Week 6: Using Data to Market, Make Better Work, & For Creativity

How will you use data in your career? How does it affect you now? What are (your) limits?

Data can be used on your creative projects in a number of ways. As you mention in your survey responses, you can follow data to develop your creative work, to develop your marketing, assessing sales, and beyond. Here we will cover a few ways data can be used in your career.

Data-based Creative Projects

Data is now so easy to gather that it is inspiring it’s own creative projects. You can create highly personalised experiences that use an audience member’s own data. To see what I mean, take a moment to ‘play’ this award-winning online music video by Chris Milk: The Wilderness Downtown. The site no-longer works consistency unfortunately. But originally, you enter the address of where you grew up to experience this “personal nostalgia film”.

The personalisation that your individual data affords in this piece facilitates a completely different kind of music video experience. Indeed, data is becoming a key factor in documentaries. Clouds is an interactive documentary about the use of data, that uses data.


Using a different approach, Neil Halloran’s documentary The Fallen of World War II represents data visually to communicate meaning:


The following VR experience draws on the data you have created in social media to create an emotive journey through “an intimate data portrait of yourself”.

There are lots of possibilities. But how about other ways you can use data, like the ones you have mentioned in your responses: such as understanding your market?

Understanding Your Market

Many of you are aware of the TV drama House of Cards. It is a series bought by the online company Netflix. They outbid other networks such as HBO, Showtime and AMC because they believed in what their data was telling them. Based on their subscriber viewing habits and the hit points the series addressed — a charismatic lead (Kevin Spacey), a famous director or showrunner (directed by David Fincher), and using pre-existing material (based on 1990s BBC series)—the buy was almost guaranteed to be a winner. They had no doubt because of what the data was telling them. This data, however, is not just soul-less information. It is cultural data, a mix of the psychological effect of names and familiar content, along with viewing habits. But what are the other ways Netflix use their data? Jeff Magnusson of Netflix gave a talk about their data collection.

One of their data points is to look at the colours of the program covers, or thumbnails. Choice of program is associated with colour, and even similiar-looking covers can have slight variations that can be detected and recorded.


You may consider the art of a poster for you film, game, live event, album, or brand now. But it seems you can go even further with colour theory analysis. Can this go too far? Have we gone too far already? If you have seen the first episode of House of Cards, you may recall this critical moment we view in the first minute:


Zachary Seward reports that there was discussion about whether to include this scene. Many argued that killing a dog will result in loosing half of the viewership. But the director, David Fincher, and lead writer, Beau Willimon, wanted to do it anyway. Willimon noted: “If you weren’t going to be able to survive this dog strangling, then this show probably isn’t for you.” In other words, they wanted to define their audience with this story event.

What do you think happened at that moment?

Many viewers did, in fact, stop watching House of Cards after watching Frank kill his neighbor’s dog, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said recently. “A lot of people just — click, turned off. When we watch the stats, it’s like this,” he said, pointing to the floor. Hastings said he told Fincher what the data showed. Fincher responded, “Don’t ever tell me that again.” (Zachary Seward)

Interestingly, among others, literary writer and theorist Umberto Eco put a similar obstacle on the readers path for his novel The Name of the Rose. He explains in his Postscript, that he made the first 100 pages intentionally hard. The reader that makes it through deserves the rest of the novel.

“Entering a novel is like going on a climb in the mountains: you have to learn the rhythm of respiration, acquire the pace; otherwise you stop right away.”

So, you can have the data and choose to ignore it for strategic reasons. But whatever you do, you will need to be self-aware to get the most out of your data collection.

Testing Your Work

How can you be self-aware to get the most of your testing? Watch this video and try and solve the question as they go.


As explained at the end of the video, if you approach your questioning to prove your theory then you may indeed get confirmation of your theory but then also miss what is really happening. So when you are

  • You can ask people in person what they think of your band, project, or team name
  • You can create a basic website (a single landing page even) with a short description of your project. If you put a subscription option to find out more, then the amount of views on your website versus the amount of subscriptions gives you information. You find out how many were interested, and how many were interested enough to sign up.
  • You can create a trailer for your experience and share it through your networks. Who is responding to it? Or why aren’t people responding to it?
  • You can create a demo of your music, or your game, or your animation, or your technology and release it. Check out this “alpha” of a game that is very crudely presented visually but communicates the feel of the game very well.

Who can you test with?

  • Yourself — analyse your work and look for problems
  • Your team — get your team to look over the work continuously. For the game “Journey,” team members would get together in a room and watch a playthrough of the game. Anyone at anytime could say “Justify!” and there had to be a reason why something was in.
  • Friends & Family — show people you know to get immediate feedback quickly
  • Peers — show colleagues a script, music sheet, design document, or prototype or short version to get feedback
  • Target audience — arrange sessions where your target audience (who you ultimately want to engage with your work/pay for your work) experience it and give you feedback.

Now, what are the pros and cons of testing with these people? There are pros and cons with all of them. Some with more than others.

Using data to collect information

You may already be aware that if you put a video on Vimeo or YouTube, there are analytics they provide that can help you with understanding not only the number of views, embeds, but likes, and comments and countries. But there are other ways you can collect information too. By using services like Alexa, you can also analyse competitors, or websites that attract the same kind of audience you are keen to attract. If you create a ‘Page’ on Facebook, you can see the analytics of gender, country, and age. If you create a website, you can use free services like Google Analytics to collect information about who is linking to you. But if you also have an email (gained through an opt-in method such as a newsletter), then you can garner further information.

There are free plugins you can use to give you more data about people emailing you. For instance, Rapportive, shows a person’s LinkedIn profile in your gmail. Likewise, Sidekick offers an insight into the person emailing you, along with a visual history of your contact (and when they open your emails). With these services you can gather some more information about who is interested in your work, what countries they’re from, and what companies they work in.

How can this information help you?
Are you comfortable collecting it,
why or why not?

Let’s take this data collection a step further. What about the data that is available about you? Did you know, for instance, that BuzzFeed—that website of articles and were you may fill out a funny little quiz every now and then—stores everything you do? Look at the image below, and see the data they are collecting about you. As Dan Barker explains: have you connected Facebook to BuzzFeed? Do you have email updates enabled? Do they know your gender & age? Are you logged in? Which country are you in?


When we couple this information with the answers you give to quizzes on BuzzFeed, there is some personal information being collected. Take this quiz that Barker cites:


BuzzFeed isn’t doing anything with this data, but this example shows how easily data is collected. SoundCloud too, made a change to it’s ‘Cookie and Privacy Policy’ last year. At the time, when you signed up to SoundCloud using Facebook or Google+, they automatically record gender information. It seems they have changed their privacy policy since then, giving you the option to choose what information you give them permission to record.

So, what is your relationship to data? What if you played this game created by Zach Gage called “lose/lose”. In involves deleting files on your computer. How would you feel about that?

Lose/Lose is a video-game with real life consequences. Each alien in the game is created based on a random file on the players computer. If the player kills the alien, the file it is based on is deleted. If the players ship is destroyed, the application itself is deleted.

Indeed, there is also the data you want about your own life. We mentioned before having a Facebook Page and also newsletters. Newsletters mean you have the email addresses of people interested in your work. You have no direct access to the emails of people on your Facebook Page. Indeed, you can’t export anything helpful from a Page. This is part of the reasoning behind the growing tech indie movements, such as the “Indie Web” and the “Indie phone”.


Indeed, Kevin Slavin explains how artists, astronauts and bankers are using data in unusual ways. We know there are creative possibilities. We know there are market analysis possibilities. How is it changing our world?