Part 09: Notation Guideline

A notation guideline is a document with rules for information visualization and describes the requirements dashboards and reports have to fulfill. The creation of such a guideline is highly recommended when you start a business intelligence project or if it is running. It is the only way to standardize the visualization of your applications in your company.

Where is the advantage of a notation guideline?

A notation guideline describes the construction of applications like dashboards, reports, presentation and management reports. It does make effort to create it but there are really important advantages for different stakeholders:

  • Management: can consume data via standardized reports, dashboards and presentation more easily, gain information faster and is able to make decision immediately without being “data confused”.
  • Authors: are guided via notation guideline to use correct applications, visualization objects and elements and to create a message to managers. The creation process is shorter due to standardized visualization
  • IT: can provide software or software elements which support the creation process of applications like dashboards and reports and supports therefore the business processes.

There are a lot of more advantages but I would to give an impression of daily business intelligence project life. In 2014 and 2015 I was project manager for reporting at a really huge company which operates in fields of pharmacy and medical devices. The business intelligence project focused on sales data based in Salesforce as data source and an analysis layer with Microsoft SQL Server and Tableau.

To be short: we started to create dashboards and reports based on the user requirements. We had huge efforts in discussions about the right visualization of data, the look and feel of the application and finally the implementation. My decision was to introduce a notation guideline and a modern, standardized creation process where users only described the reason for the application and the data which was necessary. After that it was my task to provide a mockup. After the confirmation of the business people my team implemented the dashboards.

My observation was that the efforts reduced for more than 80%. The reason was quite easy: we stopped talking about what was right and wrong in visualization, which charts and tables should be used, where the filters shall be placed and so on. It was impressive to see how the user satisfaction increased.

What is part of the notation guideline

  • Instruction for building dashboards and reports
  • Correct usage of charts and tables
  • Look and feel of analysis elements like deviations, signals, labels
  • Reduction of “glutter”

Why is a notation guideline not part of the corporate identity?

A notation guideline cannot be part of a corporate identity because the objectives are totally different. Corporate Identity (short CI) is the entirety of all actions to separate the company from others. Part of CI is Corporate Communication (CC) which includes the communication with internal and external stakeholders. CC shall be used in marketing actions, public relations and internal communication.

A notation guideline wants to standardize the visualization of data. The best which could happen is that every company has the same concept and the revenue of Apple, Google and Mercedes looks the same except the value. A notation guideline does not want to differentiate via a company-specific concept. And most of the time companies work with specific colors, big logos and space wasting only to support the idea of a corporate identity.

How does a notation guideline look like?

I do have three notation guideline files on my desktop but I do not want to share it direct via this blog. I found a draft of Rolf Hichert. You can see the screenshots below.


About Tobias Riedner
Tobias Riedner foundet in 2015. He works and worked as innovator, consultant, analyst and educator in the fields of business intelligence and data warehousing. He learned a lot from the best consultants, managers und educators in the past and shares his knowledge worldwide. He works for a steady growing traditional company which is a leader in industry 4.0.