3 Ways To More User-Friendly Data

We recently sat down with designer Mayra Vega to her get advice on creating data dashboards that people will actually use.

She told us that getting people to use the reports you create starts with reorienting your concept of user needs from nouns to verbs.

Thinking of a need as a noun fast-tracks your thinking straight to what you will build for your user, often skipping over crucial considerations about what you are trying to help the user do in the first place.

In conceptualizing needs as verbs, you will consider how a user’s needs will be met by taking user experience into consideration. This approach will also surface deeper insights into what your user is trying to accomplish with your report.

Use the Needs Madlib below as a guide for thinking of needs as verbs.


Dig deeper into user needs with one of the three user research approaches below.

  1. Watch
    Observing your users as they navigate a report gives you a lens into where the obstacles they face exist and how your report can best fit their mental model or existing process. It may seem simpler to just ask users where they are having trouble, but Mayra says that there is more to gain from asking users to show as well as tell.“Oftentimes what they say is not exactly what they’re doing, and when you’re watching what they’re doing, you’re learning a lot about the places where they get tripped up.”

    Key questions to keep in mind: What is the user doing? How is that helpful for the user? Why?

    Below is a picture of a parent-teacher conference that we took from one of our observations when we wanted to create a report for parent-teacher conferences. We learned from this observation that teachers prefer to print out paper copies of the report for parents to look at during the meeting. Since most teachers print their materials in black and white, not color, we decided to grayscale this report to make it printer friendly.

  2. Ask
    Merely watching your users in action is not enough. Asking “why” during your observation and interviewing them about their process afterward are integral steps for understanding their experience.
    A few things to keep in mind when interviewing…

    • Don’t ask them to solve the problem.
    • Practice lots of listening. The best interviewers listen more than they speak.
    • Don’t ask binary questions. Instead say, “Tell me about a time when…”
    • Keep digging deeper by asking why.
    • Don’t ask only “yes” or “no” questions. Open-ended questions will yield more useful insights.
    • Keep questions short and simple: only ten words to a question and one question at a time.
    • Interviewing in pairs will enable you to make sure you capture the most insights. Have someone take notes while you pose questions.
  3. Do
    Try using the report that you have created as your intended users would, with their needs in mind”“You really want to put yourself in your users’ shoes and understand and gain empathy for the things that they do,” Mayra says, adding, “When you gain that empathy, you start noticing areas that you can help them with.”

    If you were going to create a report for a board of directors, for example, you could read the board packet to get an idea of how much information they have to read through before going to a board meeting. This approach will give you an insight into the nature of the information board members are looking at, the difficulties they face in processing it, and how you can improve that experience with your report.

Mayra gave a presentation on this topic at our last Schoolzilla User Summit. Check out Mayra’s full presentation, where she goes into more depth and discusses the prototype and usability testing processes for making user-centered reports HERE.

More resources for making user-centered reports: