Newsweek published last week a series of articles presenting results of an extensive study comparing and ranking world countries. The country ranking is based on several criteria in five categories - Education, Health, Quality of life, Economic dynamism, Political environment.
Newsweek also launched an interesting information visualisation (InfoVis) tool to accompany the articles. They call it ‘Interactive Infographic’, but it basically conforms to the definition of an InfoVis tool since it is a ‘computer supported, interactive, visual representation of abstract data’.
First of all, the presented dataset is very interesting. (Go and compare your country with the winner - Finland.) But the information design is well executed too. The tool supports its users by allowing them to see the overview; but also details on-demand, change views and perspectives, detect patterns, make comparisons, and see the context of individual data points. All of the above are processes that research into InfoVis and sense-making has identified as enabling humans to achieve insight into a dataset.
Even though this is a great design allowing many interactions, there are a few small usability flaws that might hinder the user’s sense-making process.
- The list of countries scrolls automatically based on cursor movement, and while it works fine with a touchpad, it is a bit too fiddly with a mouse. Users with hand dexterity problems might struggle with it.
- After clicking a country in the left sidebar, there is a short time delay before the final values for Rank and Score are displayed in the right sidebar. The counter always starts counting from zero and it could take a few seconds before it stops on the final value. This causes unnecessary cognitive load for the user.
- Lastly, the selection of countries for comparison might feel a bit unintuitive at first, due to the way country data is updated on the right side. However, after the initial familiarisation with its logic, it starts making much more sense.
Those are some rather minor issues, in an otherwise excellent visualisation tool. Achieving a slightly more usable interaction design however, eliminates some cognitive friction that might prevent the users from achieving a harmonious interaction flow leading to engagement with the dataset and ultimately gaining insight. Usability of the interface controls might not be the main performance parameter for InfoVis tools, but it certainly is a prerequisite for good sense-making support.