Data visualisation is a big thing.
We work alot with data driven digital signage. We see how fast data and data visualisations can benefit organisations in terms of clear and impactful communication.
To dig deeper and really understand the opportunities with data visualisation you need to understand art, industrial design and data (research).
But you’re probably wondering:
“How to find out the bottom line about data visualisation, what’s in it for me?” We needed someone smart to step in and explain a bit.
I had the opportunity to pick the brain of Jeroen Carelse who teaches dataviz at Aalto University, Helsinki and is on the cusp of data, entrepreneurship and art.
Here is our Q&A with Jeroen:
What is data visualisation?
Q: Our focus is on communications and data visualisation. There’s a lot of talk about data visualisation, but this can be understood in many ways. How would you describe data visualisation?
A: One starting point is to consider that telling a story based on something that is measured or experienced data. So you tell a story with this data as you want to convey a message.
By telling a story you make choices, you select data and you might omit data. You highlight data or decide the direction the data points to.
This is surprising:
I think this is not well understood as people talk about data as being facts, truths. Nothing can be more far from the truth. Data can be anything, any mix, any subset of a larger picture. Flatten a graph and it looks little dramatic, change the scale on the y-axis and little bumps suddenly look very dramatic. All the same data but differently visualised.
So you tell stories with data.
Data visualisation is the opportunity for impactful communication
Q: When we talk about company culture and enterprise strategy, corporate communication is one key area there to make sure the employees understand the big picture and their role in it.
One could say we work in the intersection of big data, data visualisation and internal communications. In your opinion, why should communications teams care about data visualisation?
A: If you have control over your data and you know what your enterprise stands for then you got a powerful tool.
Don’t add noise:
If on the other hand you don’t speak data and you don’t know what to say you mainly add more noise.
This counts for all kinds of communication, internal and external, motivational, informative, convincing, persuading, pressuring, manipulating. An enterprise that knows this can use it for good or not.
Share the data to make the organisation better
Q: You said smart enterprise works on the transition from now to a data sustainable future. Could you tell a bit more about this, what is data sustainable future?
A: I want to live in a world where we have a better insight in how the world works. This is about transparency and willingness to share data and information.
You might be wondering:
Now, these are great words and concepts but the current reality is that of protectionism and of enterprises being careful. All for good or perhaps less good reasons but that is where we are now I think.
Things are evolving:
I see this being a gradual process and especially for enterprises the clue is to find within that process these little opportunities that bring them or more revenue or a better image or more motivated people or a combination of those and many others.
Food for thought:
It is about who do you want to be as an organisation and how do you want the data to assist you in your ambitions. You can hide, obfuscate, manipulate data as much as you like and get a nice graph I can assure you. But is this who you want to be or would you rather sow the seeds now and pick the fruits later
What about Big Data?
A: Big data means also a big potential to tell many stories. So you come back to the question: what do you want to tell to your employees and partners? Are you 100% honest, what does that mean? How deep do you want to dig in the data to explain why a certain outcome is what it is?
With large data sets you can find many correlations, 1 thing might lead to another.
An increase in revenue might lead to hiring more people. You can look for that and you might find it. It doesn’t mean that it IS like that as the increase in more people could also come from moving the factories to low labour countries.
So the problem is that data is a raw material with which you can sculpt many outcomes. BUT, one decision leads to another that leads to another. If you decide that “more revenue —> more hires” then you set yourself up for a certain direction and exclude many others.
Here’s the catch:
A good organisation gives access to data, gives the tools to – eventually – understand that data from the many angles that exist. Data visualisation is more like a kaleidoscope than a microscope…
Start with “what” to maximise the impact
Q: You mentioned data as a tool. What advice would you give to an organisation that would like to use data visualisation as a tool in employee communication?
A: What do you want to achieve? What emotion, what mind set…What do you want to communicate?
What is your story:
Do you want to use your data to paint a rosy future, the raw reality of uncertainty, opportunities if some things fall in place? These and many more can be considered when dealing with data.
It is an illusion to think that data always results in the same outcome, especially BIG data.
Jeroen has a background in arts and industrial design. He has been a lecturer at Aalto University Media lab since 2008 teaching data visualisation and service development.
Jeroen is a multidisciplinary person involved also in several information centered startups. He is on the cusp of data, entrepreneurship and art.
We would like to thank Jeroen for taking this time to talk with us and share his views regarding this highly interesting topic. So, thanks Jeroen, always a pleasure!