2nd September 09
We’re moderately obsessed with the world of data visualisaton here at Labs for a number of reasons: the ability to generate fresh insight from extraordinarily complex data sets, the ability to trigger radical reappraisal of familiar problems, the ability to put consumers in control of the vast quantities of personal data they generate every day. Not to mention the extraordinary fusion of technology and creativity it represents.
We firmly believe that data visualisation has a wealth of exciting commercial applications, from communicating in new ways to developing new tools, apps and utilities for clients and consumers alike. So we’ve grown slightly frustrated by the rise of visualisations that are moderately pretty but add little in terms of real insight, utility or illumination.
We’re also, as we may have mentioned, big fans of Manuel Lima here at Labs. So we were intrigued to see that he has authored an “Information Visualisation Manifesto”, a provocative (but characteristically generous and nuanced) take on the future of data visualisation which tackles head on the thorny questions at the heart of this ever-expanding field:
- Art versus Science
- Intrigue versus Immediacy
- Aesthetics versus apprehension.
Manuel comes down firmly on the side of clarity of communication versus visualisation for visualisation’s sake, citing the discipline’s roots in the desire “to facilitate understanding and aid cognition” and a growing frustration with the “eye candy” approach to the craft. Many of his principles are rooted in this utilitarian approach, reading almost like a Bauhaus manifesto (and none the worse for that):
- Form follows Function
- Do not glorify Aesthetics
- Look for relevancy
- Aspire for Knowledge
It’s a bold, purist and punchy vision yet also acknowledges the power of narrative and the role of intrigue. Indeed the question of narrative seems to lie at the heart of this Manifesto; the need to pose a specific question of the data and to weave coherent themes and stories from it. These themes then drive the aesthetic approach. As Manuel puts it:
“Form doesn’t follow data. Data is incongruent by nature. Form follows a purpose, and in the case of Information Visualisation, Form follows Revelation”
This is perhaps the key distinction between Information Visualisation as defined here and what Manuel suggests we start thinking of as “Information Art”. Within this approach, artists will freely allow form to follow data, using the random-ness this creates to add texture and interest. Take, for example, Aaron Koblin’s desire to embrace the random-ness of a data set and indeed the richness and texture added to his famous Radiohead video by “interrupting the data”:
“I think it really gives character, because I think it’s really that kind of intricacy and detail that builds character and in a sense it’s the errors and flaws that make art”.Both approaches are undoubtedly valid. Within any medium there will be times when we seek immediacy and times when we are prepared to be intrigued and to explore. There will be times when we want to understand our world better and times when we want to turn perceptions of it on its head. I can think of few practical applications of, say, the “Synchronous Objects” visualisation series but it mashes up art forms and messes with my mind in a truly delightful way.
As ever, then, we need to return to objectives, to ask what we are trying to achieve:
- Do we want to educate around an issue, making complex questions simple?
- To shift perceptions and provoke a response?
- To offer a fresh perspective on an infrastructure question for our clients?
- To offer our consumers better comprehension and control of their behaviours?
Simply put, are we going to offer something that is either very, very useful or very, very beautiful? Either way, greater clarity of intent and greater discipline throughout the industry can only be an advantage in building credibility and engagement. Building that credibiltiy is vital if data viz is going to become not just an entertaining diversion but a vital tool for navigating a world generating more and richer data by the second.
If what we are building is neither very beautiful nor very useful, to Manuel’s final point “Avoid Gratuitous visualisations”: “Simply conveying data in a visual form, without shedding light on the portrayed subject, or even making it more complex, can only be considered a failure”.
Or as William Morris put it: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”.
27th August 09
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
I recently attended an excellent Made by Many event hosted at BBH which featured a re-presentation by Manuel Lima of his 2009 TED talk on data visualisation. Manuel is the curator of visualcomplexity.com and is an eloquent, modest, charming pioneer in this fascinating field.
As a novice myself, I could not help wondering why we are all so immediately and instinctively attracted to the best of data visualisation.To start with, I’m sure there is some fundamental truth that for most of us data become meaningful only when we can see scale, change, patterns and relationships. Seeing is understanding.
It’s also very reassuring to discover that complex, seemingly chaotic data sets and networks can be expressed as elegant, colourful, ordered maps and models. Perhaps there’s something akin to what the Enlightenment scientists felt as every new discovery revealed the endless beauty of nature.
Indeed the best examples of data visualisation have their own aesthetic beauty. (I felt a nostalgic pang as I recalled time spent with spirograph in my bedroom as a child.)
24th August 09
13th August 09
We like this, and look forward to seeing what comes from it.
GOOD Magazine are asking people: “If you were to invent anything to push the world forward, what would it be?”
The jury’s still out on whether collaborative creativity can provide a viable business model (high enough quality; low enough costs) for creative businesses, but this seems to us to be a smart way of focusing the minds of artists, inventors and other thinkers on some of the more important questions.
We’ll watch with interest – what would your idea be?
(Thanks to John Winsor of CP&B – @jtwinsor – for the heads-up).
11th August 09
Posted in transformational change
At the end of May this year we got pretty excited and the debate got fairly heated about the launch of Agency Nil – the agency with the convention-busting business model that ‘will work for all it’s worth’. In other words, they’ll do the work and you pay them what you think you should. Unorthodox, audacious stuff whichever way you look at it, we were impressed.
