By Carla Saliba, founder of Infographic.ly, a Dubai-based live data-design and visualisation agency
“Data is the new oil.” How many times have you heard that soundbite in the last year? If you were harbouring any doubt that data isn’t the most valuable commodity today, the overuse of this phrase will certainly convince you. But capturing data isn’t the issue any more; that ship has well and truly sailed. It’s what sense we can make out of it. More importantly, how do we make it available for an entire company, not just that one data scientist poring over algorithms, and use it to drive the bottom line?
Simple – through design. More than just a splash of colour and a clean structure, design, once an aesthetically pleasing afterthought, is now a vital core business function. Make no mistake; designers are the ones driving your business today, bringing real value to the meaning behind data-driven decisions.
The designer’s shift from a siloed, shared function to a front-and-centre authority is as a result of the experience economy. It is a transformation that has come with new responsibility for studying a company’s successes and opportunities and identifying where we can fill the skills gap to answer to the bottom line. From engaging with every function in the business and becoming proficient in the meaning, form, movement and transformation of data, a designer’s role is no longer a linear one.
Some industries, of course, have caught on faster to this reality than others. Take everyone’s favourite example of design-led thinking fuelled by data: the powerhouse that is Netflix. We’re all familiar with their story. They’ve transitioned from a DVD mail service to a streaming platform to an original content hub in just a few short years, tearing down and rebuilding their business model as and when required. And f their next trick? Interactive content that connects this customer-centric viewpoint, offering the next big thing (in this case, ‘choose your own ending’ function) before we even know we need it.
Netflix has proven that this unfamiliar approach to placing design first is smart business, and it is not alone. According to the annual Design Management Institute Index, design-driven companies have maintained a significant stock market advantage over the last 10 years, outperforming the S&P 500 by more than 200 per cent. Data from McKinsey backs this up too, showing that businesses with the strongest commitment to design had 32 per cent more revenue and 56 per cent more total returns to shareholders over a five-year period. With numbers like that, there’s no doubt that design has turned into a C-suite topic, transforming companies’ approaches.
When it comes to the advertising industry, though, they are playing a bit of catch-up. As sophisticated as an agency or brand’s data mining and collection systems may be, it has yet to master the vital next step to breaking a cycle of silo expertise. Making everyone in an organisation data-literate doesn’t come in the form of a single tech genius sitting behind a computer; that is not sustainable, and it’s not smart business. It starts with employing a design-led approach, with tools and systems that put the user’s experience first, and reducing the learning curve for varying levels of skill, knowledge and understanding to navigate complexities in a way that leads to the next
Consultancies have seen the value in this long before most, investing heavily in the creative process of transforming data from a crude tool used for measuring business into a sophisticated tool that helps a business grow. This is especially true in the era of live design, when data never sleeps, and the introduction of real-time – with interactive formats like microsites and motion graphics – helps to land the point. A static image (RIP print) or an automated dashboard isn’t going to cut it with innovative businesses today.
It’s an ever-evolving process that is going to blend the worlds of creative and analytics further. As interactive formats become more of the norm, the next frontier for exploration is naturally how voice will come into play. AI is good for a lot of things, but can you imagine how data visualisation in this capacity would look without a designer at the helm? Siri and Alexa misunderstanding your commands are bad enough, but when it comes to business there’s no room for error.