Humanizing Data and the Cold, Hard Numbers

Ryan wrote this on March 22, 2012 in . It has 6 reactions

When it comes to data, one misstep and we can easily fall into the three kind of lies with data — asking the wrong questions, using bad data and misinterpreting results. We need to make smart data-based decisions or risk ending up with something completely different than what we started with. So, yeah, it's easy to see how data can be pretty scary for designers.

It's easy to drown in a sea of data, be intimidated by the overwhelming pile of numbers. And number crunching can seem pretty dry. But what if there was another way to think of analyzing data? What if there was another way to approach data that didn't seem overwhelming or a chore?

What if we think of data not as numbers but as people, as stories? Maybe thinking of data as stories waiting to be told can make the numbers a bit easier to deal with. Get us over the hump of number crunching. Even better, it could build empathy for the people involved in these systems, as pointed out by New York Times data artist Jer Thorp in this TED talk:


Notice how Jer takes the tweets of air travelers landing at different cities and weaves a story from that. What Jer and his statistics partner have done is humanize the data, built a history. But they've done more than that. Or as Jer says:

By placing data into a human context, it gains meaning.

What Jer is taking about isn't far from how we approach data at ZURB. By analyzing data, conducing customer interviews and doing user testing, do we begin to see the patterns, build the story of a user's behavior and expectations. We see beyond the numbers.

Data isn't just a set of numbers. It's insight into people. It's their stories, waiting to be discovered.



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