Must the creation of excellent data visualizations be solely relegated to UI and graphic designers?

Posted by Paloma Medina

Just when I thought my obsession with data visualizations was over, I come across a new gem.  Up until this point, my fan-dom had been focused on admiring finished products, like Hans Rosling’s Gapminder or GE’s Healthymagination Stats of the Union. However, what next interested me was how to bring this tool to the masses. My question was, “Must the creation of excellent data visualizations be solely relegated to UI and graphic designers?” As it turns out, no, it does not. There is a tool that democratizes the creation of data visualization:

Many Eyes: An experiment based on IBM research.

Many Eyes is an online tool that democratizes data visualization by allowing anyone, regardless of design or coding background, to turn data into visual information that is so much more than bar graphs and pie charts.  In addition, the site includes a browsing function and discussion forum that fosters collaborative learning.

Created in 2007, the site features pre-loaded data sets as well as the ability to upload your own set. Once you’ve selected what data you want to work with, you have more than a dozen options for how to organize your data. This is where it gets interesting. The beauty of the site isn’t just that you can create these amazing visual representations, it’s that you can play around and see how the same data translates depending on which type of visualizing model you choose. This means that non-designers can learn by doing what makes some data visualizations work and others not, depending on the data you’re working with.

The exciting thing about all of this is that tools such as Many Eyes will allow us to move towards a day when data visualization can benefit from crowd sourcing the way other fields have. What if Many Eyes was to health data what Flickr is to photographs?

Explore the site, let me know what you think and what potential you think it could have in your own health work.

Paloma Medina is an MPA HPAM 2012 candidate with a specialization in organizational coaching and development. Her background is in homeless health care, community development and design.

A Design Oriented Approach to Presentations

Posted by Paloma Medina

In our last voyage into data visualization and design, I posed that incorporating these tools into the health sector could vastly improve how we share information with providers and front-line staff. In this last entry I want to focus on how these tools can make an impact for health administrators and policy folks.  To be specific, I want to explore the role of a design-oriented approach in presentations and trainings that we create.

To start us off, let’s explore the work of Hans Rosling. A statistician, award-winning global health researcher and all-around genius, Rosling also has an appreciation for good design. Rosling has infused the health field with inspiring presentations that rely on impressive data visualizations to show health data in a brand new way.

His talk, “Let my dataset change your mindset” on is one of my favorite examples of the impact created from the marriage of design and data. Rosling’s lectures showcase his award-winning Trendalyzer software, which transforms an intense amount of complicated data with multiple data points into an engaging, beautifully interactive narrative that walks the audience through a new perspective on global longevity — all in under 20 minutes!

It is the ability to turn data into a story that makes Rosling’s Trendalyzer software (available for public use at effective. The human brain processes information easier and faster when it’s able to see it as part of a story. Both data comprehension and data retention increase dramatically when new information is presented as a narrative. This is why it’s quite difficult for some of us to remember all 8 of these random words:

But why almost anyone can remember them when we present them as a story:

The girl will polish the green apple laying by the shed after she pets the donkey and reindeer.

It’s a silly but important example – as administrators, policy makers and analysts, turning our data into a story can make the difference between a snoring and an inspired audience. Effective visual design takes this concept a step forward and transforms that story into an visual narrative — a series of images that communicate data faster than the brain can read text.

Your question now may be: That’s all well and good for people like Rosling, with his fancy software, but how does this relate to the rest of us who don’t have these resources?

I’ll answer that with a personal example:
Four years ago I attended a federal training on new cervical health reporting guidelines for Federally Qualified Health Centers. The presentation was a series of 25 PowerPoint slides overflowing with text and tiny work flow charts outlining confusing and frustrating new guidelines that doubled our reporting work load. We left angry at the government and dragged our feet on complying, in large part because we were not sure how to — even after a three hour training.

A year later, I attended a refresher training on the same topic, this time there were a similar number of slides but all with large images, hardly any text on them, and a worksheet that was well-designed and listed the requirements on the left and an area for audience members to write down their own notes and ideas for how to operationalize each guideline. The series of images told a story, narrated by the presenter, of a woman with many years of untracked pap smear results and how she was able to catch cervical cancer in the early stages thanks to her clinic’s new ability to track and report on her results. It was the story of what our clinic could do if we implemented the new guidelines. The presentation ended with a beautiful infographic of how tracking, reporting and better health outcomes all fit together. We left feeling energized and armed with information we could easily pass on to our staff members.  The interactivity, story, captivating images and infographic punchline all contributed to the success of the training. It mirrored Rosling’s lectures even without fancy software.

I personally would love to see the Trendalyzer in more global health presentations I attend, or the elements that make it a successful tool incorporated into the next training I’m required to go to. Do you have examples of a great presentation that used design to engage a health care audience? I’d love to learn of others – email them to me and I’ll post them in future posts.

Paloma Medina is an MPA HPAM 2012 candidate with a specialization in organizational coaching and development. Her background is in homeless health care, community development and design.

Accuracy is Only Half the Battle

Posted by Paloma Medina

In healthcare, as in most fields, the only thing better than accurate data is accurate data that reaches the right audience — i.e an audience that can turn that data into action/ change/ impact. How good is a comprehensive data set if it remains locked away in the academic realm? However, transforming data into information that shifts paradigms and moves key people into action requires a distinctly different skill set than assuring the accuracy and relevancy of the same data. Consequently, it is not surprising that the people involved in collecting and making sense of raw data are not the same as the folks thinking about how data can achieve maximum impact. Furthermore, these two types of people, the data wranglers and the designers, tend to occupy different spaces. Though this is slowly changing, the two camps traditionally have gone to different schools, worked for different companies, read different magazines, etc. Wagner for example, is teeming with data wranglers (and thankfully so!).  We have a wealth of analysts, evaluators, aggregators, statisticians and general data enthusiasts who bring a wealth of data management experience into the classroom. What we may be missing in our midst are the designers, the ones who are interested in questions such as:

-How do we turn this data into easy-to-reference knowledge?

-What new audiences could our data reach?

-How can we make our data compete with all the other information our audience is bombarded with?

-What makes data useful, digestible, intriguing?

-Can data motivate and inspire?

In healthcare, these questions become incredibly relevant — whether we are administrators interested in training 200 providers in a new procedure or we are program evaluators attempting to create a better way to collect patient feedback. Considering design in our work increases its efficacy because it takes into account what designers know – that just because it’s important doesn’t mean anyone is going to notice or care. Turning data into something people will pay attention to and easily absorb is about so much more than accuracy and relevancy. Good data design taps into aesthetic theory, psychology, anthropology, sociology, branding strategy and so much more. This is precisely what designers can bring to the table.

My question, then, is:

How might the healthcare field benefit from increased collaboration with the design field?

Great strides are being made in this arena. I propose to explore them further in upcoming weeks. I encourage you to continue the conversation with colleagues, and to email me your questions, tips, and links.  For now, I leave you with this:

Paloma Medina is an MPA HPAM 2012 candidate with a specialization in organizational coaching and development. Her background is in homeless health care, community development and design.