The changing of the history while you watch

IMG parody in black

I got acquainted with the internet rather late, in 1995 when I arrived in Helsinki and began to work at a university. Years before that I had been playing with a little programming on our home PC that my father got from his work. I have never been good at programming, my mind or character needs something else it seems. What I am good at is the visual stuff.

But computers, technology and the internet has since been an integral part of my work and life. A problem has been for me, till fairly recent, to keep a reliable good archive of the worthwhile activities I have employed the past 20 plus years. In my lazy thinking I assumed the internet was my archive and everything I have done, will magically stay “there”.

The past years I have realized I cannot rely on the internet as my archive. The internet morphs and changes day by day. New technologies, new players, and new attitudes change the landscape. Disregarding the nefarious cases, things just disappear as they do not seem needed anymore. Also, a blog post by a former customer of mine, Valotalive from Helsinki, fell by the wayside.

I know the company went through various iterations and sometimes you need to shed your old skin to make place for something new. Their blog posts prior somewhere in 2016, have been removed from the site. An interview with me on my view on data and data visualization is gone as well, from their site.

Luckily the email chain between me and Kaijus Asteljoki, the CEO of Valotalive, plus his .docx file, is still in my archive.  I post the contents of the 11 October 2016 document here as it is part of my personal history, and I like to be able to show my progress or decline in my thinking. Being wrong is not something to be ashamed of, being right neither.

Interview with Kaijus Asteljoki, 11 October 2016

We work alot with data driven digital signage. We see how fast data and datavisualisations can benefit organisations in terms of communication.

To dig deeper and really understand the opportunities with datavisualization you need to understand art, industrial design and data (research).

So, we needed someone smart to step in. I had the opportunity to pick the brain of Jeroen Carelse who teaches dataviz at Aalto University, Helsinki and is on the cusp of data, entrepreneurship and art.

Here is our Q&A with Jeroen

What is datavisualisation?

Q: Our focus is on communications and data visualisation. There’s a lot of talk about datavisualisation, but this can be understood in many ways. How would you describe datavisualisation?

A: One starting point is to consider that telling a story based on something that is measured or experienced, data. So you tell a story with this data as you want to convey a message. By telling a story you make choices, you select data and might omit data. You highlight data or the direction the data points to. This is akin emphasising a word or sentence. I think this is not well understood as people talk about data as being facts, truths. Nothing can be more far from the truth. Data can be anything, any mix, any subset of a larger picture.

When you visualise this you once more make choices. This is another moment where you can distort, emphasise and what have you. It is crucial to be aware of this power that you have. Flatten a graph and it looks little dramatic, change the y-axis and little bumps suddenly look very dramatic. All the same data but differently visualised.

So you tell stories.

Data – A big potential for communications to tell many stories

Q: When we talk about company culture and enterprise strategy, corporate communication is one key area there to make sure the employees understand the big picture and their role in it.
One could say we work in the intersection of big data, datavisualisation and internal communications. In your opinion, why should communications care about datavisualisation?

A: If you have control over your data and you know what your enterprise stands for then you got a powerful tool. If on the other hand you don’t speak data and you don’t know what to say you mainly add more noise. This counts for all kinds of communication, internal and external, motivational, informative, convincing, persuading, pressuring, manipulating. An enterprise that knows this can use it for good or not.

What about Big Data?

Big data means also a big potential to tell many stories. So you come back to the question: what do you want to tell to your employees and partners? Are you 100% honest, what does that mean? How deep do you want to dig in the data to explain why a certain outcome is what it is?

With large data sets you can find many correlations, 1 thing might lead to another. For example an increase in revenue might lead to hiring more people. You can look for that and find it. It doesn’t mean that it IS like that as the increase in more people could also come from moving the factories to low labour countries.

So the problem is that data is a raw material with which you can sculpt many outcomes. BUT, one decision leads to another that leads to another. So if you decide that “more revenue —> more hires” then you set yourself up for a certain direction and exclude many others.

A good organisation gives access to data, gives the tools to – eventually – understand that data from the many angles that exist. Data visualisation is more like a kaleidoscope than a microscope…

To have a better insight in how the world works

Jeroen has a background in arts and industrial design. He has been a lecturer at Aalto University Media lab since 2008 teaching datavisualisation and service development. Jeroen is a multidisciplinary person involved also in several information centered startups. He is on the cusp of data, entrepreneurship and art.

We would like to thank Jeroen for taking this time to talk with us and share his views on regarding this highly interesting topic. So, thanks Jeroen, always a pleasure!