The global Data Insight Visualization Award (DIVA) was recently presented at IIeX in Europe. Celebrating ground-breaking data visualization in market research, the next round of DIVAs is set to take place at IIeX LatAm in April.
Sponsored by GreenBook and Infotools, the most recent DIVA was presented to Jason Anderson of Insights Meta, in Amsterdam. Their interactive visualization was entitled ‘Interactive Visualization of Gamer Segments’, which allows the user to explore the dimensions of greatest interest, but in a fluid way that highlights how those dimensions interact with each other.
Infotools co-founder Ron Stroeven asked Jason Anderson a few questions about the exciting world of data viz, how Insights Meta approach the discipline, and how it impacts market research in the world today.
RS: Tell us a bit of background about Insights Meta.
JA: We’re a young boutique agency. The company was originally focused on the interactive entertainment industry – video games – and has grown into both a research-for-games business, and an emerging games-for-research business. We’re helping the games and research industries learn from each other.
RS: What makes for good market research these days? Where is that headed in the future? Where does data visualization fit in? Is it just a fad?
JA: To me, good research is anything that impacts a business decision in a positive way. That’s a pretty broad definition, but I think most decision-makers aren’t terribly concerned about things like methodology or sample bias or confidence intervals. They care about maximizing opportunities and mitigating risks.
Those of us ‘in the research business’ care tremendously about these things, of course, because we live it every day. But it’s easy to forget that there are a lot of people that don’t care. That’s what makes data visualization so powerful – it can communicate to the left brain and to the right, and can inspire storytelling while still satisfying our desire to be accurate.
Visualization has always been part of the research communication process; there is nothing fanciful about it. What’s changed is the diversity and quality of competing information. Modern decision making suffers from an excess of data and information, where visualization can distill things to their essence.
RS: What is your personal interest in data visualization? What do you love about it? What sort of visualizations do you get excited about?
JA: From a very young age, I’ve always been enamoured with finding creative ways to display complicated things. Technical professions require a tremendous amount of creativity, but most of the time that creativity is hidden behind lines of code and disposable snippets of scripts and algorithms. Data visualization is where you can harness that energy to do something visible, something that gives people a new way to look at something. It helps you teach.
Given our company’s gaming background, I’m definitely partial to interactive visualizations. Partly that is because it’s a competitive differentiator for us, but it’s also because we believe that interactivity is a better teacher. For any research project, conducting a good study is only a small part of the challenge. The greater, more important dilemma is transferring that knowledge to the client, and their clients, and the business. An amazing study with a static 200-slide PowerPoint report is hard to absorb.
RS: What skills are needed to communicate market research insights visually? Should agencies be hiring for those skills? How has your background prepared you?
JA: Effective communication in general requires a multidisciplinary approach, particularly for something with both the technical and artistic demands of data visualization. We’ve evaluated quite a few ‘visualization tools’ and while they all do some things well, none of them will turn a statistician into an artist. They can’t help a web developer intuit what will be the most important or useful data. So yes, if you want to do something excellent you will need to shift your talent. Alternatively, you can always partner with an agency that specializes in these things, much the same way businesses partner with research agencies, ad agencies and all sorts of consultancies.
From the earliest days at Insights Meta, visualization and storytelling has been something we felt we could excel at. Our backgrounds are quite diverse, from a software engineer who’s made Android games, to a research analyst who programs data dashboards for fun. For myself, I’ve been designing games and fonts and other weird things for over 30 years. But I think the common ingredient for everyone is the freedom to be creative in everything they do.
RS: Have you got a market research or data visualization hero?
JA: I would point back to Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Information, which I think of as the Strunk & White of charting. Core principles are necessary to keep data representations accurate, not misleading, comprehensible. I keep a copy on my desk.
RS: Tell us about your winning DIVAs entry, the Interactive Visualization of Free-to-Play Gamer Segments. What was the need and how did you tackle it?
JA: We were preparing to publish our first syndicated report and were discussing marketing tactics. Without the name recognition of more established games research agencies, we wanted something that would have some viral potential and would express the nature and depth of the study in a fast and friendly way. Candidly, we all got pretty busy on other project work for a couple of days when Jerry Smith (our lead analyst) sent us a link.
After everyone saw the prototype, the entire company jumped in. We iterated on it a few times, changing the data slicing and playing around with different visual effects. Jerry owned the technical implementation, I pushed on the data, we engaged with our sketch artist, and we just clicked Save to Web.
RS: What makes Insights Meta good at data visualization? Why is the Interactive Visualization of Free-to-Play Gamer Segments so successful? Is it typical of your work? How would you describe your approach to reporting market research in general and data visualization specifically?
JA: I would like to say it’s typical of all our work, but that would be too optimistic. We would very much like to include these sorts of deliverables in all projects, but not all clients want it. Some actively oppose it, in fact, for reasons I can’t explain. I would call it representative of some of our capabilities. We believe it adds value to the debrief process, but it also has the potential to ‘set the data free’. When data becomes a living thing, you can’t control its distribution the same way you can fine-tune slides, which creates anxiety for some.
Our general approach to research has three principles: Firstly, how do make the experience as authentic and enjoyable as possible for everyone involved in the study? That includes the client, the participants, and our staff. Secondly, how do we design and execute on quality work? That’s the usual tension between methodology, depth, and cost. Lastly, how can we communicate what we learn, to maximize knowledge transfer? We have report templates like everyone else, yes, but they are very sparse. Charts are often handcrafted. We like to pick the best medium for the message.
RS: What’s the value of having an award for data visualization in market research? What outcomes did you see that were valuable or perhaps unexpected?
JA: Well, it’s certainly nice to be able to say we are now an award-winning agency! With our existing clients, I do think it’s helping them to see our capabilities in a brighter light. With prospects, it’s always useful to have external validation – especially when you’re a small and young agency.
RS: What do you think of market research data visualization today? Were you inspired by the other DIVAs entries? What does the industry need to do?
JA: I’m always inspired by cool-looking data, yes. The visualization space thrives on diversity of ideas. But when I think about what award-looking data visualization will look like in the coming years, I don’t see that coming from people doing interesting things with Tableau and whatnot. It’s about data marketing – marketing the data. It’s going to require an injection of creative talent.
RS: Does market research data visualization require special skills, different from data visualization in general?
JA: No. Data is data. You need someone who deeply understands what the data represents, yes. And in the case of market or consumer data, that person is probably going to be a researcher, but they’re still going to need tech and creative partners to bring it to life.