Data Visualisation – Art for Work’s Sake

It’s Friday – and I’ve just got time to share a simple idea before I head off to London for a busy and exciting day.

One of my clients recently gathered some data on the service they provide and I wanted to share it with a group during a workshop. I was keen to convey a sense of feeling along with the results, which themselves are very encouraging. In graph form, the data looks like this:

Customer Service Survey Graph

Spot on for accuracy, yet somehow this graph looks quite sterile. How might you convey something more emotional? As I was pondering how to share the data – someone in the room was talking about a method of modelling data which needed to be accurate, and a method of visualising data, which allowed more room for interpretation. I looked again at the numbers on the sheet of paper and saw something positive and energetic about it. I tried to visualise those feelings and here is what emerged from the end of my pen.

Customer Service Feedback Data Wave

The two images aren’t that dissimilar, and I drew the wave based on the numbers in the survey first, the graph then followed as I was curious to see how they compared. I think they both have their uses. The graph is accurate, and to me, the wave lends itself to a story of positive energy and surfing the wave. We could also talk about sustaining the energy of the current wave, and catching another one when the time is right. There’s also a conversation to be had about falling off the board and getting back on again.

What do you think? Good idea, crazy idea? It feels worth exploring to me – the shape of your data might not always lend itself to being interpreted artistically, and the drawing took all of a minute to make once the idea formed. That’s a pretty low risk investment to make when it comes to exploring new ways to think about work, isn’t it?

Have a lovely weekend.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

4 thoughts on “Data Visualisation – Art for Work’s Sake”

  1. I just copied you on a tweet about learning to see data (from an article in this weekend’s New York Times Sunday Review ) that your “data surfer” reminded me of. One of the striking things about your visual translation of the data points in the graph is that it embodies an emotional response to the data that is inherent in the graph but not articulated. We always talk about data analysis as if it were nothing more than a rational, cybernetic task. And yet, the outcome of data analysis can often lead to actions that have a real emotional impact (think of the human consequences of companies that are constantly looking at data reflecting the costs of their business and how to reduce those cost). As you say, that cresting wave viscerally communicates the energy that is about to be released by all of those “strongly agree” data points. It begs the question: “So, what are you going to do with that energy?” Most corporate data visualisation takes the form of infographics but (for me) that often conveys a sense of prettying-up the propoganda. What you are doing is something different: you’re trying to tease out the emotion that is embodied in our response to data. You’re definitely on to something here that’s worth exploring further, or rather, riding the wave out into the ocean of data.

  2. Hello Doug,

    I absolutely love this. It is simple and genius at the same time. Coincidentally, today’s New York Times has this article that you might like.

    What struck me was how Daniel Kohn got those with the data to think differently: “He might ask, for instance, What if the data were turned sideways? Or upside down? Or what if you could click on a point on the plotted data and see another dimension?”

    Good stuff Doug!
    Best wishes,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *