Monday, 10 August 2015

Data Experience

Do people believe in the data more if they are holding something in their hand? Do they, literally, give it more weight? According to recent Dutch research, it just might.


My interest was piqued by the recent episode of the Data Stories podcast (interestingly, they are back to being sponsored by Qlik again) where they interviewed Dani Llugany Pearson from Domestic Data Streamers.

Domestic Data Streamers create some wonderful installations, transforming data into art. These are installations that people can interact with and influence by adding to the data. It is a really marvelous concept. People can see, walk around, touch, and engage with data. Dani described it as an Info Experience as opposed to a static info graphic.

During the discussion, some recent research from the Netherlands was mentioned and they kindly shared the link to the research in the show notes. This research, performed by Nils B Jostmann, Daniël Lakens and Thomas Schubert, shows that people holding a heavier weight will effect cognition and lead people to assign more importance. It is an intriguing idea and you can read the research here:

    Weight as an embodiment of importance

So, if we attach more importance to more weight, do we see data visualizations on an iPad as being more important than the same data on an iPhone? Intriguing! How does that data seem on a desktop computer, where the only weight is in the mouse that we slide it across the desk?

Weight, of course, is only one facet of our data experience. The visuals must be important too, just like the research that shows that people eat less when they can't see food, they just don't enjoy it as much:

    Vision and eating behavior. (2002. Linné Y, Barkeling B, Rössner S, Rooth P.)

How about being able to touch and interact with the data? How does that make me feel about it?

In their 2011 paper, David Spiegelhalter et al discuss the ethical imperative to provide transparent information. This is because when we build dashboards for other people, "the desired outcome must be considered from the start" - we have to think about what we are trying to present before we design the dashboard. We are more persuading than informing where we should be more informing:

    Visualizing Uncertainty About the Future (2011. Spiegelhalter, Pearson, Short)

So, a visualization tool that I can hold in my hand and feel the importance of the data, that looks good enough to eat, and allows me to inform myself rather than being persuaded by someone else would be the ideal Data Experience. I wonder where I could get one of those?


Stephen Redmond is a Data Visualization professional. He is author of Mastering QlikView, QlikView Server and Publisher and the QlikView for Developer's Cookbook
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