#HRTechEurope – Visualizing data. What we learnt from David McCandless

HR Tech Europe this year is bigger than ever before. I’ve been asked to blog about the data and analytics angle by the organizers so I’ll be posting my own thoughts as the days progress.

I have a bit of a concern that conferences about technology is where the HR function discusses analytics but there is always a feeling that tools can turn you into a superstar. Unfortunately the reality is experience trumps tools.

David McCandless gave a vibrant presentation about day. The overall takeaway was just play with the data using visualisation.

David’s visualisations are very aesthetic which engages the audience. In some ways it is trading meaning. Tree Maps are harder to read than a bar. Some of the tree maps were, I felt inappropriate. Fundamentally they are about showing parts-of-a-whole and some of the demonstrations didn’t do this, unless ‘money’ was the whole.

There is an obvious question of where the trade-off should lie. David did mention that over-design could also breed distrust. Clearly there are significant trade-offs.

How do we identify where on the continuums to target? Well it all depends on the audience. David’s visualisations are obviously the outcome of a long-hand crafted process. Most people in businesses don’t have this luxury.

He discussed the ability to build designs and apply them into new data. Fundamentally this is what we all do. At the basic level most people pick a standard viz from Excel and apply it, presets and all. We, like David, build them with code.

We got some insights of his process through the presentation. I was pleased to see he also starts with pencil and paper. He showed this to show how out he was in a perception of two quantities, but another message could have been that pencil removes the limitations of your tools.

Data isn’t just tables of structured numbers. Technology encourages you to see visualisation in certain ways, the way that the tool can deal with. This can add meaning, but as importantly, it can be a barrier to meaning.