How we turn complex data sets into useful, readable information for the layperson fascinates me. The Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE) has to do this on a daily basis for event participants to quickly absorb and make informed decisions. So, you can imagine that when Creative Mornings hosted a talk by James Cheshire I was keen to go along.

Although not ground breaking, he had some valuable points useful for anyone trying to convey complex information (that’s pretty much anyone these days).

Data and graphics aren’t one person’s job.

It takes a team of people to create his books, with much iteration and debate about what is truly helpful vs noise. If one person has the capability to decipher complex data sets and present that data in an engaging and useful way, they’re a genius. Hire them immediately. Meanwhile, work with a wide, varied team of different brains, over a period of time. This is the only way to make sure your data is as effective as you need it to be, and tells the story you want to tell.

Big data isn’t everything.

We are obsessed with ‘big data’ but big data is just data. It only really adds value if you know what to do with it. Ask the question what is this really showing me? And what is the story I want to tell? Then use your data to your advantage, strip the noise.

The benefit of books.

The ASE often invests in new books, magazines and periodicals for participants (and the team!) to flick through for inspiration and education.  We believe they add to an experience and can be remembered (because of the tangible nature) better than digital media. When asked why James prints his work, he had some great points. James said he knows that often a publication will be flicked through months and years after publication because it’s findable, it’s touchable and it wants to be read (take a look at his books, they definitely make you want to pick them up). How often do you go back to a web page because it was pretty, felt nice or intrigued you to want to browse again? (I’m betting not often) Books are not dead. They are very much alive (James writes more about this subject here if you’re interested in reading more).

The biggest take away

Before he closed, James talked about making complex things simple. ‘Empower people to understand the complexity’ he said. ‘Give them to tools to understand it.’ By tools he was talking design, design something good enough that even the most complex data could be understood, he was also talking about space and time. He referred to the fact that we often ‘dumb things down’ because ‘they won’t understand’, well maybe with a little more thought in advance, and a little more design in the delivery, and a little more time to digest, they will.