It may be an anecdotal observation, but it sure seems that InfoGraphics – those mostly creative explorations into the visualizations of what are often very complex datasets – are on the rise. Take the image on the right – a visualization of a handful of simple datasets showing the relative success of various Taco Bell product launches, but done in a very creative, consumable way. It caught my eye, it delivered a message. If it had been a bulleted list, would I have taken the time to explore the image and read the related content? Nope.
This surge of data visualizations is largely a good thing, but is it spoiling our appetite for the mundane world of spreadsheets and day-to-day data management? I’d say yes, then ask you to pass the tacos.
Increasingly, the role of data visualization in our daily content consumption has increased dramatically, whether flipping through a magazine or sitting through a presentation at work. But even these visually pleasing, but static representations of data are not enough for our voracious data needs. A huge part of the rapid expansion of the app model (across all of our devices) is our constant need to find data sources, compile it, format it, tweak it repeatedly, and then share it with others. It’s becoming part of our collaboration culture.
Things have come a long way since I was a technical project manager for the phone company, managing all front-end tools for our massive consumer data warehouses, with tools like Business Objects and SAS providing ways for our power users to slice and dice gargantuan amounts of data on our customers, blended with geographic, demographic, and psychographic data to help the company better identify patterns and predict behavior, thus helping us to better measure success rates of existing programs as well as develop new programs for thins like conservation. Even before Pacific Telesis, I was at EDS working with power users on SAS tools to comb through terabytes of data to pull out critical analytics and build consumable reports….which were our early attempts at data visualization. In fact, I became quite the expert at the old version of Excel, back before it moved to VB from its proprietary language, is making ugly data more visually pleasing.
I remember seeing a demo of the sparkline features in Excel and thinking “Wow, this is really cool stuff.” A good friend of mine at Microsoft (and fellow Duvall-ian), Jamey Tisdale (@jameyt), was working with Ray Ozzie’s team a few years back about providing a beautiful and functional real-time dashboard into Microsoft’s adCenter platform, among other data sources, called LookingGlass (which, unfortunately, never took off) that sought to provide a real-time method for tracking ad placement metrics. Think about it: color-changes based on response rates (open rates) per headline or ad copy, or a moving, changing geographic heat map that allows you to modify campaigns and regional targeting based on how your marketing messaging is received.
More broadly, open any magazine, and you’ll find that advertising is getting squeezed out by data visualization infomarketing. Flipping through the latest FastCompany, I came across a number of creative visualizations:
The one on the left illustrates the comparisons of car manufacturers success in selling to the US market, highlighting a number of key data comparisons, but also delivering an overall message of shifting consumer sentiment away from foreign manufacturers and back toward American-built automobiles. And they’ve done it in a way that highlights key similarities and differences without bogging the reader down in charts and comparison tables. Same data, but easier on the eyes.
In this example, they’ve taken what would otherwise have been a short and sweet set of data points (which would have been buried and utterly missed within the magazine) and turned it into something that popped out of the page, using memorable images from each of the films to update the classic pie chart, also showing a quick visual comparison of these blockbuster films.
The body of this article could have just reported the relevant statics of browser growth within these countries, but the visualization once again makes the content behind the image stand out more.
What is becoming more and more common are the full-page infomarketing ads that attempt to convey large datasets, like this ad from CDW, which seeks to provide a compelling message for both the artistic and data-driven personalities. One company that has been using this model extensively has been IBM. I’m not a fan of many of their products, but I have to admit that I am a fan of this advertising campaign largely because it provides some great insights into industry-wide trends in collaboration and informatics, positioning the company as experts in the field (great for corporate and services branding).
Even Microsoft has begun following this model, using infographics to position internal programs. The poster below is part of an internal Microsoft campaign to help explain the business value of using the Yammer platform, focusing on the concept of social influence amplification.
Over the past couple years, quite a few ISVs have popped up around the data visualization space within the SharePoint marketplace – companies like Infragistics and Tableau Software. Of course, SharePoint itself has grown, expanding its features to include things like PowerPivot, PowerView, Excel Services, Reporting Services, and PerformancePoint Services to provide powerful business intelligence and data visualization capabilities, allowing end users to build out web part dashboards with dynamic views into key data via the browser.
If SharePoint is your platform of choice, then I would highly recommend that you take a look at the new Developing Business Intelligence Apps for SharePoint by Jason Himmelstein (@sharepointlhorn) and David Feldman (@bostonmusicdave) for more guidance on these topics.