation – eg by sweeping through and adding an asterisk next to every low base
  • Adds brand colour coding to charts and tables, including colours that are different for different reports, and font colour/line style variations as well
  • Changes chart label values and formatting based on rules such as statistical significance
  • Deletes objects, charts, tables and slides if they are not needed
  • Removes percentages from charts and tables if the base size is below a certain threshold
  • Positions objects next to chart labels, or next to table cells, based on certain criteria
  • Resizes logos or other graphics based on criteria, enabling automatic scaling of graphics

These are just a few simple examples of how using a bit of code can save enormous amounts of time taken up with manual tweaking and tidying.

But there’s more potential than this. If you can add, move, resize and recolour everything programmatically, that opens a doorway to a vast number of possibilities in terms of using graphics to represent data in new and eye-catching ways. If it were as easy to set up an exciting-looking graphic so that it depicts data accurately as it were to populate a PowerPoint chart, why use the chart when you can do something so much more interesting?

* VBA stands for Visual Basic for Applications, the script which enables developers to manipulate Microsoft Office applications such as Excel, Word and PowerPoint