The noise around data has become deafening but what does it mean for those who want to understand more, harness its power but have not got time to learn statistics, clustering algorithms or other intense technical ideas? Here are 8 basic steps that you can take to improve your data literacy and use it in your creative work.
1. Decide that data is cool
The key idea in digital is that everything can be reduced to data: music, news, customer orders, weather, everything. And once it is noughts and ones, it can be analysed, manipulated, combined and displayed. The opportunities for creating value for consumers and businesses is limited only by our imagination. What is the data inside your company or organisation and how could it be used, along with other data to aid decision making? What cool new services could be created based only on this type of data?
2. Find some great examples
Facebook, Amazon and Instagram are all really data companies that have built businesses that help users explore friendship, product and photo data. The best mobile apps may look great up front but what makes them successful is how they use data behind the scenes; finding the nearest restaurant, the cheapest offer or the fastest way home. Take a look at MarineTraffic to see the world’s shipping live or Google's Hottrends to see the hot topics that are being searched right now. Could your business be doing something similar?
3. Explore sources of interesting data
We’ve been storing data in one form or another for thousands of years but recently there has been a push to make more of it public. Often, like Singapore’s data.gov.sg this is to encourage entrepreneurial businesses to grow up around the data or to begin to tackle interesting problems like influenza monitoring. Once you start looking you’ll find data everywhere. Don’t be overwhelmed; spend some time seeing the ￼￼￼￼￼￼variety and then start looking for data that would help you make decisions or support your customers better.
4. Find some great tools
Every nail needs a hammer and all datasets require tools if we are to explore and make sense of it. A vibrant tool ecosystem has emerged from specialised searching tools such as Topsy for searching via images to mapping tools such as Quikmaps and competitor analysis tools such as Similarweb. Many of these tools are free to try out. Find new tools by learning to search well in Google using their date filters and extended searching options.
5. Decide on your stories, questions and theories
This is the key to becoming a data storyteller; have an idea and test out your idea by finding, testing and visualising the data. Think like a detective. Learn to use tools such as Google Analytics by asking yourself how the numbers would change if you tried just one thing: promoted a blog post, launched a PPC campaign or streamlined the buying process. Write down your theory: “if we start using Pinterest to showcase our best work then we’ll see more people filling in our enquiry form” and then test it. Use data tools such as Spyfu to explore your competitors and find out what makes them tick.
6. Create some pictures
You’ve found data and some tools to explore your theories or test your insights. Now you need to present your conclusions to other people. You can draw bar charts in Excel but for much more powerful storytelling try newer infographic tools such as infogr.am, Visua.ly or powerful data visualisers such as IBM’s ManyEyes.
7. Get excited by real-time data
In the past we made decisions based on a month of figures or a quarterly report. Today we live faster and live real-time data is becoming key. Brands are building dashboards with ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼their key KPIs pulling data from multiple sources. Try out Geckoboard to prototype your own.
8. Recognise your data responsibilities
This is powerful stuff and its easy to get hooked into exploring, visualising and telling stories but be careful you don’t fall into any of the common data traps. The first and easiest is to use poor data to draw conclusions. Ask any journalist and they will tell you to check your sources and verify that the data you have is correct. Don’t assume because two trends are in step that one must be caused by the other. Explore possible links with Google’s fascinating Correlate Tool.
Come and learn to explore data with us at Hyper Island Singapore at our Creative Data Lab and follow @Jonathanbriggs on Twitter to find new tools and data articles.