The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the federal agency responsible for “measuring labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the economy.” I stumbled upon a recently posted report titled “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary,” which I’m very excited to share with you.
First things first: The report is ugly – horribly ugly. There are no colors, no flashy graphics, just text tables with numbers and paragraphs of text explaining the numbers.
With that said, I think the report is downright brilliant…
Just because it’s ugly doesn’t mean it’s not brilliant. Why is it brilliant? It’s brilliant because it includes text which provides “color commentary.” According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, color commentary is a role of a sports commentator who “provides expert analysis and background information, such as statistics, strategy … and occasionally anecdotes or light humor.” Granted there is no humor in this report because the news about jobs here in the U.S. stinks, just like everywhere else in the world. With that said, however, I salute the BLS for avoiding the trends of sexy and flashy charts. If plain old numbers and language work (and they do for this BLS report), I say go with it.
Yes, the following statement could be put into a silly looking chart, but putting it in English is much more appropriate: “Over the 12 months ending in July 2011, hires totaled 47.8 million and separations totaled 46.6 million, yielding a net employment gain of 1.1 million based on not seasonally adjusted data.”
If you’re out there building data quality dashboards, you really need to add color commentary where you can. Tell people what the numbers mean in terms the audience will understand, and if they ask for flash, augment the good content with flash, not the other way around. An example of this would be fighting off the urge to create a silly pie chart showing a colorful small piece of pie labeled “missing cell phone #.” Plain language has a such as “85% of our employees have their cell phone numbers entered into our Human Resource System, but the remaining 15% do not. This poses a risk to our organization because…etc.”
If the value of a metric is “9″ this month, “8 “the previous month and “7″ the month before that – what does that mean to the every day person who might read this report? If the graphic shows the “speedometer” needle in the “red,” what does that really mean to the organization? Is the organization in trouble? Should they sell off parts of their business? Are their customers upset and buying from competitors? Nobody really knows, all we really know is that the dashboard has a picture of a of a needle in the “red.”
In this day and age of “GREEN/YELLOW/RED” dashboards, designers really should be trying to figure out how to put color commentary around their dashboard numbers. While continuing to poke around on the BLS site, I did find some flashy dashboards, but I’ll take the plain old numbers and text over the flash any day of the week.
Until next time…Rich