Data is the ‘New Oil’, But Only if You Refine it

by Matt Farrar, the founder of Great Fridays, now an EPAM company

I am very fortunate to work with global businesses, and more often than not with executive teams who have been locked in a world ruled by writing systems and books for their entire careers.

It seems incongruous that working in design generally means working with a rectangular shape that is either used to write on or look at. Mobile phone and tablet design, as I saw from Mobile World Congress this year, isn’t moving forward.

The team at Great Fridays, on the other hand, has grown up in a world centred around design. We communicate at an optimum level with a whiteboard and a pen, because we know that we can visualise the challenge rather than giving our audience something to read, and for them to formulate their own view.

This simple approach has proven invaluable, and a methodology in which we have built our business. Taking complex business challenges and using our design approach to articulate, and play these back to executive teams so that they consume and understand rapidly.

There is so much data in the world, and business really doesn’t know what to do with it or how to connect it.

There are so many digital and electronic channels, and so much personal and business information now.

The successful businesses will learn how to harness and present this information.  I am sure you have heard the phrase that ‘data is the new oil’. I agree, but only if you have the capability to refine (excuse the pun) and make sense of it.

For Great Fridays the design process starts with the data, the insight and the research.  Not only do we consume and understand this data, but more importantly, we are able to interpret it and present back to our clients as a clear pictorial story.

This is a very different approach to the way in which more traditional business consultancies work, and their allegiance to the writing systems of the past.

This design-led visualisation process is truly transformational, as we engage disparate and sometime cynical teams quickly and effectively, because we are able to communicate the challenges in a way in which nothing is left open to interpretation.

The great pioneers of data visualization such as the UK data journalist David McCandless and Eric Rodenbeck from data visualisation agency Stamen inspire us. They are evangelising about the power of data visualisation around the world, and showing the impact it can have when interpreted.

I urge you to look at David’s TED talk and Eric’s talk from the Bloomberg Business Week Design event last year. Also the ‘Information Is Beautiful’ book by McCandless is a great addition to any design library.

So imagine that future where the rectangle screen isn’t a prolific part of our communication ecosystem, a future where data can be visualised in real time.

Augmented wearable technology is commonplace, but more importantly it has become more concealed. I would suggest that the written language no longer plays a leading part in our evolved way of communicating, but more of a supportive role.

Great Fridays have become a pioneer of this revolution, using visualisations of data to interpret complex business challenges and to get buy in from disparate stakeholder teams.

The impact that this has in the first phase of our service design process has been transformational and so we now call it transformational design, I believe a lot of other companies are going to be following our lead.