Data viz

Google Data Studio – Visualization & reading custom helpers with switch

Few months ago, I’ve written an article introducing some techniques to give data context to your Google Data Studio reports using info icons, descriptions, summary of selected data, graph comments…

Some of them are contextual to current displayed data, and others are structural and more about how the report has been built and which possibilities/features are available. For this second group, it would be more accurate to call it “visualization and reading helpers”.

Visualization and reading helpers

Such information helps the reader to understand how each chart is configured, how the loaded data are prepared, and which interactive actions users can do.

Users natures: Explorers & followers

On the other hand, using contextual helper – to learn about available interaction features – is also a question of users natures. We need to take care about all report audience:

  • Some users are explorers: They try to click and right-click everywhere, and so discover by themselves chart interactions (optimal metrics, enabled dimension filters, drill down, exports…)
  • Others need to know what it is possible to do for each step, & so we need to provide information about available features

We need also to keep in mind our basic requirements of readability (informing without overloading our report).
At last, more the reader uses the same version of report, less he needs to be helped.

For all these reasons, visualization and reading helpers should be optional for the good of readers experience…
…so, let’s include a switch to enable or disable them.

The result

Here my helper in action, thanks to a combination of simple Google Data Studio components to build it.

Google Data Studio components

The sections below will explain how to configure our switchable visualization and reading helper, throw the implementation of the following components:

  • A Google Sheet storing our content, used as helpers data source
  • Table charts as content blocks in our reporting
  • A filter control to enable or disable helpers

Helper contents: Google Sheet data source

In my example, I need to display 2 charts info and one general comment. Charts info are composed with a small text and an icon.
Let’s create a Google Sheet with one column for each information or media, and 2 rows corresponding the two states of helpers: “on” or “off”.

  • The “on” row (helper enabled) will contain all helpers contents
  • Contrary to the “off” row (helper disabled) that will be empty, except for the column of the helper state

So, my sheet stores the following fields:

  • Helper (on / off)
  • Fixed date range – text
  • Fixed date range – icon (URL of the image)
  • Chart with dimension filter – text
  • Chart with dimension filter – icon (URL of the image)
  • Ecommerce conversion rate definition – text

Google Data Studio - Visualization & reading helpers - Google Sheet data source

Helper elements: Table charts

After adding the Google Sheet file as data source in our report, let’s create an example of table chart containing helper contents for “fixed date range” information and respecting the following configuration:

  • Data tab
    • Select the text and icon as dimensions and define the icon as an image field
    • Remove default metrics from the table
    • Select 1 row per page
  • Style tab
    • Hide the header
    • Remove all table colors (transparent)
    • For labels, adapt font color and size
    • Hide row numbers and wrap text
    • Hide pagination
    • Show blank for missing data
    • adapt columns alignments following your report design
    • Remove background and borders
    • Do not show chart header
  • Style tab / Bonus
    • Add conditional formatting to define a background color when dimension is not empty

Then, we can apply the same kind of chart configuration for other content helpers to cover all slide elements.

Helper switch: Filter control element

Now, helper contents are included in our report. To finish the mechanism, we need to add a filter control, with a value to enable or disable visualization and reading helpers by default.
Let’s create it with the following configuration:

  • Data tab
    • Select “Helper” dimension
    • Overwrite dimension name with “(?) Report helpers”
    • Fill “on” or “off” as default selection
    • Don’t show metric values
    • Order by dimension ascending
  • Style tab
    • Check single select option and disable search box
    • Adapt text color and size
    • Remove border shadow and other not required styles

Mission complete! We can now let the report reader deciding if he wishes to enable or disable visualization helpers. And at the same time, we improve the understanding of data but also take care also about the risks of loss of readability because of overloaded contents.

Additional remarks

  • Schema of Google Sheet data source
    We could use a schema more normalized for our data source, with less columns (helper flag on/off, info code, info content) and 2 rows by info, preventing additional fields for each helper case, but it would require the configuration of more helper charts & also the creation of related data filter.
  • Helpers categories
    Instead of on/off switch for helpers, we can imagine extending it with categories (data, features, business context…)

Encore plus fébrile serait Luigi sans sa torche dans ce manoir