According to IBM over 90 per cent of the data that exists in the world has been created in the last two years. We’re getting more data from more sources which is opening up new opportunities for finding previously-hidden insights into the world around us. Inevitably, we’re becoming more data literate not just in our work life, but in our personal lives, too. Products like the Nike fuel band or the Nest thermostat help us make sense of our lives by presenting information about our behaviour through simple visuals.
This visualisation of data will play an ever more important role in website design and digital strategy, too. The infographic has long been a favourite of content marketing agencies as it helps people absorb information more quickly, making it ideal "snacking" content. However, being able to represent big data in real time will open up new business models and user experiences for online businesses.
The recent acquisition of Vizify by Yahoo! hints at this trend towards more innovative and engaging representation of data by established internet players. A spokesman for the company said they were “excited to bring a more visual approach to data at Yahoo!” Now could be a good time to be investing in smart new companies in this space as larger online businesses seek to harness big data in a way that enhances their overall offering.
Please wash your hands
The truth is that finding insights and patterns from data can have an enormous impact on our lives beyond just the identifying the next new business model. Although a nurse, Florence Nightingale was also an innovative statistician. She made a new kind of pie chart showing how many soldiers in the Crimean war died from disease and how many were killed in action. Her coxcomb chart
showed that better hygiene slashed mortality rates which ultimately saved countless lives - the rest is history.
Really big data
However, companies are already struggling to make sense of big data. How will they cope as the torrent of really big data begins to emerge as sensors, wearables and the "internet of things" gain traction? Fortunately, the revolution that is happening in data visualisation plays to the well-developed human visual cortex and its highly-evolved ability to spot patterns.
Statisticians and designers are working closely together to find new ways of presenting data through better use of technology and techniques. To be done well requires a blend of both the arts and sciences to shape it into something that reveals hidden stories, explains unseen relationships or quickly highlights the unusual. This is creating an explosion of new and often beautiful ways of showing complex information like those found in the d3.js data visualisation library
such as this image used in The Guardian’s article on violence and guns in video games.
Real-time front line
To some extent, marketers are finding themselves on the front line in all this as real-time marketing becomes an increasingly common practice. There is no shortage of tools and dashboards, such as Adobe Analytics, part of the Adobe Marketing Cloud offering, which aim to get brands from “data to insight to action” as quickly as possible. What’s interesting is that the companies offering these tools are spending an increasing share of their development costs on design and visualisation as they work harder to make the job of understanding data easier.
However, marketers are being joined by other professions, such as doctors, who are exposed to data driven services like those offered through M-Health (or Mobile Health). According to the Research 2 Guidance Mobile Health Market Report 2013-2017, there are over 17,000 mobile health applications in the major app stores and by 2015 there will be 500 million mobile health app users. As platforms emerge that can stitch data together from existing consumer devices, such as Fitbit, and apps that monitor things like sleep patterns, doctors will find it increasingly easy to get a clear clinical picture of a patient’s health and lifestyle.
We’re at an exciting time for data visualisation and it will increasingly shape our lives, becoming more integrated and useful within our daily digital touch points. New frontiers are being created all the time and Facebook’s recent purchase of Occulus Rift raises some interesting questions. Its role as the next generation in gaming is an obvious one and Facebook see it as a “platform to build out other experiences”. But what about data in this immersive and 3D world?
It’s easy to imagine how the ability to manipulate objects with our bodies and control spatial orientation within Occulus Rift could breed an entirely new generation of infographics. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before the likes of Adobe will be offering an Occulus Rift version of its products.
All of this is great news as it means there are new ways that businesses can monitise their data and find new ways of delivering value. The challenge will be finding the right data to bring to life in this way. Perhaps now is a good time for businesses to start working with statisticians and digital agencies to work out how real-time data can start delivering more unique and helpful digital experiences to a broader range of audiences.
Jonathon Palmer is commercial director at digital agency Blueleaf where he works with new and existing clients to develop insight-based digital strategy that leads to growth. He’s been working in the branding, communication and digital industry for over 16 years