How to Extend Your UX Skills to Analytics UX

The steps needed to extend your UX skills into dashboard consulting and analytics UX.

I’m sure everyone has heard the excitement over analytics and how sexy data science is as a career path. Though there is rarely mantion of analytics UX. Analytics is often thought of as highly technical and difficult to get into. That’s not untrue but there are still very high value opportunities that don’t require a background in stats or database design, i.e. analytics UX. Enter the Dashboard Consultant. For the UI/UX Designer, becoming a Dashboard Consultant can follow a well-defined path, as it is a path I have traveled myself and I am going to share my learnings from that journey here and what I think is an optimal path having the experience to reflect upon.

What is a Dashboard Consultant?

A blend between UI/UX, business acumen and aspects of analytics such as data visualization and surface knowledge of data structures and databases are the basic ingredients. All of which can be learned in a matter of weeks to have a basic competence, though mastery will take years. The primary focus is mapping data to business value for the end users and stakeholders. Giving them access to actionable outcomes that either positively changes behavior and/or enables direct action to be taken to improve business outcomes. The closer those outcomes come to increasing profits the better. The role of the Dashboard Consultant is fundamentally to narrow the gap between data and profit through a user interface.

What Skills Do I Need for Analytics UX?

I’m assuming you already have UI/UX Design nailed and that covers a lot as it typically extends over to business acumen. However, a major word of caution here and a lesson I had to painfully learn. Analytics can be highly political and heated. Being overly evangelical about users and UX principles can and often do inflame already volatile situations. My approach is now pragmatic and firmly based in years of experience in application of UX to analytics. For more junior UXers I advise subtly over enthusiasm as you build up your business experience.

The skills you should already have and that will be used (not exhaustive):

  • UX research, interviews, personas
  • Journey mapping
  • Wire-framing and concept design
  • Consulting expertise

All that being said, the main new skills, with an hours estimate to get a basic competence if taught by a pro, that need to be added are:

  • Data visualization best practices – 16 hours
  • Chart selection process (big part of analytics UX) – 20 hours
  • Basic, very basic, knowledge of database structures – 16 hours
  • Facilitation expertise to run the occasional workshop – 16 hours theory with 8 hours of practical application
  • UI capability knowledge of the popular dashboarding tools like QlikView, Qlik Sense, Tableau, Power BI. This is not as hard as it may sound. – 4 hours per tool
  • Optional expertise in developing in one or more of the tools – highly variable

You will note that technical tools of dashboard development are left till last and this is intentional as there are many a person that can develop dashboards, there are very few that can design them well enough to have significant business value and impact. So, if you do have the aptitude to pick up some dashboard development expertise, then well and good. It is not vital. The value is in producing the design that wins. This will be in contrast to much of the prevailing advice out there and I only speak from my own experience as a dashboard consultant, which rarely involves me developing the dashboard. If development is needed I may do it myself, usually not worth my time, or I hand the work over to other contractors or, as is usually the case, the client has their own developers already.

What’s Next?

Be sure to check out the basics of dashboard UI design.

This has been a cursory view of what is needed and there is obviously a lot of detail behind the steps above. If people are interested, I’d be happy to write more on analytics UX and go into some more background of my own journey as well as resources and materials that would constitute the 80-hour investment for such a career upgrade. Interest can be expressed as likes, comments, resharing, tweets @nicksight, etc!

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