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Data Artistry: The Secret Weapon of Corporate Politics

February 26, 2018

Seth Appel
VP, Productivity Solutions, RRD


Whenever you have more than one person in a room there will also be politics. And in big organizations with many people there is a need for skilled leadership to take on the big political task of coordinating and galvanizing the group's collective efforts into a productive plan and profitable outcome. Of course, easier said than done. And this is why being an effective influencer and coalition builder is widely seen as an absolutely essential skill for senior executives.

Theoretically the rise of management by data should have substantially reduced the role of corporate politics and personality in making major business decisions. Wouldn't influencing skills and personal relationships be of waning importance in an age of quantifiable metrics and objective measures of performance? Experience, however, suggests otherwise.

One reason for this phenomenon is that while data volume has grown by leaps and bounds, the skills with which to effectively communicate with data have not evolved at a commensurate pace. Basically we have a lot of data but limited expertise in communicating with it effectively.

A big step in the right direction is for leadership to recognize the need for unique data communication skills in addition to just data science acumen. The ability to communicate data insights effectively to large audiences will increasingly become a core skill as the role of data driven decision making eclipses management by gut instinct.

Four key points to consider when using data visualizations in a presentation to galvanize support for a decision or transformational initiative:

  1. Reliable – Have you vigorously kicked the tires on the veracity of your source data? Is there enterprise wide alignment on the metric definitions and parameters for success used?
  2. Clear – Is your core data thesis digestible and comprehensible within a few seconds? If not, back to the drawing board!
  3. Available – Have you made key data reports disseminated to all relevant stakeholders? Vital dashboards with metrics for performance are of little use if not made readily accessible to all decision makers.
  4. Beautiful – Last but by far not least, does your data presentation, dashboard or visualization look good?

The need to grant data presentations the authority of good visual design and beauty is often neglected by accomplished data analysts who spend more time in the world of mathematical absolutes than the world of subjective personal charm. A good looking visualization will turn heads and provide your analysis an extra degree of gravitas and respect. As the old adage goes, beauty is power.

While RRD is assisting our clients on all four of these points we are true leaders in bringing top tier artistry to data communication efforts. Within our data practice we even have a designated Data Artist function that recognizes the need for a professional with both data science and visual design expertise.

Here are some points to consider when assessing the artistic component of any data visualization:

  1. Headlines – Does your visualization present top and most commonly used data takeaways front and center? And then proceed in an organized fashion to more specialized data needs afterwards?
  2. Colors – Does your visualization use colors effectively and in a consistent manner to assist viewers in making effective comparisons quickly with little effort?
  3. Icons – Does the visualization use unique symbols to create cognitive short cuts in tracking data streams across time periods or other continuous variables?
  4. Movement – Do design elements take into account the most likely path of the viewer’s eye to thoughtfully sequence the presentation of data elements?
  5. Minimalism – Does it present the largest amount of ideas possible in the smallest amount of space and with the least amount of ink?
  6. Integrity – Does the visualization refrain from detrimental distortions like a truncated "Y" axis or a confused pie chart?

When wielded effectively, data artistry can be tremendously helpful in galvanizing support for data driven operational enhancements and transformational initiatives. For now, data artistry is still a secret weapon of corporate politics, but not for long...

To learn more about RRD’s Data Artistry and Data Visualization support services please contact Seth Appel, VP of Productivity Solutions at seth.a.appel@rrd.com

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