dogfood with data

My husband and I were watching TV one evening last week. One commercial caught my attention. It was a commercial for Eukanuba dog food. I do not have a dog. Still, there was something about the combination of music and video and text with a bit of data that left an impression. I find this commercial to be an excellent example of storytelling with data.

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storytelling with data...scribed!

I was in Dallas earlier this week and had the opportunity to talk about storytelling with data with a few different groups. One of those was the DFW Data Visualization and Infographics Meetup. This afforded me the pleasure of meeting Randy Krum, president and founder of InfoNewt, and John Colaruotolo from Collective Next, who (as far as I'm concerned) is able to create magic with pens and a whiteboard.

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selling your data

A participant made a comment after my public workshop in Dallas this morning that went something like this: "I'm in sales. I was whispering to my colleague during part of your presentation that really what you're doing is selling your data - it's just that nobody recognizes that's what you're doing."

At first, I was put off by this. Selling my data? No, that has the wrong connotation.

But upon reflecting a little more, I realized that is a part of what I'm doing (and teaching others to do as well). To be clear, this is not about overselling, but rather making your data something people want to pay attention to. There must be corollaries between that and creating something that people want to buy, right? I think so.

So I pondered...

What makes somebody want to buy something?

Here are a couple things that come to my mind when I reflect on this question and how we can translate to storytelling with data:

  • It must look good. Packaging is important. If a product doesn't look good, no one is going to buy it. Beyond that, studies have shown that consumers tend to have more patience with aesthetic designs. If your data visualization (or the broader communication in which the data visualization sits) doesn't look nice, your audience may not pay adequate attention to it. Or put more positively, creating an aesthetically pleasing design can foster goodwill in your audience, making it more likely that they'll have patience and spend time with your visual or communication. 
  • The product must meet the users' needs. A good product is designed with the end-users' needs in mind. The same is true for good data visualization, yet so often we fail to pause and think about the audience who is on the receiving end of the communication. What do they care about? What are their needs? How do I make what I want to communicate work for them? Success in communicating with data does not follow creating a data visualization that works for you; success is making a data visualization that works for your audience.
  • It must win over the competition. When it comes to purchasing, there are a lot of things competing for share of wallet. To win in a competitive marketplace, a product must be better than alternatives in one or more ways. Translating to communicating: there are a lot of things competing for our time. You likely face a busy audience, yet you need them to devote time to listening to your presentation or reading your report. For that, it must be better than alternatives. Which brings me back to my first two points.

These are just some quick thoughts on the topic. I'm sure there are other parallels we can draw. If any come to mind, please leave a comment with your thoughts.

Beth, if you're reading this, thanks for the thought-provoking comment!

I'll end with a couple of pics from today's public workshop in Dallas so those of you reading who weren't there can be jealous of all of the fun we had (yes, we even used crayons, courtesy of white space). If you'd like to take part in a future session, check out my public workshops page to register or suggest a location.

SF housing cycles visualized

If you've shopped for real estate in San Francisco recently, you've likely experienced the crazy world of multiple offers, waived contingencies, and all-cash deals well above asking price. We've been house shopping here for nearly two years, without much to show except a jaded view of the market and an ever-increasing pile of home-for-sale flyers. My husband and I joke that our toddler will grow up thinking that's what you do on the weekends: go look at other people's houses.

If you've been in this situation, or a similar one, you've perhaps also wondered (like us) whether prices will continue to increase at the rate they have been, or if there is an elusive bubble that is about to pop. To that end, we came across the visual below, which depicts a simplified view of San Francisco housing market cycles over the past few decades.

If you've followed this blog for long, you might expect that I will next proceed to rip the above visual apart. But I am not going to. 

I actually really like it. 

Sure, there are some minor things that could be changed. But let's focus instead on the good: it's well-labeled, both in terms of titles and text annotation on the graph itself. There is a clear narrative that calls out some interesting things in the data. For example, over the past 30+ years, the period between a recovery beginning and a bubble popping has been about 6 years.

According to the graph, the last recovery began in 2012, which would put the next bubble pop at approximately 2018.

