Media Perspective: Why you should find yourself an expert in data visualisation

Last week, you'll remember with a tinge of warm nostalgia, we talked about 3D printing. I suggested, outrageously, that it's something we're all going to be playing with and using in the next few years. This week I've got a new material for us all to play with: data.

And I'd like to apologise upfront to the language purists. I'm probably going to abuse the word "data" just as we all misuse the word media, never quite being sure whether it's plural or singular. You may as well get used to it, it's only going to get worse.

Why talk about data? Because we're entering an age where data stops being something we analyse and starts being something we talk through: another medium, another material. Think about the most obvious example - data visualisation. It's long been the stuff of management accountants and planners: confusing pie charts zooming through ungainly PowerPoint transitions, but it's increasingly becoming a tool that businesses and organisations use to talk to the world.

As the world gets more complicated, but more measurable, the coherent presentation of data is becoming an important comms discipline. Just like the early days of advertising - with all those beautiful hand-drawn graphs climbing inexorably to the right and the bar-charts proving the superior formulation of Product A. Except now it's going to be live, bright and digital.

What could be a better use of those screens popping up all over the place than creating brand/business dashboards - taking direct feeds of important measures and sharing them, openly and transparently with the world? All those claims about low prices, never being undersold, delivering this, reducing that, increasing on-time departure of the other will soon be flat and unconvincing when reported on a week later in an ad.

You'll have to tell people that stuff now, live, on their devices, on your screens. And the glamorous obfuscation of traditional art direction probably won't do the job. Although creative directors will make every effort to grasp the niceties of statistical significance and logarithmic projection, presenting data in a clear, unambiguous and helpful way is a specialised skill - particularly when you're creating a digital template into which live data will be squirted. So your "dataviz" will have to cope with the everyday fluctuations of ordinary business but also the days when your trains are stuck in tunnels or your rates are suspended by regulators.

Which might mean that if you've not got a data visualisation person on staff, perhaps you should get a phone number for one. We're talking about the difference between good and bad PowerPoint - except taken out of the meeting room and turned into brand communications. And no-one wants bad PowerPoint on every poster in the land.

russell@russelldavies.com.

Topics