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Hierarchy of Information

Not all of your data is equally important. Some things are more important than others. It’s your job as the creator of a guided analytics application to prioritize information, to create a hierarchy for users to better understand the information. There is an implied level of importance based on where you place something and what it looks like.

Be on the front page

Being on the first page someone sees when starting an experience is best. Like the front page of a newspaper the Dashboard of an application has an added level of importance by the very nature of being first. What you choose to lead with says a lot about what you want your audience to know above all else. It isn't that the subsequent pages aren't important it is just that they are perceived as less important in the hierarchy of pages because they aren't first. Leading with a Dashboard page is all a part of the DAR methodology which is a useful way to organize your content across multiple pages.

Top of the page

Like being the first page a user sees, being at the top of the page is prime real-estate. Designers use placement to denote importance online all the time. In ecommerce design the top area (the Aspot) is the largest marketing space and has the greatest prominence. From there subsequent spaces (B spots, C spots, etc.) cascade down the page in lesser and lesser importance. The further down the page something is, the less important it is. Content at the top of the page sits above the fold (to reference newspapers again) and therefor should be universally seen by users on any device resolution before scrolling.

F formation down the page

While we may read long-form content in a Z formation down a page we scan/read most online content in an F formation. We read the first line, then a bit of the second line, then sort of work our way down the left side of a page hunting for keywords. This works for article pages online but it also works with larger object oriented pages like shopping experiences with product photos. Again this reaffirms that the content at the top of the page is the most important real-estate on a page especially the top left. The top of the page gives a reader an idea of what content a page may contain and the scent of whether or not he/she is on the right track to finding what they are looking for.

Style

Other than being at the top of the first page a final technique to denote importance is how you choose to size & style your content. Most people are familiar with this concept as it applies to typography. Magazines, newspapers, websites, etc. all make the most important information the largest type size. As the type sizes are reduced the implied importance of that information is also diminished. You can also use contrast to set some information apart from the rest. Where all of your text is a dark gray perhaps one part is bright red. Where most of your lines in a line chart follow a similar color scheme, perhaps one contrasts that scheme to stand out. Essentially you are telling the user that this thing that visually stands apart from the rest is important and something they should focus on.

Establishing a hierarchy of information is beneficial to the user of a guided analytics application because it reduces the cognitive load of the user. When users don't have to sift through all of the content to decided what is most important they have more time to focus on using the application and meeting their business needs.

4 Comments
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Thank You for this post. Design is not always intuitive.

Cheers,

Kevin

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MCampestrini
Valued Contributor

Hi Michael

Thanks for the information.

Design an app is not a easy task, and this kind of information helps a lot.

Márcio

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paulyeo11
Valued Contributor II

Hi Michael

Thank you for good information. if you can add some graphic in your article will be wonderful. as what you point out all are very impt in order to achieve story telling effect on data presentation.

Paul

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Digvijay_Singh
Honored Contributor III

Excellent design tips! Thanks!

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