Become a Data Bard in 5 Leaps


By RJ Clark


In medieval Gaelic and British times there was a person whose sole job it was to compose poems, songs or stories about their employers life (usually a monarch or nobleman.) These story tellers were called bards and they are credited to prolonging the oral history and cultural times of these groups.

Today, while no one holds an official title of bard, the need for capturing what’s happening in an organization, project or experience is still critical. The modern poetry of the technological era is data.

Collecting and interpreting data is a driving force for modern businesses and organizations, but as data reaches higher and higher levels of complexity, it can seem less and less connected to our daily lives and the story becomes harder to tell. Data visualization can bring multiple layers of complexity into a single story. It is up to those charged with telling those stories to turn important ideas into epic memorable moments.

  1. Go Slow to Go Fast

Many data analytics projects happen under a time crunch. It is very tempting to dive in and start collecting information. But there are a few steps that MUST be taken first.

Starting off with a strong plan saves time on the overall project. Reworking and editing won’t take up so much  time if you have good planning. If a step is missed, due to rushing through the project, there may be no way to go back and recover a lost opportunity.  At a minimum, data planning needs to:

  1. Establish what the user needs to learn or accomplish through this activity.
  2. Match the goals to all possible data that might be collected to accomplish those goals.
  3. Use a collection format that is easy to use for both those collecting data and the analysts that will need to turn that story into insight down the road. It will also need to be flexible enough to add new fields and make new requirements as the research gets underway.
  4. Ensure good data quality. This will save time and give more options down the road.
  1. Catch it All!

The preparation is complete. The plans are set. Now it is time to start gathering data.  This could be research, an event, a information mining activity, a series of interviews, a survey, or almost anything that needs to be broken down for study.

Now, it is important to avoid tunnel vision. The task of collecting or mining a significant amount of data can be daunting, and it is easy to focus on understanding and recording only the minimum to meet the needs of a project. Oftentimes the most important points are the unexpected ones that will reveal the real value of the project.

  1. Put on Your Hunting Hat

There may be basic questions that can be answered with simple counts and averages. It may be that the relationships between different areas need to be examined very closely to find high value insights. Experiment with combining different areas and fields to look for correlation vs. causation. This is where simple data tools like Microsoft Excel’s Powerpivot really shine.

  1. Get Dynamic

It might be tempting to turn your data into graphs, but everyone knows what a graph looks like. And they are not very interesting. Graphs are excellent at conveying limited amounts of information in a clear way, but many problems today have increasing degrees of complexity that can’t be shown in a simple graph. By introducing dynamic elements to link elements of data, we can then move into the realm of storytelling. If you want to see a great example of this in action, check out this awesome Ted Talk by Hans Rosling.

  1. Make it Shine

Now you have the story together that your data will tell, but don’t stop now! Just like a wonderfil tale, it needs a setting. Great stories are going untold because they lack this vital human step. Advanced Visualization will make your data story easier for your audience to understand, more engaging and, perhaps most importantly, more memorable. An experienced graphic artist knows how to make visual information speak to a specific audience to convey a specific message. Just like with great storytelling, there are layers of meaning and finesse that are vital to transform data into an epic story.

Pokémon Go Augmented Reality Caught Us All: Here’s Why You Should Get Catching

Contributors: Maga Design Team Members
Graphic designed by:

pokemon_go-v5The most talked-about, downloaded, acclaimed, and debated hit of the summer isn’t the latest Kardashian drama, but rather a mobile game reminiscent of years gone by, Pokémon GO. Due to the element of nostalgia, opportunity for exploration, and user connectivity, this app has created an explosive user base of fans (and skeptics) that will likely change the way we think about the future of gaming.

With the average gamer searching for Pokémon companions for roughly 45 minutes a day, the questions must be asked, “Why?” and “Who?”.  While the “why” is the most heavily debated part of this game, the “who” is actually the most interesting part of this 2016 application phenomenon.

Typically when a game (or similar artifact of mobile society) is released to the public, its adoption follows the typical life cycle bell-curve that we studied in our business and marketing classes. Innovators first, early adopters second, and the combo of early majority and late majority filling up the middle and end of the curve.

