News

News

IMF : CDIS data added to MacrobondAug 24, 2016

The Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS) is a worldwide statistical data collection effort lead by the IMF. The aim is to improve the quality of direct investment position statistics, by collecting and making available data for international investment position as well as for immediate counterpart economies. This provides a greater understanding of cross-border, financial interconnectedness. The data covers a breakdown of direct investment positions, typically including net equity and net debt positions. The CDIS is conducted annually, with data starting from 2009.

CDIS data is now (as of July) available in Macrobond, for all users. Access it here IMF > CDIS .


Macrobond chart



Macrobond chart


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Your Overview of Data AdditionsAug 16, 2016

BoE Bank liabilities survey, U.S. Shared National Credit data, & granular data for emerging markets


BoE Bank Liabilities Survey

Macrobond chart


The next Bank Liabilities Survey from the Bank of England will be released on the 14th of October 2016. Until then, we have added the data from past surveys for you to peruse. This is a quarterly survey, providing insight into lenders views on the past-  and coming- 3 months. The survey provides a better understanding of the role of lenders' liabilities and capital in driving credit and monetary conditions.

“The survey covers developments in the volume and price of bank funding; developments in the loss-absorbing capacity of banks as determined by their capital positions; and developments in the internal price charged to business units within individual banks to fund the flow of new loans, sometimes referred to as the ‘transfer price’”.

- Bank of England


U.S. Shared National Credit program

The SNC program is intended to review and asses risk in the largest and most complex credits shared by multiple financial institutions. The data refers to credits of at least $20 million, shared between 3 supervised institutions or more.


Emerging markets: More granular data

You’ll find more granular data for emerging markets is being added on an ongoing basis. The latest additions include real estate data for Brazil, foreign trade data for Macedonia, and a variety of additions for Iran (best to check the list for those).


Macrobond chart


Macrobond chart


Data additions by country

Brazil

Housing rental index

International investment position

China

PMI manufacturing by enterprise size

Remittance & overseas transfer

Denmark

Number of enterprises  

Iran

Active population

Balance of payments

Construction

External debt

Foreign trade

Government budget

National Accounts;

Production index of large manufacturing establishments

Total population

Unemployment

Israel

Commercial bank assets

Kenya

Arrival statistics

Macedonia

Foreign trade

Export & import by commodity

Mexico

International investment position

Mozambique

Balance of payments

Namibia

Balance of payments

Norway

Number of enterprises

Peru

Commercial banks’ assets

Singapore

Residential households by type of dwelling

Sweden

Number of Enterprises

U.K.

Bank of England: Bank Liabilities Survey

Northern Ireland composite economics index

U.S.

Shared National Credit Program


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Ruminations on The Development Process – Part 3Jul 25, 2016

How do we plan the next version?


If you hadn’t noticed, we launched a new version of the application on the first of July 2016. Macrobond 1.16. You can read about it here if you want to catch up on all the new features that were added. In light of this I want to write about what goes into the planning of a new version. A bit of a behind the scenes view, so to speak. Why do some things get added and others don’t? And how do we decide?


The Basics

The first thing you should know is that we have a very long list of things that we would like to add to our product. And new things are added to that list all the time. There are many reasons why we can’t just do them all at once.


One obvious reason is resources.

Developing a product is expensive. It doesn’t scale very well. If you double the number of people working on a software project, you are very lucky if you speed things up by 50%. It is kind of logarithmic with quickly diminishing returns on the investment.


Adding a basic version of a feature first in order to get feedback from the users.

We use this well proven strategy before taking the next step. But for this to work, things need to sink in. If we rush ahead too quickly, we might end up moving in the wrong direction.


Changing the product too quickly puts a strain on the users.

Users need to be educated and learn to use the new features. Some users like new things; others hate when things are changed.


Long term planning – rarely works

Things are changing all the time. So are priorities. Over the years I have spent countless hours making long term plans and doing detailed time estimates. This has been a waste of time. Long term plans never hold. New things come up and priorities change before the full plan is executed. If you choose to ignore this and stick to the original plan, you end up with an inferior product. If you abandon the plan you have wasted all that time planning and there is always someone who expects you to deliver. And to deliver on time.


Time estimates – rarely work

Even if you make it very clear that the time estimates are very uncertain, they still tend to be taken as a promise, and there is always someone who is upset by the “delay”.

What about making a good time estimate? Very time consuming. And you really have to dig into the details in order to make even a fairly rough estimate. Essentially, to make a perfect time estimate, you might need to spend as much or more time on the estimate as on the implementation. The effect is that you have moved the uncertainty of how long it takes to implement a feature from the implementation phase to the planning.


What will you add next year? - I am proud to say, I don’t know!

This is how we do it:
  • We aim to deliver a new version every 3-5 months.
  • When we have implemented all the features for a new version we let internal and beta testers use it for 1-2 weeks in a final test phase. From then on we will only work on bug fixes.
  • During the final test phase, we take a look at our long list of things we would like add to the next version of the product and pick some things from the list that we think would take 3-5 months to implement.

We often implement a basic version of a feature in a given version, and then refine it in future versions. That way we get feedback before taking the next step, which results in a better product.


Taking things as they come

It does happen that our time estimates are completely wrong. If things are easier to implement, and so take less time, we consider adding more things to that version. If things take a much longer time, we can either postpone that version, add the feature to the next version or, in the worst case, skip it altogether.

This approach gives us a lot of flexibility to adapt our development to changing conditions. It also makes it possible to respond quickly to new important requirements. If we implement complex features in several smaller steps, it gives us an opportunity get feedback. Taking on shorter projects also works better for most people. It makes it possible to focus hard on something for a few months and then take a breath before you move on to something new. Some things we do might be rocket science. But we are not building a rocket to the moon with an absolute deadline, where work on the project is complete when it is launched. We are in this for a long time!


So, what’s the catch?

One drawback is that we cannot provide a long term roadmap. We certainly have some long term ideas about the direction in which we’re heading, but we do not know how long it takes to get there. My experience is that most long term ideas will never be realized because they are out of fashion, priorities change, and other things become more important.

For this reason, we don’t communicate our long term ideas. Because if we do, we cannot be as flexible as we need to be. Even if they are just ideas, there would be pressure to deliver.


How do we decide which features to add next?

We look at a number of factors when we decide what things to attempt to do in the next version.

  • The priority we get from customer feedback.
  • The amount of time it takes to build something.
  • Looking forward.
    We try to add features that no one has asked for, but that we think would be useful for many users.
  • Developer resources.
    Some of us are better at certain things. There can also be conflicts if several developers work on the same “area” of the application.
  • Interdependencies.
    Interdependencies require building one feature before we can build another feature with a higher priority. There might also be dependencies on other parts of our IT infrastructure or data that must be in place before we can do our part.
  • Technical requirements.
    Sometimes we need to adapt to new technical requirements, such as new versions of Windows or Office.
  • Diversity.
    It’s preferable to try and include some improvements in all of the main areas of the application for most versions. For instance, we may try to improve charting functionalities in each version.
  • Housekeeping and maintenance.
    Every now and then we need to replace parts of the internal plubming in the application just in order to have a solid foundation to build on in the future.
  • Fun.
    I must admit that there have been cases where we have done some things just because they are more fun to build than some other thing.

Now I need to stop writing! We have a new version to plan and I need to do some real work.

More

Finding data by conceptJul 6, 2016

A new feature for faster, more intuitive data navigation

User intentions

They're what drive the way we design data navigation at Macrobond. Organizing data to reflect your intentions for it? By far the simplest and quickest way to gather what you're looking for.

But, your intentions aren't always the same. This is why we work with multiple views for the economics database.

You're probably familiar with the Economics - by country (major), and Economics - by source views, for example.

