Data isn’t everything – let’s balance it with common sense

I love visualizations, data, and information and finding creative ways to turn it into something interesting and useful. It’s a great way to take advantage of the analytical and creative sides of the brain. At the same time, I’m quite aware that even if the world is becoming more visual and addicted to stats and numbers, we have to be even more wary of how that information is being used and interpreted. It’s shouldn’t be about seeing the superficial side of a statistic and using it in the hopes of sensationalizing a topic (i.e. it’s tempting for journalists and others to do this), but being true to what the statistics represent, building a story around it, and respecting how this may influence the audience.

That’s why it’s refreshing to see that in WIRED, a magazine focused on technology and all the numbers coming from it, they published Felix Salmon’s article “Numbed by Numbers: Why Quants don’t know everything“, which helps to put a bit of perspective on the numbers game.

Let's not get bent out of shape over numbers.
Let’s not get bent out of shape over numbers.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a quant is an expert at analyzing and managing quantitative data and its first known use was in 1979. In Salmon’s article, he uses the example of the movie Moneyball which documented how statistics were used in baseball to help the underfunded Oakland A’s to a division-winning 2002 season. He writes that quants are almost always right since they use algorithms and setup systems that track every aspect of society with 1’s and 0’s. Yet, the more that a field is run by a system, the more the system creates incentives for everyone to change their behavior – and in the end people start to cheat the system – and that the statistics/numbers generated by the system may not actually hold value or be telling the “truth”.

It’s increasingly clear that for smart organizations, living by numbers alone simply won’t work…

There needs to be a bit more of a balance to the numbers that can help make our lives better and the use of good ol’ human insight, decision-making and common sense. Believing in statistics as they stand is one thing, but we also have to use our judgement and experience to bolster our understanding so that this information can improve the society we live in. For example, the National Weather Service employs meteorologists who, understanding the dynamics of weather systems, can improve forecasts by as much as 25% compared with computers alone.

Let’s celebrate the value of disruption by data – but let’s not forget that data isn’t everything.

Read “Numbed by Numbers: Why Quants don’t know everything

Thanks for visiting in 2012

2012UNISDRwebstats

Google analytics are great when you’re managing websites or anything to do with tracking online use, visits, or engagement with web content. There’s so much that gets captured and that can be customized the way you want that if you like how statistics can help you do your job better, analytics are a great service/tool. While there’s plenty of ways to visualize the detail stats from a website, I like to stretch both my left and right side of the brain to make something compelling. And what better way than to take data that’s already available and clear and turn it into something nice and visual.

Not only is there plenty of engaging content on the UNISDR website, but also the issue of disaster risk reduction and the organization’s work has been increasingly gaining ground. And this shows in the number of visits to the website. In addition to showing this impact and indicator of interest in the organization, the infographic is kind of a “thank you” to all the people who’ve come to the website. It’s also one of the first infographics that I’ve done that integrates the organization’s new visual identity, which I’ve been working on for the last couple of year’s as part of updating UNISDR’s brand.

I’ve already received a few comments that people really like the eyes and doormat because it speaks to them and to the content – and that was what I was going for. It was based on some of the useful tips from this book I was reading recently. The graph is a bit small when printed but it does reveal some interesting facts and events when you can see it in a bigger size.

Graffiti and Website Stats

To highlight the impact of UNISDR’s website statistics for 2011, I provided the concept, typographic and visual design of this poster. It shows an overview of the rise in audience and visitors to the website in the year, the top five stories, the most search terms on the site, the most popular site visited in the whole year, and the popularity of the organization’s regional sections. The typography chosen was to present the information in a more friendly way and unique visual than normally used for this type of organization. See below for a preview of how the poster looks like. A high-resolution version can be downloaded from UNISDR’s Flickr account.

Data Can Be Cool.

envisioningdevelopment

Anytime you hear the word “data” or “statistics”, the image of a geeky-looking guy (probably with a pocket protector) probably comes to mind. We’ve come a long way from this image and hopefully the idea that data is boring and only for nerdy people will change. Technology has come a long way to both help people interested in data to be a bit more creative in presenting this stuff and also to collect and interpret all this information. Just check out the Envisioning Development Project about affordable housing in NYC.

every-minute

Whether marketing, surveys, questionnaires, data management, data-mining, information management, statistical analysis, etc. etc. etc., the underlying theme is that everyone from businesses, government, to the entertainment world relies on data and statistics to help them plan, improve, or find solutions to their work. Thanks to advances in technology, this “stuff” doesn’t have to stick to only boring numbers – with a little creativity and know-how, data and statistics can be transformed into interesting displays, charts, presentations, maps, websites, etc.

Here’s some more information: