Update: Data Presentation Architect / Architecture

Subject: Update: Data Presentation Architect / Architecture
From: "Steve Janoff (non-Celgene)" <sjanoff -at- celgene -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2012 19:37:59 -0700

Continuing the post of the other week, after additional thought and research.

I'll take a tip from Lauren and personalize this discussion rather than globalize it.

I liked Lauren's "Data Communication / Communicator" as a name and role, but it's too close to "Data Communication/s" used in IT/networking.

"Information Visualization" had promise as a term. It's not in use today as much as a few years ago but still pretty solid.

Yet that falls short.

The idea is not just translating data into infographics or some similar visual presentation, but really analyzing the information needs, determining what format might be best for presenting the information (with data visualization being only one option among multiple options), and then using the appropriate tool to transform the data into the presentation. It could be Excel, PowerPoint, Visio, or something higher-end.

This was enhanced by something that happened the other day: I was in the hallway talking to a scientist, and he was lamenting that he had to spend time developing a PowerPoint presentation for his latest research.

It occurred to me that I as a Technical Communicator could perhaps find a niche in helping scientists develop and prepare their presentations, in whatever form -- but Excel and PPT get used a lot. So there are certain skills I could develop, such as creating effective presentations, that utilize my ability to communicate and help the scientist present his or her information. So instead of bullet points or basic graphics, there could be the occasional infographic thrown in there, or something with more powerful impact.

Some of these folks are power users of Excel and PPT already, so the tool skill itself is not necessarily the primary advantage. The value-add comes from the communication skills. (An experience today, after writing this, reinforced that. More about that another time.)

In thinking about what term I'd use to describe myself in this role, I came up with "Data Presentation Architect."

A quick Google search produced this Wikipedia article as the first entry:

Data presentation architecture


Wikipedia does point out that the article is a little suspect. But it hits the nail on the head for me. It incorporates such things as information visualization ("infovis") / data visualization, but it's so much more.

According to the article, the term was only first publicly recorded in late 2007, and I haven't come across it at all until now, which suggests that it's a relatively new thing. (Although I do now see a couple people using it out there as a title -- but their use is very sketchy, and not quite the same.)

But surely a lot of Tech Writers have been doing this kind of thing over the years, in one way or another. But I think as a niche or total role, I haven't known anybody who did this.

The books out there on effective presentations look quite interesting. That may be next on the list of resources to get into. I could not find a book on Amazon with the title "Data Presentation Architecture," but a search for "data presentation" there does bring up most of the major excellent works that have been coming up on my other searches in the past few weeks. This is a very rich field, in terms of resources.

One other thought, from earlier in the week. About a year ago, when I was starting to look at other possibilities -- and beginning actually several years ago, even dating back to the mid-2000's -- I felt that User Experience (UX), as an encompassing field, had a bright future. And it still does -- UX'ers are in demand, and they command very high salaries compared to the average Tech Writer, even at the Senior level. But it occurred to me that, UX is really limited, in a sense. I mean, we're well along the way to figuring out what makes a web site effective, or a software program, or some other user experience. There may be a breakthrough when we get to 3D stuff, but then again, look at 3D movies. A big deal when they first came out, but not so big now. UX is a little different, but still... So how much farther can effective web site design go? Product design may have more potential -- think iPad. Yet even those things don't really create lasting opportunities, in a sense. I mean, there are paradigm shifts, yes. And developers have lots of work. But UX as a field seems limited, once again. Yet the intelligent extracting of data, and the effective presentation of it, in forms that people can grasp and comprehend, seems unlimited. The only limits are the capacities of the eyes and brain. UX is cognitive but it also deals with manual manipulation. Data Presentation Architecture, or whatever you want to call it, is about comprehension more than "use." Yes, you can use the presented data to take action. But the immediate goal is comprehending the *meaning* of the data. (Another way to think of it: The number of viable and necessary data presentations, to me, seems to exceed the number of viable and necessary web sites by at least one or two orders of magnitude.)

Here's an interesting link that I found somewhere on the IdRatherBeWriting blog, and in one of the videos, the presenter (Jorge Arango) says that "structure reveals meaning" -- he identifies as an Information Architect:

Understanding Information Architecture - Peter Morville


Thanks for listening.


PS - The person identified in the Wikipedia article footnote as having coined the term "Data Presentation Architecture" had this to say a couple of years ago, in response to a parody infographic that made fun of the glut of meaningless infographics at the time (article linked below) -- I include it because it gives a little more insight into her take (she's had an interesting career so far in analytics and business intelligence):

"Proper Data Presentation Architecture (see wikipedia) is about excellence in data visualization but also about finding interesting information in raw data through mining, analysis, and understanding of what questions the audience has (or goals they have that can be supported with info). So I love how this example shows poor understanding of what is valuable information, unsophisticated use/digestion/analysis of the data that WAS chosen (without any thought to purpose or value), and really, really sad presentation (visualization, audience targeting and clarity of point, purpose or intended effect). SUPER funny. I love it."


PPS - I'm a long way from changing my resume heading to "Data Presentation Architect," but it's got some possibilities for the future.

Steve Janoff
Staff Technical Writer
Celgene Corporation
San Diego, CA USA
sjanoff -at- celgene -dot- com

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