Prototyping Layout and Design with Datazen

In looking at Datazen recently, there is one feature that jumped out at me as being very useful for prototyping. Datazen calls it the 'Design-First' methodology.

In the Datazen Publisher app (available from the Windows store), you can work in the Layout View prior to having the Data View set up (i.e., the underlying query which retrieves the source data). In this screen shot I have dropped a handful of elements onto the design surface in Layout View pane:

How is it that I am seeing any numbers in the above screen shot? The preview numbers are from the "simulated data" that Datazen sets up for each element after the element has been added to the dashboard layout. In this screen shot I have switched from the Layout View pane to the Data View pane:

Above we see that Datazen has set up 3 tables of simulated data to support the 5 design elements I have added to the design surface.

This is very interesting for the following reasons:

  • We can refine the layout / design / aesthetics of the dashboard before addressing the underlying data view (query). Anyone who has gone back and forth on design many times with several people with different opinions will immediately see the value in this Design-First approach.
  • This makes it possible for a non-technical user, someone who isn't familiar with the SQL language for instance, to handle the front-end layout independently of the data view. The person constructing the data view will be able to have a better understanding of what will be done with the data.
  • The simulated data can be exported and used as a template for what the actual data view should really look like. Someone who understands how to create the underlying query can use the simulated data as a guide for the columns to be output and row granularity. It doesn't guarantee there won't be multiple iterations to get it right, and it doesn't mean you are required to produce the data view the exact same way, but it is nice to have the additional information available when you start to write the query.

When the data view (query) has been published to the Datazen server, then the properties for each element can be updated to refer to the correct table and column. Once all references to a simulated table are gone, the simulated table disappears from the Data View pane.

To me, the biggest risk of this approach is that by reviewing the dashboard layout with simulated data, other team members may think the dashboard is closer to completion than it really is (depending on complexity of the underlying queries). This is often the problem we have with prototyping, which can be handled with good communication and teamwork. 

Use of simulated data is shown in this short video:

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