By country is ideal when you want to view all the data for one country, in one place. When your focus is on the releases of a particular source, then it's by source you should be using.


Economics - by concept

Today we want to introduce the by concept view. It's an on-going project, to make navigating data as efficient as possible in the application. The by concept view is for when you're interested in a particular indicator, but want to compare the data across a variety of countries or regions. It removes the repetitive work of searching for, and selecting the data for each entity individually.

When navigating the by concept view you're able to access the data via two categories, National sources or All sources.


National Sources

Navigating via National sources will allow you to find data sourced from national sources, such as statistics agencies, and central banks.


National sources

All Sources

Under All sources you'll find the majority of the data is sourced from International organizations such as BIS, IMF and OECD. However, national sources are, as the name suggests, also included in the All sources view.


All sources

Both of these views allow you to drill down by standardized subcategories, the same as those you'll see in the by country views. So, you're always dealing with a familiar pattern.


Excel Integration

As with all the other views, navigating the data this way is not only done within the application, but can also be done from within Excel, as you can see below.


By Concept Excel
More

Macrobond 1.16Jun 30, 2016

Release Notes

New features in version 1.16 of the Macrobond application

Enhanced document & chart sharing, & overview capabilities

With version 1.16 of the application you will find that working with documentation & charts is much simpler and more efficient. From creating dynamic presentations to tweeting charts, making use of your work product easily, in a variety of contexts, has been a central focus of this update.

The following text will guide you through these & other changes: what they are, where you can find them, and the different ways you can make use of them.

You are always welcome to contact the Macrobond team to arrange access or if you have any questions.

Click on the link for How to upgrade in the Overview section below if you would like more information.


Webinar

Introduction to 1.16

If you want to get a head start on using the new features, we will be hosting a live webinar introducing you to Macrobond 1.16.

Follow this link to register your place, and choose a date and time that suits you (there are four options).


Overview of what’s new

Presentation documents Analytics & charting
Exporting & sharing charts Navigating the application
Document handling How to upgrade


Presentation documents

As the name suggests, presentation documents are used to organize charts and tables so that you can easily and professionally showcase an overview of your work. The Presentation documents window opens outside the application to give you more flexibility for working with, sharing and presenting charts. Charts can be organized by pages and in folders.


Macrobond Presentation Document
An example of two pages in Presentation documents, containing six charts each.

Benefits of Presentation documents

  • Get an overview of multiple charts at once. You can make changes to the charts in the application and see this reflected in the presentation document in real-time. The Presentation documents window can be viewed on a second monitor to enhance your ability to work with multiple charts efficiently.
  • Add and organize an unlimited number of charts from different documents in one place. Save presentation documents for your personal use or for sharing with others. You can browse through the pages using the Page Down and Page Up keys on your keyboard.
  • Print or export a presentation document with a number of charts (in this version PDF creation only works on Win10). This will then work as an alternative to PowerPoint.

A simple, dynamic alternative to PowerPoint

While Presentation documents does not have the same formatting options as PowerPoint, it does contain some simple editing options. It also allows you to present dynamic charts. For example, you can easily:

  • Create presentations with a multitude of charts. Simple header and footer options are available for adding text, as well as formatting columns for chart display. Style sheet options include selecting text positioning, size, color, font, and background color.
  • Easily share presentations in the application. By using your company account, for example, just like you do with other Macrobond documents.
  • Avoid broken links between the application and your presentation documents. You will be warned before deleting documents that are linked. See which documents are being used for presentations, and in which presentations documents they are being used.

We plan to make it possible to view these documents on the web based Macrobond.NET in the future.


To get started with Presentation documents have a look at this easy-to-follow help guide.

If you have already installed the new version click on this link to see a sample presentation document: Macrobond chart library : What's new/1.16/Presentation/Sweden summary.

If you have not updated yet click on the yellow ribbon that you’ll see when you open the Macrobond application.


Exporting & sharing charts

Twitter

To help you share your insights quickly with a larger audience, you can now send charts directly to Twitter from the Macrobond application. You can select the size of the image (which affects the amount of characters used) as well as add an accompanying text.

Sending tweets from the Macrobond application
An example of how the Twitter dialog box will appear in the application.

When you have a chart open, go to File and select Send to Twitter. The first time you use this feature, you’ll be asked to log in to your twitter account via the Macrobond application, in order to approve access.

If you want to revoke the application’s access to your Twitter account. You can do so on the Twitter “Applications” page.

For a more detailed explanation see the help page.


SVG

Use SVG to smoothly export your charts and tables to the web, or programs such as Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. In addition to PNG (bitmap) and EMF (metafile) we now offer a format called SVG via the export, web publish and copy to clipboard functions. To adjust the way text and fonts are handled in SVG go to Edit | Settings | SVG, in the top menu bar.

See the help page for this feature here.


Share

On the same topic of reaching a broader audience more easily, if you run Windows 10 you can now send images of Macrobond charts to Windows apps. Sharing is as simple as opening the relevant chart, and selecting one of the multiple ways to share the image: via the File menu, the toolbar, context menu, or with the Ctrl+H shortcut. There is also a Share button in the Web publish activity in the Macrobond application.


Macrobond charts sent via Windows10 Share feature
The Share feature will bring up the standard Windows 10 share options similar to this.

Document handling

Document revisions

To give you greater control over your work product it is now possible to revert to older versions of a document. For documents stored in one of the account storages, you can access the last 10 versions. These versions will be available for up to one year. This feature is also available for Style sheets.

Right click on a document in the File, Open dialog and you will see an item called Older versions:


Accessing previous file versions in the Macrobond application

Recently deleted

To make sure you don’t accidentally lose valuable documents, all deleted documents or folders stored in a company account will be moved to a folder called Recently deleted. Documents will be stored here for a few months, allowing you to retrieve them.

This folder will always be last in your list of folders. The folder will be created automatically the first time you delete something, but you may need to press refresh to view it immediately.

Documents will automatically be deleted from the “Recently deleted” folder after a few months.

Accessing the recently deleted files and folders

Referenced documents

You can see if a document is used in Presentation documents or published on the web using the Web publish feature by selecting Used in from the context menu of a document. You can open presentation documents from this menu if you have access to them.


Checking where the Macrobond chart was used in

Pin documents

For documents you need to access quickly or frequently, you can now pin to the top of the start activity. Pinned documents will always the first of the recently opened documents shown. Hovering your mouse over the document will activate the pin symbol. Simply click on it to pin the document.

Pinning certain documents to the Macrobond's start activity

Analytics & charting

Confidence bands in VAR

We have added an option for generating series for the confidence band in the VAR analysis. You can select whether you want to include the parameter uncertainty or not. This could potentially be a heavy calculation.


Trend output from X13

There is a new option called Calculate trend in the Seasonal Adjustment Census X-13 analysis. This will produce an extra time series containing the trend output from the seasonal adjustment model.


Data range in the series list

You can specify an optional data range in the series list if you want to limit the time series used in the document. The range is applied to the series before any other operations, such as frequency conversion.


Setting a data-range for a Macrobond document

Hold shift key to lock annotations

Holding the shift key down when drawing line or arrow annotations will ensure that your lines are perfectly horizontal or vertical.

Holding the shift key down when changing the size of text boxes will constrain the text box to square proportions.


Copy/paste colors

You can now copy a selected color using the copy and paste commands, and apply this to the color settings for other segments of the chart.

Copying a color in Macrobond

Always show start page

The start activity will now be shown by default when you open the application. If you would like start with the most recently used activity, uncheck the option Always show this activity when starting, in the lower right corner of the start activity.

Always show this activity when starting Macrobond

Unread news notification

There is a new indicator in the status bar that tells you if there are any unread news items. This is where you can find out about new data added to the application database, new features and fixes to the application, and posts such as the Development team’s blog. Click the links in the notifications to read the news on our website.

Unread news indicator

How To Upgrade

The new version can be installed directly via the Macrobond application by clicking the yellow ribbon, which appears on the screen, or by selecting Check for update on the Help menu. If you need assistance, a description of how to upgrade may be found here.

In Macrobond 1.16 we have dropped support for Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008. The minimum requirements are now Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2.

If you are running a version of Windows not supported by this version of Macrobond, you can continue to run the older version until support ends for that version. Those dates can be found here: https://help.macrobond.com/additional-materials/product-versions/

Please note that this upgrade requires admin rights, so you may need to ask your IT department for assistance.

If you are unable to make use of automatic updates or use the setup program on http://www.macrobond.com/go/installation, then please note that upgrades to 1.16 cannot be done by simply installing a patch (MSP file). You need to install the base installation (MSI file) and the corresponding patch (MSP file).

More

OECD ANA data addedAug 24, 2016

More progress in the OECD data project with the addition of ANA data to the application database.


Government expenditure by function (COFOG)

This data provides you with a breakdown of government expenditure, grouped by government function. The OECD ANA data is primarily organized by country, so you’ll find it under OECD, ANA Annual National Accounts, select the country, and then Government Expenditure by Function. Below is an example of how the data is broken down into categories, under total government expenditure, for Belgium.

OECD > ANA Annual National Accounts > Belgium > Government Expenditure by Function (COFOG)


COFOG

Government deficit/surplus, revenue, expenditure & main aggregates

This data is intended to provide an accurate representation, to the extent it is possible, of the aggregates and balances of the general government sector. For most countries data is also available for subsectors of general government. Again, this subset of data is primarily organized by country and can be accessed accordingly.

OECD > ANA Annual National Accounts > Australia > Main Aggregates of General Government & Its Sub-Sectors > Simplified General Governments Accounts


Simplified General Governments Accounts

Simplified non-financial accounts

This set covers data from gross value added to net lending, and net borrowing. The example below shows the subcategories of the set, which is organized by country, in this case Italy.

OECD > ANA Annual National Accounts > Italy > Simplified Non-Financial Accounts


Simplified Non-Financial Accounts

Non-financial accounts by sector

This data spans the whole of non-financial accounts, from production accounts to acquisition of non-financial assets accounts.

OECD > ANA Annual National Accounts > Sweden > Non Financial Accounts by Sectors > Non-Financial Accounts by Sectors


Non-Financial Accounts by Sectors

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Your overview of data additionsAug 2, 2016

National Accounts for Iran, Market expectations for Argentina & Manufacturing orders for Germany


A Varied Group of Data Additions

This week we've added data across frontier, emerging, as well as developed markets, from the basic to the niche. What can I say? There isn’t always a clear trend- I’m sure you can relate.


To give you a preview, we’ve added survey data of market expectations from Argentina’s central bank, national accounts data for Iran, monetary aggregates for Ghana, housing affordability data for Hong Kong, and more detailed and extensive coverage of Manufacturing: New orders data for Germany.


With such a variety of data being added, it’s definitely worth spending a little more time on the list of data additions this week, to see what could be of interest to you. As usual, you’ll find links to the data below the charts, listed by country and region.


Macrobond chart


Macrobond chart


Macrobond chart


Macrobond chart


Data by Country

Argentina

Market expectations survey (REM)

Brazil

Leading indicators

China

Annual IIP

Short-term liquidity operations

Local government bond yields: AAA & AAA rates

France

Average debt maturity

Egypt

IIP

Germany

Manufacturing: New orders

Ghana

Money supply

Greece

Arrivals by country & region

Hong Kong

Affordability Ratio

Iran

National accounts: Expenditure approach

National accounts: Income approach

National Accounts: Production approach

Nigeria

FX Spot Rates

IIP

Singapore

CCI

South Africa

CPI Weights

Switzerland

Employment by region


Get the news delivered to your inbox

If you like keeping up with the what’s new, but you’re more of an email person, then this is for you! Click on the link below to get this bi-weekly overview of the data additions by email.

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Your Overview of Data AdditionsJul 18, 2016

Surveys and frontier markets.


Surveys

This week survey data has been added from a variety of sources. Both worldwide, and UK specific indicators were added. In the chart below you’ll see the EPU Index, and Migration Fear Index, as well as a chart showing consumer confidence data for the UK. Click on the charts or use the links at the end of the post to further explore the data.


Macrobond chart



Macrobond chart


Frontier & Emerging Markets

Core indicators have been added for Papua New Guinea. The first additions of data from local sources from this country include balance of payments, CPI, government and public finance data, and national accounts.


Macrobond chart


For Saudi Arabia banking and credit, and balance of payments data has been added. The chart below covers data for consolidated balance sheets of commercial banks for the country.


Macrobond chart


Data Additions by Country

Global

Migration fears & economic policy uncertainty

China

Population by province

Denmark

Registered sales of weekend cottages – Regional level

France

INSEE employment data by department

Ireland

Domestic GFCF

Japan

Government bond trading volume - Category of investor

Government bond trading volume - Totals

Malaysia

IIP – Local & abroad

New Zealand

Weekly oil price monitoring

Norway

Applications for asylum

Papua New Guinea

Balance of payments

Consumer price index

Government & public finance data

National accounts

Saudi Arabia

Consolidated balance sheet of commercial banks

International investment position

Spain

CPI weights

U.K.

GFK - UK consumer saving index


Get the news delivered to your inbox

If you like keeping up with the what’s new, but you’re more of an email person, then this is for you! Click on the link below to get this bi-weekly overview of the data additions by email.

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Your Overview of Data AdditionsJul 5, 2016

Brexit, Trillary & Emerging markets


Get the news delivered to your inbox

If you like keeping up with the what’s new, but you’re more of an email person, then this is for you!
Click on the link below to get this bi-weekly overview of the data additions by email.

Sign up to get this news in your inbox.


Current Events

One of our core focuses when it comes to deciding which data to add to the database is responding quickly to current events. Leading up to the Brexit vote, leave/remain opinion poll data was made available.

Our latest addition on the theme concerns the uncertainty around the EU, specifically whether membership in the EU is considered a good thing or a bad thing. Have a look at the chart below for a quick overview of the Eurobarometer data from DG COMM. Alternatively, you can click on the link here, or in the list at the end, to navigate straight to the data in the application.


Macrobond chart


From the other side of the Atlantic, away from Brexit chaos, but no less tumultuous, we bring you U.S. presidential poll data, from RealClearPolitics. This data covers daily opinion poll measurements on Clinton and Trump. For the moment Hillary is still holding on to a small margin, but you never can be too sure about what’s going to happen with Donald in the mix.

Speaking of which… there’s the U.S. recession probability indicator from the NY FED. The data is generated using a model which looks at the difference between 10-year and three-month Treasury rates to calculate the probability of a recession in the U.S. 12 months ahead. Have a look at the chart below, in which recession probability data is compared with ISM manufacturing PMI data.


Macrobond chart


Emerging Markets

True to form we have some additions for the emerging markets too. Foreign debt for Turkey, key macro indicators for Myanmar, as well as additions for Paraguay, Panama, and Namibia, to name a few.


Macrobond chart


Macrobond chart


Data Additions by Country

Global

BIS Credit to Non-Financial Sectors

Australia

House hold projections by State

Chile

 House Price Index 

China

National Labor Strikes by Industry

SGE Gold Benchmark Price

Czech Republic

Population by Age

France

Department Employment Breakdown

Germany

Demography: Applications for Asylum

Decisions on Applications for Asylum Received

Guernsey

Residential Property Prices

Japan

Tertiary Activities Index Weights

Jordan

Tourism Statistics 

Myanmar (Burma)

Consumer Price Index

Employment

Gross Domestic Product

Total Import & export

Unemployment

Namibia

National Accounts

Panama

Panama Canal Statistics

Economic Activity Index (IMAE)

Paraguay

National Accounts

Switzerland

Business New Entries

Turkey

Short-term External Debt Stock: Currency Composition

Short-term External Debt Stock: Remaining Maturity Basis

U.K.

Regional Breakdown: Net Supply of Housing

Nationwide House Price Index

U.S.

RealClearPolitics Presidential Poll

Recession Probability

Europe

Duke/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook Survey

DG COMM Eurobarometer

More

Ruminations on The Development Process – Part 2Jun 27, 2016

Collecting feedback. (Or, what goes wrong when you leave it to someone else)


In last month's post I wrote about why I think it’s important for me (and other developers) to know about the businesses and users that are going to use the product we develop. So, meeting clients and getting feedback via customer support are really useful sources of information for us. But what happens when we simply receive a request, with no opportunity to understand the user’s context? Let me guide you through some of my past experiences to give you an idea…


"Nice, but how do I print?" – Miscommunication and Preconception

When you ask users what they need in a product, they often leave things out. Because we all operate from within our own worldview, we take certain things for granted and have implicit expectations. The thing is, it’s not always obvious to us when our assumptions aren’t shared by those we’re speaking to.

If a user says:

"I want to be able to create documents that I can save"

The user probably takes for granted that a saved document can be printed and shared too. From a user perspective, why wouldn’t it? That’s how many other programs work.

And if a user says:

"I want this to be presented as a table"

There might be an expectation that it’s possible to sort the table, because that’s how it works in Excel. Not an unreasonable expectation, but an unspoken one, none the less.


"I want transparent charts" – Design by User

When working on another project many years ago as a consultant, we got a feature request from the product manager:

"Users want transparent backgrounds in charts"

This wasn’t difficult to implement, so we added it to the product. Great, we thought, and ticked it off our list. But then we got another request…

"The users are not happy with the transparent charts. They want to control the x and y axes too, so that they are perfectly identical in all charts. Please add the settings so that the users can control all aspects of the axes. This is a request from the head of market data working for this very important client."

I didn’t understand why this was important, or why it was mentioned in relation to transparent charts. So, I asked the program manager. He in turn asked the head of market data, who asked the users. A couple of weeks later I got the answer: they want to stack several charts on top of each other. No closer to understanding why someone would want to do that, I asked again. After another long delay I got the answer:

"The users want to combine lines and bars in the same chart."

Well why didn’t they just say so? We could easily have created a much better solution than stacking transparent charts! What had happened was that when users wanted to combine bars and lines, they tried to solve this by stacking charts. It didn’t work. But, since they thought it would be easy for us to make charts transparent, they asked for that, rather than describing what they really wanted to accomplish. This is very common. Many of the requests and the feedback we receive are for specific features and do not actually describe what problem the user is trying to solve.


The Error of Omission

Different people have different ideas about what makes a thing, that thing. To start with, developing software is quite abstract, open to a degree of freedom you don’t see when designing something like a car. Add to this the very human habit of leaving out bits of information that we take for granted. Then add people. Each with their own ideas about what makes a thing, that thing, all involved in passing messages and information back and forth, leaving out all the things that people took for granted and didn’t mention… Well! If it seems like it’s confusing to write about, try building it.

As I see it, when you talk to someone about a design or feature, you both build a mental model of what the result should be like. The difficult part is to synchronize those models. But, learning more about each other’s needs and experiences can often help.


The Moral of the Story

We, the developers, need to understand how you, the users, work in order to understand what you need. What’s even better is if we can learn about what you want to accomplish, and not only how you currently do things, or how you think they should be done. One way for us to learn is for us to come out of hiding, and meet you. That’s how really good products are created. Together.

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