Since launch they’ve been approached by both clients and talent and, inevitably, as they started work on live projects (including clients with food products and online services, not to mention a pitch for a large software company’s NPD launch), one of the toughest questions facing any agency arose: when were they going to find time to do the work brilliantly AND keep scouting for new business? Clearly a conventional solution wasn’t going to cut it at Agency Nil, which is when they came up with this ultra simple, ultra ‘on brand’ idea:
Catching up again with Agency Nil’s founders, they explained the concept a little more:
“If a person connects Agency Nil with a business that would be interested in our services and they become a client within a year, Agency Nil will give the person who refers them 10% of the first payment they receive (from $100 to $100,000 or more…). This person is called an Agency Nil Spotter. All it takes to become one is an email to Agency Nil introducing the potential client (with the client cc’d, of course). Then the Spotter’s referral is documented. When Agency Nil get paid, the Spotter gets paid. Simple.”
We love the idea of an agency experimenting with new business in this way. A smart move that painlessly exploits an era where networking and sharing useful information has never been easier. What’s more, it’s in keeping with the spirit of their launch which, as they put it at the time: “It’s a win/win. And that’s the kind of business we like to be in.” Agency Nil also draw attention to the fact they’re putting into practice a simple way for talented individuals to profit from their connections: “Isn’t it about time people started to get rewarded for the networks they’ve built?”
Of course this isn’t the first time an agency has used crowd sourcing to find prospective marketing clients. Who knows, will people really refer a hot prospect? How reliable will the connections be? Will it tend to be for small projects only, or will Agency Nil land a multi-million dollar account this way? They may hit some bumps in the road along the way, but to us this approach looks like a natural next step for them and a dead simple, innovative solution to an age old problem. So again, we say hats off to Agency Nil and good luck.
If you want to sign-up as an Agency Nil Spotter, send an email to Spotter@AgencyNil.com.
10th August 09
We’re super proud of our friends at BBH London who’ve produced something very special for Johnnie Walker. “The Man Who Walked Around the World” is a six-minute piece of storytelling that features Robert Carlyle walking through the Scottish Highlands. Carlyle tells the story of the brand’s birth, growth and development via some dazzling copywriting from BBH’s Justin Moore. This alone is an achievement – to keep the viewer listening intently for six-and-a-half minutes in a world where 140 characters constitutes ‘engagement’. Clearly Carlyle plays a huge role here as well.
What’s even more impressive, for us, is that this was all achieved in one take, with no editing done afterwards. Apparently there were 40 takes in total, and this was the last, completed at 8pm on the last day of the shoot. When you see how finely timed this is you’ll see why we’re in awe of the production.
There’s a great interview with the Director, Jamie Rafn, on the Shots site which goes into detail about how the piece was shot and some of the considerations that affected how it turned out. Definitely worth checking this out. Rafn took on a challenge many others thought impossible. As Mick Mahoney, BBH London Creative Director of the project told us:
“Every director we spoke to told us that it wasn’t possible to do what we wanted. That we would need concealed cuts and so on. Which would still have made a good film, but it’s the undertaking, the commitment, of doing it all in one take that makes it. Jamie Rafn was the only director who felt the same. Getting Robert Carlyle to do it then just took it up a gear. He has exactly the screen persona that we wanted. Tough, uncompromising, enigmatic.”
10th August 09
A potentially strong application of collaborative intelligence . . . with a twist.
(Un)classes starts with the premise that everyone has something to teach, and much to learn. But, pragmatically, few of us are going to sign into formal programs. Casual learning (as they frame this form of education) is aimed squarely at people who lead hectic lives but still want to satisfy their intellectual curiosity.
(Un)classes is thus in effect a marketplace for matching interests with passion, simply connecting people who’d otherwise have few ways of directly collaborating in this way. It’s deliberately informal, with few rules and none of the stuffiness that could surround what is in effect a ‘learning’ service.
(We’re also reminded of the campaign BBH New York helped create for one of BBH’s clients, NYC & Co, around using one’s skills, passions, and willingness to help address some of NYC’s most important issues: What’s Your Blank?)
The depth of the (Un)classes offering seems quite shallow at the moment, but as people sign up, and choice and quality deepen, it will be interesting to see whether the idea takes off. We wish them luck.
More details at: http://www.unclasses.org/about
3rd August 09
Author: Adam Glickman
Following our piece looking at journalism (a review of the transformational change at the Telegraph Media Group) and fiction (interview with Jeremy Ettinghausen, Digital Publisher at Penguin), our interest in the profound changes occurring in the publishing industry continues with this look at the opportunities in mobile.
We often talk about the future of mobile media and what it will all look like, but what about the future of the mobile media of the past? The notion of carrying around your reading as reams of inked paper might disappear, but the written word certainly won’t. So it seems a very natural progression for print publishers to move from paper to digital by simply reformatting for small screen mobile devices. But the considerations are vast. And more importantly, how much do people really want to use their phones as reading devices anyway?
We recently met a company called ScrollMotion, a New York-based iPhone app developer that is hard at work answering these questions. The company have been steadily creating a suite of new tools for traditional print media companies to better engage their readers via apps on mobile phones, and in the process, quietly making publishing deals with a wide range of top-notch publishers. Their growing client list is impressive and includes Conde Nast, Hearst, Time Inc., Tribune Company, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Wiley.