It’s Bad, Now What?

Creators of visualizations can learn a lot from sonifications, especially the focus on action. When your alarm goes off, you know to get up (or at least snooze). When I look at a lot of application dashboards, I often don’t know what to do. It looks bad, so now what?

One way we solved it at my old job was to pre-define levels on visualizations meant to show system health. We started with numbered levels, but then for simplicity we settled on green, yellow, and red. When you are driving, you know exactly what to do when the light is green or red. Even yellow only has a few options.

To help us think about these levels more, we labeled them Excellent, Acceptable, and Unacceptable.

Like red and green traffic lights, it’s clear what to do when your levels are Excellent or Unacceptable. Yellow/Acceptable levels are harder, but since our company mantra was “Don’t do Nothing” (in the face of a problem) and our goal was Excellence, we had to do something.

For us this meant (something like):

  • Yellow: Investigate and put a ticket on the backlog with enough priority to get addressed soon. It will be released as appropriate (no rush).
  • Red: Make a ticket and assign it now. It might be released immediately.

In practice, other things mattered.

  • How red or how yellow?
  • Is this a blip or sustained issue?
  • Is this caused by us or related to the environment (e.g. is US-East down?)
  • Will it go away on its own?

But even under these ambiguities, the first few steps were pretty clear, and the options for what to do next were small. And since the status got posted to our slack every morning (and reported to grand-bosses every month), we were very unlikely to let it drop.