Shop Talk: 2020-10-12

The Recording

The Panelists

  • Kevin Feasel
  • Mala Mahadevan
  • Tom Norman

Notes: Questions and Topics

Announcements

We had two announcements. First, TriPASS board elections are coming up in mid-November. We have three positions up for election this year: President, VP of Marketing, and Treasurer. All TriPASS members in good standing of eligible to run, and the election will run from November 19th through December 3rd, for terms beginning February 23, 2021 through February 26, 2023. If you’re interested, e-mail (shoptalk at tripass dot org will work) and I can provide more details as needed.

Second, Mala brought up the Azure SQL Championship, so check that out.

Code Review Tools

Our first topic for the night was code review tools, focusing mostly on the database world. Mala led us through some of the research she has done to find an alternative to Crucible and Fisheye. Mala keys us in on several tools, with an emphasis on tsqllint.

Xenographics

Over at Curated SQL, I posted about Xenographics, a website dedicated to…uncommon visuals. I enjoyed walking through several of them. This site includes some visuals I like as well as some which I can’t understand even after reviewing them.

Watch the video for the visuals we look at, but I wanted to take a moment and hit six characteristics I think make for a good visual. This list is neither necessary nor sufficient—a good visual need not be all of these at once, and I won’t claim that this is the authoritative list of rules for quality visuals. That said, here they are:

  • Intuitive — A visual should be easy for a person to understand despite not having much context. In some cases, you have the opportunity to provide additional context, be it in person or in a magazine. That lets you increase the complexity a bit, but some visuals are really difficult to understand and if you don’t have the luxury to provide additional context, it makes your viewer’s job difficult.
  • Compact — Given two visuals, the one which can put more information into a given space without losing fidelity or intuitiveness is preferable. This lets you save more screen real estate for additional visuals and text. There are certainly limits to this philosophy, so consider it a precept with diminishing marginal returns.
  • Concise — Remove details other than what helps tell the story. This fits in with compactness: if you have unnecessary visual elements, removing them lets you reclaim that space without losing any fidelity. Also, remove unnecessary coloration, changes in line thickness, and other things which don’t contribute to understanding the story. Please note that this doesn’t mean removing all color—just coloration which doesn’t make it easier for a person to understand what’s happening.
  • Consistent — By consistency, what I mean is that the meaning of elements on the visual does not change within a run or between runs. Granted, this is more relevant to dashboards than individual visuals, but think about a Reporting Services report which uses default colors for lines on a chart. If you refresh the page and the colors for different indicators change, it’s hard for a person to build that mental link to understand what’s happening.
  • Glanceable — Concise and consistent visuals tend to be more glanceable than their alternatives. Glanceable means that you are able to pick out some key information without needing to stare the the visual. Ideally, a quick glance at a visual tells you enough of what you need to know, especially if you have seen the same visual in prior states.
  • Informative — This last consideration is critical but often goes overlooked. The data needs to be useful and pertinent to users, describing the situation at the appropriate grain: it includes all of the necessary detail for understanding while eschewing unnecessary detail.

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