Advisory panel looks for 'moonshot' in Commerce data
April 24, 2015
The inaugural meeting of the Commerce Data Advisory Council discussed how the Commerce Department can take their troves of data to the next level for the American public.
David Stegon was a staff reporter for FedScoop and StateScoop from 2011-2014.
Here’s an idea to make government websites better: Stop listening.
Yes, it seems like a good idea to ask people what they actually want when designing your online home, but the reality is things like focus groups and consumer research often muddle the picture, said Edward Tufte, a professor at Yale and Princeton known as the da Vinci of data visualization for his teachings on information design.
Tufte, speaking this morning at the State Department’s Tech@State Data Visualization Conference at the Kennedy Center, recalled Apple’s Steve Jobs when he showed the first iPad to a group of reporters before it’s launch. When asked if the company did consumer research, Jobs answered, “It’s not the user’s job to design the stinking thing.”
(For the record, Tufts said Jobs likely didn’t use the word stinking and maybe something a little more authoritative.)
“Feature-itis has swamped more government projects than anything else,” Tufts said. “It seems like a good idea to involve the users, but they end up giving a list of countless features they think they want, but then never end up using and that ruins the end product.”
Tufte advocates the Apple approach for government sites, and all sites in general, by zeroing out the interface with minimal scrollbars and menus to free up space for data and information. The idea is that the human eyes and brain can take in a lot more information than developers give it credit for.
“Our eyes will find what it’s looking for,” Tufte said.
And for Apple’s touch-screen mentally with low-interface, Tufts predicts in a few years we will all be moving our fingers like classically trained pianists across the screens.
A few others notes from Tufte’s presentation: