Mar 9 2012
The internet: it’s been around for a while now. Aaand it’s big. It is bursting with more information than we could conceive, much less absorb. Once eCommerce became popular, the number of options for goods and services skyrocketed, overshadowed only by the amount of information you could get about those options. More data (customer reviews, similar products), like lower prices, became a competitive advantage. And now social networks like Twitter and Pinterest are continually broadening the scope of information we have about people, their interests, the products they love, and who their opinion reaches. A new way to see and understand that information was needed, and the loving marriage of data and design was the result.
Data is the new soil
I’m not a designer, but I keep a copy of David McCandless’s book, The Visual Miscellaneum, on my desk. Because it is beautiful. In his TED talk McCandless referred to data the “the new soil”, and that by “visualizing information, we turn it into a landscape that you can explore with your eyes.” Pie charts and Venn diagrams aren’t cutting it anymore. Not when visualizing the efficacy of popular dietary supplements or a cultural and commercial breakdown of Pinterest users.
Data is the new history
Jer Thorp, also a TED speaker, talks about how data visualization was used to understand the history of the New York Times (where he is, true story, the Data Artist in Residence). By taking a full year’s worth of news, Thorp shows the importance and connections among the several tens of thousands of pieces of content the New York Times created. With later projects he showed how a single story is shared over time, providing a way to map it’s effect on the Twittersphere.
Google Analytics is a great everyday example of this. A tool that remembers every visitor to a website – where they came from, where they go, how they interact, and where they drop off – and presents it to you in an easily digestible format. And what makes it easily digestible? The design. The time and effort put into creating something visual out of something analytical.
Data is the new competitive edge
The more we know, the more we can do, but only if we understand the information we’re given. Data visualization, like a flash card, gives us a quick and memorable birds-eye-view of what mountains of data can tell us. And the more that becomes available, the people (or clients, or users, or visitors) want it. Infographics have become popular because people want to know! They want transparency into their social networks, their governments, and the companies they do business with. Open data means more trust, more clarity, and more possibility for positive change. So when I say data is the new competitive edge, I don’t just mean having it. I mean giving it.
Open up the coffers and let your users in.