In a world of big data, what comes next? We are swimming in facts and figures, we have mountains of information…So what! There are hackathons, getting brilliant minds to work out what it might show, plugging the piles of facts into applications to “make lives easier”. Analysts trawl through, trying to discover trends, show movement and pass on intelligence. The ultimate goal is informed decisions, an organisation moving in directions influenced by knowledge of what happens when variables change. (oohhh, the mathematician in me squeals with excitement at the thought of this.)
SO what do we do with it, the data, after all the analysing? Well, the apps have it right, they are the interface between the big data and the decision makers. They stick it on maps, timetables, little squares with prices…no matter the data, they sort it, pull out the important bits and PRESENT IT.
We all like our information presented. Scrolling through sheet and sheets of figures is not everyone’s favourite thing (I love it but I’m officially weird) We create tables of indicators, process flowcharts, maps of data points or polygons of density, paragraphs of analysis narrative, charts and graphs of all shapes and sizes.
For me infographics are data visualisation at its best, showing complex information in an easily digestible format, I love a good picture. Some people only trust data when it’s in a table or feel comfortable when there is comprehensive narrative around it. Some people want a chart or graph, others associate them with maths and switch off. Knowing your audience is great, realising that what you like may not be for everyone, also a good idea. Diversify, multitask, vary your delivery, however it’s put, when the analysis has been done and the story is ready to be told, cover your bases, tell it in different presentation options (or go with infographics, they are the best)
Sometimes an image is the only way to go, when the amount of data is so large there is only one way to get your point across. To stop people thinking of it as data and just see the answer they need, visualise it. Data is not always numbers, sometimes it’s just information. When faced with trying to explain a complex software system in one image to fit on a web page, no scrolling, you need to cut words and paste pictures. Below is the original and then my finished product.
This is an example that I put together as part of a contest. It illustrates how sometimes the explanation of what is needed comes scribbled on the back of an envelope and it takes some careful work to create an attractive, professional image that tells the story.
The range of options available for presenting information is wide and very much depends on what you want to say and who to. I have been guilty of following a route for an infographic because I thought it would look cool, only to discover once the data was added, that the reality was messy and confusing. I learnt my lesson and now I let the data lead the way, keeping my options open and trying several ways before settling on a final product.
There will always be differing opinions on the best way to digest data and I am always prepared to use all the options that make sense but my main love will always be a clever, clean infographic.