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Balancing the push and pull between change and data visualizations

Balancing the push and pull between change and data visualizations Jonathan Bear
Market researchers face the challenge of balancing the thrilling pace of data visualization trends, with giving our clients the tried and trusted reports that they know and love.

Showing relationships and patterns in data through visualization, is an important and powerful aspect of communication. It can simplify the complex, and give meaning where none may have been apparent before.

Visualization has come a long way

Visualization is not new. It has been around for as long as there have been stories to tell, or ideas to represent.

Progress in the world of visualization has been interesting to observe. What started as rock etchings became stylised art forms, followed by the arrival of the first visual representations on paper. Printing and reproduction was inevitable, as was the addition of colour.

Could we have anticipated a digital age with visual representations on screens?

Data visualizations won’t be outdone

Visualising data has followed a similar path. We started with basic black and white graphs, and what has long been a stable repertoire of styles for market researchers to represent the data.

With the advent of the digital age, market researchers will know that the potential to more effectively visualise data, has gone bonkers. As has the types of data that we want to visualise.

Now we want to show social media trends. We want to investigate patterns in huge swathes of data that has been collected from every corner of our lives. We are constantly looking for relationships, patterns and insights in everything we do.

As consumers of market research data, we want to visualise everything. We want static graphs in newspapers; online static reports, perhaps partially animated; we want interactive reporting and dashboards, and one-pager email…the list grows and morphs at an ever-increasing pace.

Of course, a large majority of companies, students, teachers and individuals still want that reliable PowerPoint deck…perhaps polished, perhaps animated, or peppered with video clips and sound bites. But a PowerPoint nonetheless!

For companies and service providers that work in the area of visualization, the challenges and the opportunities are many. As the types of data available expands, there is more scope for companies to offer services and products that cater to burgeoning needs, as they arise.

That however, is a topic for another day.

Something old, something new…

The challenges that companies face include keeping up with the galloping pace of types of data, cutting edge technologies, and new trends and fads.

But more than that, they also need to make sure they continue catering for the larger majority of their clients who still need to produce things the way they always have.

Increasingly, client companies are exploring and demanding the very latest in interactive reporting and dashboards on mobile devices for their executive teams. And yet, they also want everything to be produced in PowerPoint decks, and perhaps even as paper-based reports or large repositories of data, in good ol’ Excel.

At the same time, productivity has to be increased and efficiencies realised. Turnaround times must be cut to slivers of a day, and only if they can’t be produced real time.

How does a company bridge the yawning chasm in their clients’ needs?

There is a tension between cutting-edge interactive digital dashboards and paper-based reports, and a pull between templated, standardised products and highly-customised bespoke solutions. And all need to be delivered in ever-diminishing time frames.

Not all providers can span the chasm. Some stick to their knitting, and stay with whatever made them successful in the first place. Or they pick an aspect of the chasm and focus on that, leaving the other requirements to other providers.

Some bolt on additional products, or grow by acquisition, struggling to harness their products so they cooperate and produce results.

Each of these approaches is going to fall short, to varying degrees.

Let’s think outside the box

The key, it would seem, is to create a platform…a platform that recognises the requirements from a strategic point of view, and addresses the tensions created by the pace of change. Large companies want to keep up, but there may be an inability to change quickly because of size and legacy.

Such a platform will allow companies to commission beautiful, interactive digital visualizations, while allowing users to easily produce printed or static stories from those online environments.

The platform will allow content to update when the data sources do, taking advantage of technology to deliver massive productivity gains to its clients.

It will recognise that reporting requirements vary hugely in some large companies, and allow users to create their own dashboards and stories to deliver to their audiences. Or it can be highly standardised, adhering to templates.

Ideally the platform would even combine data from any of the growing sources of data, allowing its users to seek their own insights.

The future is bright

This is the nirvana that clients seek, and although it may seem like the bar is set impossibly high, you can be sure that a company out there is working on this dream list right now.

Whoever manages to bridge the chasm, can rest assured that their legacy will be used to illustrate the walls of the digital world’s caves.

Jonathan Bear is an account director for Infotools, in New Zealand. He has worked in quantitative research for 15 years, both in private and public sector roles in New Zealand, the UK and Europe, prior to joining Infotools six years ago. When he...

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