Which means there's still time to buy before we hit the peak... 

nice summary by UP

I have been religiously wearing my UP24 band over the past two months, after taking a hiatus from the technology while pregnant. I originally strapped it on to have record of my sleep. With a newborn, of course sleep looks much different now; there's something strangely gratifying when you can not only know that's the case, but also see it. Over time, I've seen the number of night-wakings generally go down (though last night was an exception, which I feel as I groggily type this post) and sleep consolidate into bigger chunks as my little chunk sleeps for increasingly longer segments. I can start to see a pattern emerge (bed at 11pm, wake for feeding at 2-3am and again at 5-6am, get up around 8am). Visual evidence of slow but measurable progress!

What caught me by surprise when I started wearing the band again is the motivation it inspires when it comes to my activity level. The recommended goal is 10,000 steps per day. When I don't hit it, I feel a bit of shame. When I do hit it, I feel a gratifying sense of accomplishment. That sense of accomplishment goes up as the amount by which I surpass the goal increases. This motivates me to get out and move on a daily basis to ensure I'll hit my goal.

So all of this is a long prelude to the summary from UP that hit my inbox this morning. I tend to post a lot of examples of data viz with which I take issue, so thought I'd mix it up and focus this post on one that I found to be effective. Of course there are things that I would have designed differently, but this summary gets the job done. It's keeping me motivated. Let me step you quickly through what it shows.

It starts with an overall summary of week-over-week changes:

Relative to the prior week, my average sleep per night went down a hair and my movement increased a little. I like the big, clearly articulated takeaway: you held steady.

This is followed by detail on my sleep this past week:

My average nearly hit the nightly sleep goal of 8 hours. I even beat the goal three times (versus prior weeks where I haven't hit it at all!). In fact, this summary looks perhaps deceivingly good, though the number of nights of uninterrupted sleep, at 0, starts to point to the newborn effect. It will be life-changing when that number moves, even by one!

The sleep summary is followed by a movement summary:

I hit my 10,000 step goal each day (my informal goal for myself is to hit it every day in August). You can see the days where a jog or long walk really put me over the top. My most idle time of 8-9am comes as no surprise, as that's when the little one eats breakfast, sequestering me to an armchair for the better part of an hour. The rest of his day remains less predictable.

It's a straightforward and simultaneously (for me, at least) motivating summary.

For more on UP from a numbers-person's perspective (including downloading the data it captures to analyze on your own), check out Nathan Yau's recent review here. For more on the cool insights the team at Jawbone is starting to make based on the crazy amount of data they are amassing, check out their blog (for example, this post). They've shared it with others who have started to analyze and share as well (here's a recent WSJ example, though I still lament the lack of color-key on the heatmaps - ok, turns out it is impossible for me to write a blog post without critique!).

Someday, I'll download all of my data and perhaps do something fun with it. For now, I'll continue to check out the daily and weekly summaries to track my progress and for that feeling of accomplishment when I hit my goals.

more public workshops + interview

I recently conducted my first public workshop in DC, where individuals could register to attend. The content was similar to that which I cover in a typical custom workshop for an organization, but with more industry agnostic examples and public data, reports, and visuals for the interactive pieces.

Leading up to the workshop, I thought my first might also be my last. Setting up a workshop means dealing with a lot of logistics (finding and securing the venue, setting up a way for people to pay, providing details to people as they register) - I basically play event planner on top of subject matter expert and content provider (and while the former is not my core skill set, I do find that my control-freak nature and attention to detail serve me well!). This all felt like a lot to take on. During the session, however, my attitude totally changed. There is something magical about people coming together, interested in learning. It more than made up for any logistics tedium. I simply love teaching people to be better storytellers with data. An eager audience like this is my version of bliss.

That said, I'm happy to announce upcoming public workshops in San Francisco and Chicago. For more details and to register, click here.

So you don't only get my viewpoint on how the session went, here's a snippet from one of the participants:

"It's obvious Cole knows what she's talking about, that she's studied the theory and applied it in the real world. The workshop itself is fine tuned and Cole is ready to answer any questions. It's a pleasure to learn from someone so knowledgeable."

 - Francis Gagnon, Business Intelligence Officer at IFC and author of the blog Visual Rhetoric (12/13 update: Francis' new site is Voilà)

On a related note, Francis reached out to me after the session for an interview for his blog; you can view the interview here on Google, what businesses need and what's hard to unlearn.

I hope to see you at one of my workshops soon!