In the world of data visualization, looks matter

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Liz Kiehner
Liz Kiehner

After spending time and energy creating and collecting persuasive data, marketers cannot just release a jumble of numbers and figures into the world and expect them to connect with consumers. As designers it is our job to prove to our clients how beneficial it is for their brand to provide data consumers can easily comprehend and retain, not lose in the shuffle or forget.

I was recently blown away by a visual reference included in an agency RFP. When I asked my client about the origin of the reference they told me that it had been created by a statistician/artist named Edward Tufte. Then, a few weeks ago I passed by a massive gallery on the West Side Highway in New York that was exhibiting Tufte's artwork.  After two consecutive encounters I knew that I needed to take a closer look at this person who was so successfully marrying data and design. What I discovered was that Tufte, a professor emeritus of political science, computer science and statistics, and graphic design at Yale, is something of a cult figure and that he has long helped define data visualization, a field that is fast becoming one of the most important applications of design.

The effective application of data visualization is one of the hot topics in the worlds of media and marketing and this has led to a lot of media focus on Tufte and his theories, as he has long championed its effective use. As graphs, statistics, charts and analytics crowd our television, mobile and computer screens, data visualization is becoming one of the most important tools for marketers and media outlets to consider when building their brand communications. Some of the most recognizable brands in the world (Apple, Google, Intel, etc...) understand how powerful well-designed data can be in cutting through the cacophony of information that overwhelms consumers throughout the day.

Our agency's first big data visualization job was not for a brand or media outlet but for a professor of physics, Jana Levin, who asked us to use our animation and design skills to recreate her Big Bang theory in an engaging short film.

We should probably be glad that one of our first serious steps into the data visualization world was for a pro-bono client like Professor Levin, since that first experience on the Big Bang film had a steep learning curve. As our client requests for help with data visualization grow exponentially, thought, we're able to apply that experience and have subsequently become keenly aware just how important it is for marketers to explore and invest in this area.

When it comes to the creation of effective data visualization, designers and marketers are both riding the steep learning curve, and my recent exposure to the theories of work of Edward Tufte has taught we still have a lot to learn.

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