#SWDchallenge: think like a designer




Your most well-designed communications are intuitive and easily understood by your audience. They prioritize functionality over form. While this may seem straightforward, it can be the most challenging part of the analytical process.

To be successful, you must put yourself in the mind of your audience to understand how to best lead them through your complex visual insights. Forget all of the tacit knowledge you acquired during the exploratory phase and imagine it’s the first time you’ve encountered your data. What visual cues would be helpful? What affordances and points of emphasis would support your overall message? I find this out-of-body experience completely unnatural. How can I force myself to unsee what I’ve worked so hard to see in the data? 

A more natural way to learn and practice thoughtful design is to do so with objects for which you are the intended audience. For example, let’s consider prescription pill bottles. Below is an image of an Rx label from a well-known American pharmacy, CVS.


Although I’ve learned over time how to process this prescription information, it amazes me how counterintuitive the design is. My eyes are first drawn to the shaded blue sections. Does it make sense to focus on the pharmacy’s phone number instead of dosing instructions? I’m also left wondering, when should I take my medicine? Such a critical set of instructions should clearly state when is the best time of day or whether the timing is actually irrelevant. You can imagine how someone not feeling well could easily misread this label. 

After learning about these communication challenges, CVS revised its prescription labels a couple of years ago. Spend a moment taking in the revamped label and compare it with the original.


The redesign is impressive, right? The colors and icons catch your attention, making the dosage instructions the focal point. You can quickly understand both how and when to take medicine—without reading the written instructions. Note how those written directions are more prominent now, too! Even the refill details are clustered together to make the process of ordering medication simpler. These are all basic concepts of smart design, where someone spent ample time identifying how the information was being used and took intentional steps to facilitate that process visually.  

Applying a similar deep level of consideration can work wonders for improving the design of our data communications, too. That said before we jump to our data, this month I challenge you to think like a designer with an everyday household item, leveraging your perspective as the intended audience. Dedicate time to understand how you interact with the object or source of information, and thoughtfully redesign your selection. The more you practice thinking about functionality, the easier it will become to implement this when designing a chart. 

Now get thinking (like a designer) and feel free to get extra creative this month!

the challenge

Find an object or source of information you use in your daily life and think through what you appreciate and what you would alter to improve the functionality. If you need inspiration, consider a recent recipe, a nutritional label, or any confusing set of terms and conditions (more specific sources of inspiration listed in the resource section below). If you really want to think outside-the-box, one of my previous colleagues once said he wishes he could redesign his calculator because the placement of buttons was nonsensical. This is your chance to get creative and improve what bothers you!

Share your creations in the community by May 31st at 3PM PST. We’d love to see both the before and after! I’d recommend sharing your redesign as the main image and the original inspiration as a secondary image. Also, be sure to fully explain why you chose to make select changes in the commentary. Depending on your source, a graphing tool may not make sense this month. Feel free to sketch your reworked design and snap a picture. If there is any specific feedback or input that you would find helpful, include that detail in your commentary. 

related resources

If you want to learn more about design as it relates to data visualization,  here are some SWD resources: 

For additional examples and inspiration, consider the following:

Source: Story Telling