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Data and Design – Looking at Data Visualization
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Data and Design – Looking at Data Visualization

Matt Anchin, SVP, Global Marketing & Communications

Three weeks ago, Nielsen launched a contest seeking insightful, beautiful and intuitive visualizations of some of our data. This was an experiment. We set free a handful of Nielsen data that already highlighted in our reports for virtually anyone to play with. More than just a contest, but not an invitation to submit spec work, we wanted to start a conversation about how we, and our audience, look at data.

As a company with vast amounts of information at our fingertips, we’re always looking at ways to measure, understand and bring to life the ways people connect — whether it be a media company to an audience, an advertiser to a consumer or consumers with each other on social media. We measure it, participate in it and ultimately encourage advancement in communicating ideas and insights across industries and audiences.

This first data visualization contest opened the conversation with the idea, perhaps leaned upon too heavily as of late, to crowdsource ways to look at data and tell the emerging stories visually. This goes beyond killer graphic design by seeking people who will dive into the data to determine what stories are worth telling, figure out how to tell them and have some fun while doing so.

And because this was meant conversationally, we purposefully constrained the constraints by not providing:

  • Pre-determined analysis beyond what we already published (the data had been made public previously)
  • Limitations or expectations of how much of the data should be used (all, some, or even a single data point)
  • Guidance on what the end-product would or could be, or even how finished it should be.

Already, we can declare some success. We are thrilled that roughly 1,000 people have downloaded the data and many have sent in their designs. Conversation started.

While we’re eager to see the final results of the submissions (and there’s still plenty of time to participate, deadline March 29), we also hope that we are moving the needle as everyone seeks better understanding of this new world of data. Consider Pinterest, a website that allows you to “pin” and share pictures from all over the Internet. The site is growing at an incredible pace, with more than 10 million unique U.S. visitors in December 2011 — almost double the audience from October (Source: Nielsen). Not surprising, one category of pictures people like to share is infographics, often because of the information the pictures relay as well as their beauty. According to recent data from our joint venture with McKinsey, NM Incite, online buzz about infographics has grown 107% year-over-year, with journalists and bloggers embracing the use of data visualizations more and more each day.

As big data gets bigger, the human brain will crave more concise representations of complex data. The average Internet user is moving beyond spreadsheet graphics and basic chartware to easy-to-use online services that create sophisticated infographics, accessible to all. For Nielsen, our goal is to make sure we’re providing more than just visually delightful graphics – they must be insightful and valuable, revealing something to our clients and readers they didn’t know or expect.

We will continue to refine our work, reinvent and learn from this conversation about data and design. So, watch this space for the contest results. Visit the contest site, download the data and be a participant in the conversation. When we put the entries out for voting, please vote and comment! And if you’re participating, please don’t be constrained in your exploration — feel free to color outside the lines.

More information: Nielsen Data Visualization Contest