Hope This Isn't TLDR

Bloomberg Businessweek's Design Guide is an editorial calendar favorite. This annual feature reminds us that good design isn't just about being elegant, functional or ergonomic. When done correctly, it is strategic, transformative and disruptive. Exhibit A? The original Apple iPhone.

I was excited to see that information design and data visualization were recognized in this year's coverage. Specifically, Martin Krzywinski is one of the featured innovators. He is a Canadian bioinformaticist and cancer researcher that's using data visualization to help scientists capitalize on the latest genome research.

In his presentation at the accompanying 2013 Bloomberg Businessweek Design Conference, he makes several interesting points:

  • Scientists are not good visual storytellers – I suspect that this is true of any number of subject matter experts. Good visual design is a specialty and it's an important one. These designers should be valued collaborators in the analysis process.
  • TLDR (aka Too Long, Didn't Read) – Increasingly, this is the response given to policy memos, scientific findings and white papers. More available information + less available time means we need to find more concise ways to convey and consume information.
  • Good design transforms complexity into insight – That's a bit Mom and apple pie so it was the corollary that stuck with me – bad design can create confusion, inefficiency and misinformation. We often need to ask "am I being fooled into believing something" by the design itself?

During a recent appearance on Information Management's DM Radio (Data Discovery and the Art of Creative Visualization), I had the chance to add my own two cents here. Good visual design can do a lot to present information in a way that is visually pleasing. However, the critical thing is to organize the right data in a fashion that allows us to "see" patterns and trends that are not perceptible to computer algorithms. Better to have an ugly presentation of data that illuminates some critical pattern than a visually stunning presentation of data that doesn't help us discover something new.

All of this becomes particularly relevant as we enter the era of Big Data, where it is now cheaper to capture and process information than analyze it. And while technologies like Watson will improve in their ability to spit out specific answers – what is…? – they won't help users interpret data. What's often needed here is data visualization to guide users to their own analysis and interpretations, showing them what's truly relevant in the data and what is just noise.

It is exciting to see how leaders, such as Martin Krzywinski, are beginning to use data visualization to fight cancer, terrorism, fraud and other challenges. With the right design, these efforts can be strategic, transformative and disruptive.

Tim Hoechst
Tim Hoechst
Chief Technology Officer



Federal Technology Blogger Badge