Guest Post: Hoa Tong, Array Interactive
If you’ve been keeping current with the latest business industry practices the last decade, you’ve probably seen that many significant company decisions today affecting time, money, and outcome are no longer made based solely on executive counsel, trends, or even past experiences. They’re now made based on pure data that the company has obtained.
Successful enterprises like Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and many others operate this way – wholly dependent on the solid data gathered to fuel their businesses.
This is no surprise and makes perfect business sense, but raw data alone, however, is not enough to grant the insights desired to know what the business needs. It takes time to connect the dots to the bigger business picture and then present it in a way that everyone understands. This comes from the power of data visualization.
Welcome to the World of Data Visualization
According to information technology author Stephen Few, data visualization is the graphical display of abstract information for two purposes: sense-making (also called data analysis) and communication. Important stories live in our data and data visualization is a powerful means to discover and understand these stories, and then to present them to others.
Take a look at the visual comparison below between the table of survey data called “What’s Your Dream Company?” and its data visualization equivalent taken from the “Storytelling with Data” blog:
From the 2nd example above, we see that the organization of data visually can have a dramatic impact on how easy it is to understand and retain not just data, but its intended message. Organized data increases comprehension and enables better, faster, and easier interpretation It also allows us to ask informed questions and, ultimately, make wiser decisions.
Interacting with Big Data
While there has always been basic data visualization tools used in business, the biggest difference today is that companies can now live stream and interact immediately with digitized data.
Author Phil Simon of the book, “The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions,” says that at the most advanced companies, “You’ll see that employees are doing a great deal more than creating simple graphs, bar charts, and pivot tables. Employees here are interacting with their data, and learning new things about their businesses in the process.”
This is a very powerful shift in business because it allows companies to discover and learn new, important operational and success attributes that will fuel business growth. And with the capability of data interaction, businesses are no longer just passively viewing it, but letting their people experience it. Why? Simon notes that “Today more than ever, professionals are being asked to argue their cases and make their decisions based on data. A new, data-oriented mind-set is permeating the business world.”
Experiencing Data Visualization in Big Ways
The days of displaying big data and their visualizations on a piece of paper have faded. With access to dynamic data sources, the only way to properly consume and synthesize what the data means is to visualize it in real time. In fact, there is a growing interest among companies to boldly display data visualizations in their corporate lobbies, dedicated mission control-type meeting rooms, executive briefing centers or customer experience centers, and within special museum-like exhibits. While these installations have practical internal value for real-time decision making, many are also used as marketing and sales tools, depicting a company’s understanding of the new dynamic, and digitized corporate world.
Experiential designers understand that when data visualizations (not just raw data) are presented in a larger-than-life fashion on video walls or digital signage and/or are allowed to be interacted with (input, altered, or shared), intended audiences can begin to experience the data in a purposeful way rather than just passively view it.
Personal Examples of Experiential Data Visualization
As the Creative Director at an experiential design agency, I had the opportunity to develop and design data visualizations for enterprise clients. I’ve seen first-hand how focusing data as content can support important, strategic, customer-centric conversations. Here are a couple of examples:
Cisco asked us to conceive a digital interactive experience for their customer experience center to help them show a unique story: the $19 trillion of opportunities available in the next decade for companies who embrace and prepare their organizations for an Internet of Everything (IoE or IoT). Thousands of data points, primary research data, and other on-demand content conveying connected data, processes, and things was synthesized and delivered to a 3×2 video wall and two accompanying interactive touch displays. This on-demand data visualizations depicted available opportunities across 21 countries and to numerous industry verticals such as manufacturing, retail, telecommunications, healthcare, automotive, and technology.
Data visualizations were designed to be interacted with. By touching or swiping interface elements on the screens or by inputting data into fields, one could see personalized data results. However, the integration and presentation of data was secondary to the primary goal: present Cisco as uniquely positioned to guide its customers to IoE opportunities, readying their business and network to seize market advantages and available revenue.
ABC Energy (fictitious name used to protect the interests of the client) is a utilities company based in California. ABC Energy had a trading floor and used an elaborate set of desktop displays to present raw, standard data tables. The company’s traders would rely on these smaller format displays and the real-time data they served to inform and make strategic trading decisions. Two challenges were evident:
- Data visualizations were not visually intuitive and often contained data not relevant to core decision making
- Critical content was not within easy viewing distance given the proximity of the displays to the trading staff
The primary focus for our agency was to revitalize the trading floor experience by creating a more intuitive, visually-friendly set of data visualization designs customized for presentation on a new 10×2 video wall. Our experiential design team created sleek energy data visualizations (tables, charts, and graphs) to achieve the objectives. Real-time data was placed atop subtle animations that reflected ABC’s different energy assets. While each animation was designed to be beautiful, dramatic, and mesmerizing to look at, their inclusion was purposeful: to create a pleasing backdrop for data that was viewed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Working in parallel with the creative team, our developers tied the front-end, HTML-based applications to secure energy data sources, dynamically populating the various visualizations. Now empowered, traders no longer wrestle cognitively with data, but enjoy a visual and experiential solution that increases the speed and accuracy of the decision-making process.
Big data and data visualizations are here to stay. It’s now a crucial part of advanced companies’ learning and decision making processes and when designed to be displayed in big and bold ways in public or private spaces, it lets intended audiences understand and experience the data and not just view it.
It’s become a crucial part of experiential design, where companies are seeking solutions to visualize data in ways that will position them for the digitized world and economy.