Visualising the World Cup: Reflections
On the excellent DataVisualization.ch site, Benjamin has posted an interview that shares some of his thought about the various World Cup visualisations, infographics and interactives we have seen. This is for an article by Jeremy Wagstaff for the Jakarta Post and the BBC Wold Service. Benjamin has invited further feedback for others to join the conversation and so I decided to reflect on the collections I’ve posted (part 1, part 2, part 3) and offer my additional thoughts based around the same questions:
Do you happen to know where all this World Cup data is coming from?
As Benjamin suggests the sources are often difficult to identify but in general the typical origins of much data appears to come from sites like Twitter, statistical analysis and data providers like Opta and then probably in house databases held by the likes of UEFA and media outlets such as the BBC.
Has anything changed since the last World Cup? It seems there’s a lot more visualization being done this time. Is that so, and if it is, is it because there’s more or better data, it’s cheaper, or because our devices or palettes have changed? Any other reasons?
The increase in visualisations around the World Cup simply reflects the wider growth and emergence of the subject. A number of factors are facilitating this growth:
Technology as a creative enabler: The primary factor I would identify is technology. The creative data-driven software, array of online tools, APIs and advanced programming languages that now exist are creating sophisticated and accessible opportunities for more people to get creative with information designs.
Technology as a consumer device: The rise of the smartphone, the growth of mobile web, the launch of the iPad and emergence of ‘apps’, the increased prevalence and speed of broadband access are all key areas of growth over the past few years that have transformed the way we consume media. These contemporary platforms create new challenges and opportunities for designers to find interesting and effective ways of presenting interactive information.
Technology for recording data: The emergence of the social web and in particular Twitter has created staggering volumes of recorded data, both quantitative and qualitative: the opportunities this presents for analysis is amazing. One of the emerging terms you’ll come across is ‘digital exhaust’ which describes the incredible trail of data our usage of the Internet has created. Once again, the prospects for information designers to mine this data to feed visualisation products are only restricted by imagination and curiosity.
Open data movement: A further contextual factor is the open source movement and the campaign for open, transparent access to data. The opening up of access to government data, in particular, has gathered incredible pace over the past 24 months and is now well beyond the tipping point. This has once again created high profile opportunities for analysts and designers to use data to draw insight and encourage greater accountability.
Data journalism: There is a noticeable shift in the scope of 21st century journalism, influenced by the online publishing of newspapers, which has evolved the scope of typical roles to reflect the evolving nature of information sources and news consumption.
Data Events: The growth of the visualisation field over the past few years has been characterised by what I’d describe as massive ‘data events’: historical events that capture a worldwide interest and are accompanied by substantial data recording. I’m talking about events like the global financial crisis, the US and UK elections, climate change and several natural disasters. The appetite for making sense of these events and communicating them in visible, understandable designs has facilitated a rapidly increasing awareness and interest in the discipline. The World Cup was just the latest in the line of these data events, one that has an enormous potential captive audience already in place.
Information design as a marketing device: If you can create the ‘killer’ World Cup graphic that creates a massive buzz around the web you can attract a huge amount of traffic to your site. Take the example of Marca of Spain. The infographic design team there created probably the most ‘shared’ interactive Wallchart and the stats reveal the incredible amount of exposure this created for the newspaper (a post revealing these stats can be found in Spanish and Google translated into English). As a strategy for generating users, viewers or readers the emphasis on interesting, interactive infographics appears to have been taken up by Murdoch as a way of getting people to pay for The Times.
I wanted to suggest that this World Cup seems to have been something of a tipping point for data visualization. Any truth to that?
I agree with Benjamin’s response here. I think a claim of ‘tipping point’ could be valid for the awareness of and appetite for innovative ways of presenting information, particularly in the media. However, we are a long way off experiencing a tipping point in the best practice of information design/visualisation across all aspects of life and particularly business.
Generally speaking, there seems to be a great appetite for this kind of thing. Is that the case, and if so, what’s driving it?
Once again, Benjamin’s response is spot on. I would add that with great appetite comes responsibility. The user experience side has to be delicately handled because this is the arena in which much of the potential bad practice can be deployed. Devices that appeal, entertain and engage users need to do so without sacrificing the fundamental purpose of the display – that is to communicate data or allow people to explore data. The path that leads to the temptation to go beyond effective function and into worthless gimmickry is paved with danger!
What’s the business model for all the time spent on this kind of visualization for media stuff?
The business models should be based around the dual purpose of (a) attracting readers/viewers and (b) making them better informed, with the emphasis on the latter. The rewards for this are self-explanatory. Of course great time and effort will go into the creation of these designs, however, the exceptional skills, embedded practice and wonderful tools that exist out there should make this an increasingly sustainable strategy.
Any other thoughts–about what’s happening, the business model, the future, etc?
I’ve written recently about the status of visualisation and some of the factors that will help it continue to move and grow in the right direction. The focus of these thoughts concerns awareness and education. For every great visualisation there are probably three terrible ones that entirely fail to serve their purpose – make the viewer feel smarter about that topic. The key elements of any successful visualisation is message, data and display. Taking the first of these, you have to have a reason for communicating, it has to have a message, a purpose for informing. Too often graphics fail because they are a mismatch of all sorts of random snippets of information, they lack the cohesion that comes from having a core purpose or reason for production. The second aspect, data, is certainly moving in the right direction as outlined above. It is now more freely available, in better quality and is growing in volume at an incredible rate. The potential for new knowledge, greater insights and interesting stories to emerge from this is boundless. The final aspect, display, requires potential practitioners to be better informed about the foundation principles of design, how the visual system works, statistics, communication principles and, of course, technology. We need to immerse best practice in all aspects of our lives and business otherwise this ratio of good:bad practice will likely grow in the favour of the bad and the bubble will burst.