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Beauty and the brains in market research data visualization

Data viz that excites in market research
What qualities should we hire for to get great visual market research insight? I caught up with Danica Atkins after her DIVA win in September 2014.

Back in 2013, Infotools and GreenBook realised that something was missing. Too often, we associated market research with dull '100-slides-of-bullets-and-barcharts' reporting. Yet there was exciting innovation happening; a movement in creative visual reporting, still fragmented, but growing.

When we decided to create an award for data visualization of consumer insight, we weren’t sure how much interest there would be.

DIVAs are raising the profile of data viz

Those fears were quelled at the presentation of the first DIVAs trophy at the IIeX Europe in Amsterdam in February 2014. During the panel discussion on data visualization, the energy in the auditorium was palpable. And that energy has only grown through successive DIVAs.

Among the entries, we’ve seen the compelling, we’ve seen the impactful, we’ve seen the visually stunning, and we’ve seen the downright innovative. There have been interactive dashboards, bold infographics, books, videos, posters and whole platforms. Entrants have covered topics like advertising effectiveness, changing consumer attitudes, political polling, social media virality, and defining the generations. They have inspired and enthralled us with the creativity of their work.

One DIVA entry stood out

The Listening Project by a team at research agency TRA, was an entry which stood out even amongst this great company.

Colleen Ryan, Leigha Selby, Alister Hitchcock and Danica Atkins from TRA entered it in the New Zealand DIVAs, presented in Auckland in September 2014, and kindly co-sponsored by Auckland Council. They were thrilled to carry off the trophy for the first time in New Zealand.

'It’s fantastic to be recognized for delivering exactly what we set out to achieve,' says Danica Atkins.Beauty and the brains in market research data

An e-zine designed to immerse marketers and their agencies in the rich and disorderly lives of consumers, The Listening Project is an arresting visual feast: a glorious scrapbook of real lives. The judges described it as 'pithy, creative and compelling. I can imagine recipients sitting up and taking notice.'

In their own words, the team is clearly proud of what they’ve achieved with The Listening Project.

The Listening Project is 'not about giving answers, but rather starting conversations.' 
Danica Atkins

'Data visualization is typically based on quantitative content. It’s often static charts that generalise and strip out the human factor. What I think makes The Listening Project so strong and compelling is that it does the opposite. It’s almost entirely qualitative research. We elevate the individual and curate the content from there. It’s not about giving answers, but rather starting conversations. It’s a tool for immersive learning and active insight generation,' enthuses Danica.

It was my great pleasure to stand on stage at the awards night in the Auckland Hilton and tell 150 of my market research industry peers why Colleen, Leigha, Alister and Danica's work was important, and indeed why data visualization of consumer insight deserves their attention. The team at the Hilton was represented by Colleen and Leigha – Danica was on her honeymoon in Europe – but they were keen to stress how vital Danica’s input had been to The Listening Project.

Skills to take market research to the next level

Luckily I had my opportunity to talk to Danica (pictured here) later, when I caught up with her to find out what skills she feels market research departmentsDanica Aitkens and beauty and the brains in market research data need to invest in, and what TRA is doing right in terms of communicating market research insight.

Danica is design lead at TRA. She explains that her designer background didn’t prepare her for working with market research data.

'I got a pity-pass in bursary statistics. I’m trained as a visual communication designer, not a statistician. But I use this as my strength – if I can turn around something that I don’t initially understand into something that I do, then the audience will be able to as well.'

She brings a different perspective to the team, something she feels agencies need to foster.

Agencies should hire for diversity in thinking.
danica Atkins

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'I do not generally see things the same way as most of my colleagues, but we have better discussions because of this. Agencies should hire for diversity in thinking.'

And the skills they should look for? Danica’s list is impressive:
• Lateral thinkers
• Creative problem-solvers
• Persistent ‘why’ askers
• Those with a discerning eye for functional design and detail.

Danica certainly fits the bill. She shares her enthusiasm for the discipline: 'It’s like panning for gold – working the mass of content to find the gold nugget – that gold is valuable in its raw form for sure, but it’s not usable or ‘wearable’ until it’s been crafted and given some form. This is the type of data viz that excites me. Making something both beautiful and tangible, informative and inspirational.'

Finding data viz inspiration

Her inspiration comes from the data visualization hall of fame: Nicholas Felton and Edward Tufte to name a couple. 'Felton was definitely an early inspiration in terms of bringing together design and data. This is the guy who makes an annual report of his every daily interaction, and designed the Facebook timeline concept. Edward Tufte is of course the first guru of visualizing data, and a lot of people could still learn from his techniques to de-clutter charts.'

She’s excited by newcomers as well, especially those she sees as pushing the field out of the realm of 'chart candy'.

'I also enjoy things that you can see have been approached creatively, and results in a multi-faceted output that you can really dig into and explore.

'The group who created SelfieCity did a lot to get excited about – everything about that project from how (and what) they collected and analysed, the supporting theory, and the creative and explorative tools they created to share the findings. It draws you in, it’s more than just some slick infographics.'

'Because of the recent rise in popularity there’s now a lot of fad-ish gimmicks around, a lot of single-use infographics and cartoons. Prettying up some facts and figures will only get you so far, and in a corporate environment you run the risk of distracting your audience with a kind of smoke-and-mirrors effect. Bad design creates barriers between the audience and the content. Good design, which we aspire to do, should instead be transparent, removing barriers and facilitating the onboarding of insight.'Beauty and the brains in market research data

Speaking of The Listening Project’s success, Danica describes it as typical of TRA’s approach.

'We tailor our visual communication style to suit our clients. We learn what they do and do not like; what distracts and confuses them is as important as knowing what they respond well to. We are not afraid to test the boundaries of this, which is what The Listening Project did. It gave them something they’d never seen before, but was at the same time tailored for them.'

Recognise the importance of establishing the context, let go of the superfluous, then elevate the essential.
Danica Atkins
Design lead, TRA

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TRA's approach, she explains, is not just for visuals, but rather a philosophy across all their work. 

'At TRA we have an un-official no-nonsense approach. This applies to how we both verbally and visually communicate. Recognise the importance of establishing the context, let go of the superfluous, then elevate the essential.'

Whatever the reason, The Listening Project has set a high standard for entrants in future DIVAs to live up to. We congratulate Danica and her colleagues on their sterling work.

Find out more about the next round of DIVAs here:

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  • Ant Franklin (not verified) 31.10.14 / 15:48pm

    The DIVAs are very proud to be associated with the great work of Colleen, Leigha, Alister and Danica at TRA. The Listening Project was a worthy winner of the New Zealand round of the awards.

  • John Davis (not verified) 31.10.14 / 16:41pm

    Great to hear about quality research visualization based around qual research. Thanks for sharing.

  • Geoff Lowe (not verified) 19.11.14 / 09:29am

    Numbers are good, but pictures are better! Congratulations, Danica - and well captured Sue!

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