If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, by now you know that I’m keen on helping you use simple sketching in your work, to explore problems, explain concepts, and generate ideas. I cover a range of topics, including drawing icons, whiteboarding and making meetings less boring, exploring problems and plans with metaphor, and visualising data. This post looks at a particular data visualisation pattern that is really useful but often gets forgotten.
Step forward if you would, radar chart, a.k.a. spider chart, star chart or polar chart. The radar chart is great for plotting multivariate data, or in other words: those times where there is more than one value or factor that you need to measure and compare. Plus, they just look really cool.
And they look a bit like this (left) or this (right):
Snazzy, hey? Each value you’re measuring has an axis that radiates out from a point (typically of value zero), with equivalent increments along each axis. Radar charts give you a much more compelling way of looking at data, rather than just in a table. Let’s take a look at where you can use radar charts, shall we?
Great for analysing products
Are you a product manager, researcher or designer? You’ll know that you can’t judge your product’s performance on just one metric; there might be a range of heuristics that you use, to do with usability, customer satisfaction, up-time, task completion speed, and so on. And sometimes these are a bit semi-quantitative, and a bit hard to hook a definite number on. Radar charts give you the flexibility to use other values like ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low’, or ‘happy’, ‘meh’, and ‘anxious.
Here’s an example from a fictional social media website, where you can see how user satisfaction is rating for four major functions of the website:
Great for analysing you
Are you working on your own professional development? Plotting your skills on a radar chart is a quick and engaging way to see where you’re at now, and where you want to grow. Here’s another fictional example, using a mix of user experience designer skills:
Great for analysing staff and teams
Sports players and coaches have used radar charts to analyse players and teams for ages (and if bringing data and sports together is pure nerdy heaven for you, check out these charts for hockey and soccer/football!)
This visual way of assessing team members’ skills is really handy for candidate interviewing in recruitment, and for helping team members to balance where they want to grow, and where the team needs skills.
What’s really nifty is that you can overlay several team members on the same radar chart, to build up a story of aggregate sets of skills in a team:
In the example above, we can instantly see the different levels of ability in teamwork, design and sketching, as well as where these two team members are complementary. Plus, this also helps us see that we don’t have much by way of development ability in the team.
So there you have it; aren’t radar charts amazing? Start using them by analysing yourself and your skills, then see how you can apply them in other areas of your work.
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