Getting Creative with Big Data: How Web Designers Made Numbers More Exciting

Turning something objectively boring into something subjectively engaging isn’t easy. When you’ve got an attractive subject or a gorgeous setting to work with, making something creative doesn’t take as much effort. For example, if you were staring across the horizon from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, you’d probably be able to think of a dozen different ways to take an inspiring picture or paint an abstract representation of the landscape.

However, what do you do when you’re presented with something as bland as a bunch of numbers? If you’re a website owner or developer in 2017, you know that numbers and data are now a major part of the game. Indeed, big data, as it’s technically known, has been helping to improve efficiency, increase engagement and generally give more depth to a variety of industries and endeavors.

Big Data is Changing the Way we Interact with the World

For example, Bernard Marr for Forbes has pointed out that big data was extremely helpful for Walmart during Hurricane Sandy. Following a series of storms in 2004, the company was able to compile a wealth of statistics about how people shop in an emergency. Fast-forward to 2012 and Walmart was able to stock up on items such as strawberries and Pop Tarts, all of which virtually sold out, due to the statistical insights from 2004.

Beyond businesses using big data to boost their bottom lines, consumer-facing websites have also made use of big data in recent years. Take, for instance, online bookmakers. These sites are basically statistical hubs where sports fans can go to get the lowdown on everything from a team’s/athlete’s past results to their future chances of success through various betting odds.

Unfortunately, as insightful and important as this information is in both instances, there really isn’t anything sexy about numbers. Now, in the case of Walmart, it doesn’t really matter if the company is creative with the presentation of the data or not. However, when you visit websites where statistical information is important but not the main reason for a person visiting the site (i.e. they’re mainly there for some form of entertainment), endless lists of data can be mind numbing.

Fortunately, as the use of big data has increased, web designers have responded in some clever ways.

Presentation is Key to Consuming Stats in Seconds

If we go back to our sports betting example, the way odds are now collated and presented has improved dramatically. Instead of bland tables filled with whitespace and nothing but numbers, operators will now incorporate images and icons to inject some colour into proceedings. For example, if someone wanted to find the latest AFL betting odds, they’d visit a site like Oddschecker. Each table on said website not only pulls in data from a variety of sources, but it contains a variety of interactive elements. From the + icon that adds bets to a user’s account with a little animation to auto-scroll links, the page feels a lot less mundane.

Similarly, when a punter wants to get more insight into a future game, they can click through Oddschecker’s AFL tips section and get important numerical insights through the use of infographics. For example, if someone wanted to know how many “net free kicks” each AFL team were award in 2016, they could get this information just be looking at the site’s graphical representation. Now, as well as making bland data more visually appealing, infographics also help increase engagement and retention. Visitors can tell they’re getting an abundance of useful information at first sight.

According to Identity PR, infographics do not only distil a lot of information and present it in an attractive way, but people are 30 times more likely to read articles with visuals in them. Moreover, the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. So, the use of infographics is actually something that bridges the gap between style and substance perfectly.

Subtle Mind Games Make Data More Appealing


Source: Visual News

Looking towards another creative way to display big data findings, color, and orientation of images can be hugely important. If we take FightMetric as an example, you can see that the designers have tied the theme of the site (i.e. mixed martial arts) with its styling.

For instance, in an MMA bout, each fighter is assigned a color e.g. the red corner and the blue corner. Taking this convention, FightMetric colors each opposing stat in either red or blue. So, if a user wanted to compare the total number of strikes thrown vs. the number of strikes landed, they could quickly do this by noting how the red stacks up against the blue. To help promote this idea of one stat vs. another, FightMetric also uses semi-transparent boxouts. Instead of solid blocks of color, you can see through the boxout and make out the details of the fight image in the background. This almost gives the impression of a HUD that appears to be working in real-time.

Finally, and this is a subtle design consideration, many of the stats are noted as XX “of” XX. For fight fans, this use of the word “of” is one that will feel very familiar. Phrases such as “we’re entering round 2 of three” are common in the fight game and, therefore, help to give less significant stats more relevance.

Big Data is Great, but Only if it Looks Great

In a world where technology is increasingly making use of big data, the presentation of something traditionally uninspiring has become extremely important. As we said at the top of this article, it’s easy to take something beautiful and be creative with it. However, when you’re presented with a spreadsheet full of numbers that someone needs to make sense of and not fall asleep, things get a little tougher.

However, where there is a will there is a way. Using a little bit of artistic flair and some clever psychological tricks, web designers have been able to make something boring into something engaging. So, the next time you look at a website filled with stats, make sure you take note of any creative quirks the developers have used to make your experience a little less laborious.

Featured image by Dennis Kummer

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