Design by Numbers: How Creative and Data Complement Each Other

  |  March 16, 2009   |  Comments

Massive technological and societal shifts are creating a huge role for the designer to play as an intermediary between data and culture.

The latter half of the 19th century was a radical time in the art world. The Impressionism movement was in full swing, led by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Mary Cassatt. Then in the 1880s, a side movement sprang up known as Pointillism.

The most famous example of Pointillism is "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by Georges-Pierre Seurat. The title may mean nothing to you, but perhaps the description rings a bell: families from various classes, dressed in formal attire, stand on the bank of the Seine in Paris. If you look closely, you can see the painting is actually made of thousands of tiny dots.

No one was using the word "pixel" in the 1880s, but it's interesting to think of Seurat's painting as a precursor to digital design. The graphics on our computer screens, televisions, monitors of all types are made of tens of thousands of individual colored points that together form images we recognize.

It's all about the big picture.

I think of data in a similar way. Together individual data form a collective whole: a concept, a point of view, a starting point. Data become the basis for strategy and communication. They are the Pointillism of the digital medium.

Many think that data and design are like oil and water; the two just don't mix. But in the agency and marketing worlds, that just doesn't work. Data can -- and must -- inform design, and vice versa. And no one knows that better than Jon McVey, our agency's executive creative director.

During his prolific design career, McVey has worked in London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and all over the United States on campaigns for Encyclopaedia Britannica, Apple, Sony, Converse, National Geographic, Tazo, Façonnable, Morgans Hotel Group, and many other clients.

His experience and perspective speak directly to the use of data in design, so I decided to pose a few questions to him on that topic.

Shane Atchison: What does data look like to a creative director in a corporate organization?

Jon McVey: Data itself is meaningless. But data grants insight, and it is only with insight that we can create something meaningful. We live at a time where the sheer volume of available data is overwhelming and increasing exponentially. Too much data is just as debilitating as no data at all.

SA: How does creative work with data?

JM: The role of the creative is critical: to be able to distill and make sense of this information and turn it into ideas and objects that people can relate to and understand. There are massive technological and societal shifts happening, and there is a huge role for the designer to play as an intermediary between data and culture. To become what Paola Antonelli of MOMA calls "society's new pragmatic intellectuals."

SA: Let's talk about analysis. Aren't numbers more concrete than intuition?

JM: Numbers alone never create meaning, and intuition alone can be just as worthless. The ideal is the integration of the two. My favorite car analogy is the Ford Edsel, which attempted all kinds of design innovations but became one of the biggest corporate failures because creative didn't pay attention to the numbers.

SA: In what ways does data allow creative to take risks?

JM:Data in its many forms can absolutely validate an idea that might seem risky to a client. Beyond the insights we can gain from data, prototyping and iterative testing can be huge allies for the creative process. For everyone involved it can provide a very real sense of whether a concept will work in the real world. We are just as invested as the client in that success.

SA: Getting back to art, could analytics be run on the "Mona Lisa"?

JM: Leonardo da Vinci is one of the first visionaries who dreamt of a future where design and science would be intertwined. There are so many ways we could measure human reaction to the "Mona Lisa" or deconstruct the artist's masterful technique. But what this painting also represents to me is the immeasurable power of art to connect with and emotionally captivate people. It's the ultimate reminder that people want more than just logic.

Join us for Post-Click Marketing: Maximizing Conversions Once Visitors Arrive, Wednesday, March 18, at 1 p.m. EDT. Presented by ClickZ Expert Bryan Eisenberg, cofound of FutureNow, this Webcast will explain how to transform your visitor's journey from first click all the way to the completion of your Web site's forms (both retail and lead gen) to maximize conversions.

ClickZ Live Toronto On the heels of a fantastic event in New York City, ClickZ Live is taking the fun and learning to Toronto, June 23-25. With over 15 years' experience delivering industry-leading events, ClickZ Live offers an action-packed, educationally-focused agenda covering all aspects of digital marketing. Register today!

ClickZ Live San Francisco Want to learn more? Join us at ClickZ Live San Francisco, Aug 10-12!
Educating marketers for over 15 years, ClickZ Live brings together industry thought leaders from the largest brands and agencies to deliver the most advanced, educational digital marketing agenda. Register today and save $500!


Shane Atchison

In 1998, Shane co-founded ZAAZ to advocate a different approach to Web services — one that respects and delivers on the power of the individual and the promise of Web technologies. As CEO, Shane leads the company's long-term strategic vision of working with leading financial service organizations, consumer brands, startups, non-profits, and community-based organizations, helping each realize the potential of the Internet and its meaningful impact on their business.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Analytics newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!



Featured White Papers

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce
This Magic Quadrant examines leading digital commerce platforms that enable organizations to build digital commerce sites. These commerce platforms facilitate purchasing transactions over the Web, and support the creation and continuing development of an online relationship with a consumer.

Paid Search in the Mobile Era

Paid Search in the Mobile Era
Google reports that paid search ads are currently driving 40+ million calls per month. Cost per click is increasing, paid search budgets are growing, and mobile continues to dominate. It's time to revamp old search strategies, reimagine stale best practices, and add new layers data to your analytics.




    • GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator
      GREAT Campaign Project Coordinator (British Consulate-General, New York) - New YorkThe GREAT Britain Campaign is seeking an energetic and creative...
    • Paid Search Senior Account Manager
      Paid Search Senior Account Manager (Hanapin Marketing) - BloomingtonHanapin Marketing is hiring a strategic Paid Search Senior Account Manager...
    • Paid Search Account Manager
      Paid Search Account Manager (Hanapin Marketing) - BloomingtonHanapin Marketing is hiring an experienced Paid Search Account Manager to...