Caroline Goulard — Co-Founder & CEO, Dataveyes
Caroline talks to TheNextGag about what makes a good dataviz, how she managed to attract clients such as Google and why you should always include a playful element in your interactive tools.
Caroline Goulard is the Co-Founder & CEO of Dataveyes in France.
Dataveyes is a user experience company specialized in data visualization projects and smart interfaces.
THENEXTGAG: CAN YOU EXPLAIN TO US WHAT IS THE AFFINITY INDEX ?
CAROLINE GOULARD: The Affinity Index is a tool created by Dataveyes for Outbrain that evaluates the relation of Internet users with a publisher brand. It gives life to Outbrain data points and insights from its content discovery patterns.
Outbrain is a discovery platform that helps Internet users find personalized content on partner media sites according to their interests.
This Affinity Index measures the relationship between the theme of an Outbrain recommendation and the theme accessed by the user on the page of a media website.
TNG: WHAT SKILLS OUTBRAIN WERE LOOKING FOR WHEN THEY CAME TO DATAVEYES FOR THE CREATION OF THIS TOOL ?
CG: Thanks to data visualization, the Affinity Index provides advertisers with a profile of the audience brought by Outbrain. The goal here was to shed more light on the readers who were brought in by its algorithms, thus helping advertisers better understand their target audiences. This interface not only allows Outbrain to put its data at the service of advertisers, but also demonstrates that its expertise in content recommendation is based on solid mastery of data.
So, the skills that Outbrain went to Dataveyes for is our ability to turn a massive, complex and dry set of data into an application that tells a story and that is useful for the target. Here, the target are advertisers.
The challenge is to know how to transform raw data — something that doesn’t look interesting or very digest at first glance — into something useful and telling an interesting story.
For this project we had to make Outbrain’s core business seem as clear as possible, present data through storytelling and make it useful for advertisers, while allowing free data exploration.
At Dataveyes, we are experts in the production of data visualisations. We have the ability to create, design and develop these kind of applications. We help people understand, operate and communicate their data by translating data into experiences, by telling stories from data and by connecting users to data through digital interfaces.
A good data visualization makes people interested into a topic that they would have no interest in the first place.
TNG: WHAT MAKES A GOOD DATA VISUALIZATION ?
MG: Many things come into play when making a good data visualisation. The first thing, which is fundamental, is that a good data visualization translates data with no disturbance and without using data to tell a lie. We need to be cautious of not manipulating data in order to force it to say what would be convenient for us, or a client, to tell.
The main goal of a data visualization is to be a mediation, i.e. to translate data, from a format that is usable by machines and computers, into a format suited to humans. It’s all about mediation. So, we shouldn’t misreprensent data or use them to tell a lie.
And for a tool to be readable by humans, it needs to respect some cognitive principles, like displaying information visually to make it suitable and easy to grasp.
That’s why we usually play with color codes, spatialization of information in a way that is the most appealing to our visual intelligence and not just our verbal intelligence. It needs to be readable and comprehensive. We invent new visual language and new forms of interaction and narration to make data easier to understand and communicate.
In a nutshell, data visualization is about visually translating information contained in data. It relies on the ability of our brain to process much larger amounts of information when it is presented visually. To do so, data visualization spatializes information and resorts to visual metaphors.
Also, it doesn’t only need to be comprehensive, but it has to be engaging. A good data visualization makes people interested into a topic that they would have no interest in the first place. Because we display data into something visual, correct and user-friendly that could have been made into a totally non-digest format, like an economic essay.
And we try to go beyond that. We want people to discover pieces of information that they wouldn’t have any interest in before when they were only available in a format that was complex. We do this by telling stories, using interactivity and making the user active. It is the user that unveils the story by testing, playing, pushing buttons and moving cursors. A good application is very user-friendly and makes the user discover some information through an interactive experience that is appealing and satisfying to him.
TNG: WHAT KIND OF CLIENTS COME TO DATAVEYES ?
CG: We have all types of clients. Companies that come to Dataveyes are companies that have information issues with their data.
At Dataveyes, we work with government agencies on open data programs. But we also work with large companies, in particular those that have Big Data challenges.
We are also called by top players from the tech industry, like Outbrain, but also Twitter, Google or some more niche companies.
A lot of tech companies are experts in data, but they possess a technical expertise. In the case of Outbrain, it is an algorithmic expertise. The challenges that these large tech companies face is to be able to deliver something useful to their users with their technologies and data. That’s when a studio like Dataveyes comes into the picture and can bring something more, as we are really experts in the mediation between data and humans. Our core competencies relate to data-driven strategies, information and interaction design, as well as data visualization.
When we talk about ourselves, we usually say that our job is to build better human-data interactions. That’s why we create advanced data visualizations solution. We are always thinking about all the ways that we can make it easier for data to be used. And how it can fit into a precise interface. The digital interfaces that we create can be applications, softwares, creative installations, connected objects, smart objects in our home, in our cars, in the city … Unlike black boxes that simply record data and are opaque, our interfaces augment humans with cognitive tools and improve data literacy.
Today, Outbrain works at the same time with small companies and large corporations, like EDF, the French electric utility company, Microsoft or Renault.
TNG: WHO WOULD YOU SAY ARE YOUR COMPETITORS ON THE MARKET ?
CG: There are not really other companies in France that are specialized in interactions between users and data, as well as in data visualizations. But, it is interesting to see that there is one in each of the main European countries. And there are also a few agencies in the United States. There are several studios in other countries that are similar in terms of approach and methodology.
In the French market, we don’t have competitors per se, but there are substitutes. These can be companies focused on business intelligence and that used modern tools, like Captain Dash. Their approach is very different though. There are more focused on standardization of their tools rather than a custom design of interactions and data visualizations. But, they are useful to corporations because they help them solve one of their issues, which is business intelligence, through marketing data dashboards. That’s why they don’t try to create custom solutions for each of their clients. It makes sense for them to create a standardized tool.
At Dataveyes, we are an hybrid between a consulting firm, a design studio and a production company.
TNG: YOU RECENTLY WENT ON STAGE AT THE OUISHARE FESTIVAL TO PRESENT YOUR METROPOLITAIN.IO PROJECT. WAS THAT CLIENT WORK ?
CG: No. This one we did it ourselves. Metropolitain.io uses data to visualize our transport networks. It is a different metro map representation shaped by data. Users can experience the Parisian metro map according to time and crowds as new variables.
It is a project that we created to try to figure out how data can show a different image of a city. This tool goes to challenge how people mentally represent the geography of a city. City transport maps can be very static, like subway maps, for example. But, today, we have tools to make them way more dynamic and useful. Because, according to where I am going in a city, what time of the day it is and how accessible a transport network is, the response that I need could be very different. And thanks to modern technologies, we can go beyond print and create subway maps and city maps that are interactive and more user-friendly.
TNG: DO YOU DO A LOT OF EXPERIMENTATIONS LIKE THIS ?
CG: Yes. The projects that we normally get to work on fall into three types.
The first type are communication projects. We invent new forms of interaction and narration to make data easier to understand and communicate.
The second type are internal organization projects where new tools are needed to work with data. These tools allow non-experts to operate complex data and easily understand large amounts of information. Or just tools for data experts that have very advanced needs in terms of visualization to help them take better ownership of their daily environment. We build easy-to-use visualization tools, conceived to turn clients data into strategic information that supports decision making.
And the third type of projects are innovation projects, just like Metropolitain.io. We structure interfaces that unveil the hidden meaning of data and reveal new opportunities for value creation.
TNG: CAN YOU TALK TO US ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING PROJECTS ?
CG: These past months, we’ve worked a lot with companies in the energy and public transport sectors to experiment with new ways of bringing data to users and create new use cases around data. We build smart systems that display information to a user depending on specific contexts. Especially in the energy sector. But also new ways to see the invisible and unveil information thanks to data visualization.
Co-Founder & CEO
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