Graphs, your choice of watch and how not to get eaten.

I can still remember how excited I was when, aged 7, I got my first digital watch. It was clear to me that digital watches, with their accuracy and lack of complicated hands, were going to conquer the world. So why am I here 33 years later with an analogue watch?

Surprisingly it’s to do with speed. Although the 7 year old Bernie found reading the analogue hands on a clock to be tricky, once you have that skill it becomes much quicker to get a “quick feel for time” by glancing at an analogue watch. It’s to do with the part of the brain that interprets information. The digital watch requires us to engage the part of our brain that deals with text. This is slow and deliberate. The analogue watch uses the visual processing centres alone, making it potentially much fasters (unless it’s still a conscious skill, i.e. you are learning). These visual centres are much quicker, as it’s the same brain “circuitry” that has evolved to stop us being eaten and falling off cliffs.

So what’s this got to do with KPIs? Put simply, a good graph is like an analogue watch. Designed correctly it should deliver almost immediate insight, without slow “conscious” thought. Data tables on the other hand are much more like a digital watch, offering precision at the cost of speed.

I like my old fashioned analogue watch, but it’s interesting to see that both types of watch have their fans. It’s settled into a kind of Coke/Pepsi rivalry. What I have learned is that there’s a place for both graphs and tables, but it’s good to blend their use to play to their strengths and weaknesses..

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