What this game did is make Augmented Reality technology, or AR, (which is still relatively “new” in terms of its mass consumption) easily digestible (i.e, fun and easy to use) for the larger percentage of the population. It did this by tapping into the ways we most commonly use our devices – GPS and our cameras, combined with a multigenerational franchise. Pokémon Go didn’t follow the typical curve, it seemed to explode all at once with all types of users adopting.

To note, Pokémon Go isn’t the first geocaching mobile game, nor is it possibly the best. Niantic, the developers of Pokémon Go, previously made another app known as Ingress. Not surprisingly, the gameplay for both apps are very similar, to the extent where much of the real-world data from Ingress has gotten pulled into Pokémon Go. In fact, Ingress could arguably be superior to Pokémon Go in terms of usability. In our opinion, Pokémon Go has considerable server issues and is rather limited in terms of what players can do. Much of this could be underpreparedness for the bandwidth needed for its release. Ingress also has been around for about three years and has undergone substantial gameplay tailoring.

Understanding “who”, we have to toss a nod to the favorite Pokémon cartoon characters like Pikachu. Now that the Pokémon franchise is roughly 20 years old, we find the average age of players are in their mid twenties to early thirties. These are the users who remember Pokémon from its early days when the first games were released for Nintendo’s Game Boy, and a card game and children’s show followed shortly after. We have an inherent desire to experience parts of our youth again, in just more relevant ways.

Of course there are younger and older people playing this game too, which takes us back to the massive impact this game has had on the user adoption process of gamification. If it was any other character-based game released (instead of using characters from a popular franchise), would the impact have been the same? Maybe. But, for now, only time will tell as the stage has been set for mass adoption of mobile AR gaming all in part to a little yellow-orangish creature.

But is the impact of Pokémon Go something that many are misinterpreting?

Some may give it a negative spin like it’s another distraction, but the core meaning of what this app has is truly something special. It’s creating an experience for people to go outside and play a truly social game, not social in the sense of over the internet (like Xbox Live and other services) or physically near each other. The placement of Pokémon in the real world has increased traffic to landmarks and cultural locations – resulting in positive and negative results.

The app tears AR away from its seemingly limited application to gaming and artificial intelligence, broadening it to entertainment, fitness, and possibly a lot more. Pokémon Go feels comparable to arcades of the past, only this time the arcade is everywhere. No doubt,  businesses will figure out how they can profit from leveraging in-game advertising and purchases to entice ‘trainers’ to their business.

While many naysayers are torn on the “why” people are out looking for Pokémon instead of, say, picking up litter, there’s something to be said about a game that unifies and bonds complete strangers across cultures and age brackets in public spaces. The Pokémon journey is a new frontier in convergence and is the start of bigger and better AR experiences to come.

Why Learning Centric Instruction is the Future of Training

By: Jordan Orzolek

Very few announcements induce a sense of irritation in employees more than that of mandatory training. Who can blame them? This means that they will soon be subjected to hours of lecturing by a speaker who repeats things already known, ventures into irrelevant topics, or drones on while the learners are watching the clock, eager to leave. This seems inevitable but truthfully, it isn’t. Through a system I refer to as Learner Centric Instruction (LCI), I believe that this common behavior can be averted and replaced with a more palatable experience.

In this system, e-learning (computer-based instruction) takes precedence over traditional instructor-led learning experiences. The focus on e-learning allows for the learning experience to be controlled and delivered uniformly, thus eliminating the variance that instructor-led training is often subject to (though it is not to say that instructor led training would be eliminated entirely – it simply would be used for circumstances that specifically require it). In LCI, the learning is broken up into convenient micro-modules that cover specific content, and is paced appropriately for the target audience. These micro-modules would be short (5-10 minutes) with more complex subjects broken up into multiple modules. This may seem like too little time for a topic to be appropriately covered, but it is necessary given that the average human attention span is a mere 8 seconds. The allotted time for the micro-modules allows them to be taken at the learner’s convenience.

How does LCI become a fun experience? It comes down to the way in which the content is presented. Humans have a natural affinity for stories (especially well-written ones). Through engaging stories and scenarios, the learner can envision the content in context. The media of LCI is fast-paced and engaging, with content presented in a manner that allows the learner to have a multi-sensory experience. The screen is not over crowded with massive blocks of text; instead, voiceovers narrate the content in a casual, engaging manner. In compliance with 508 requirements, a complete transcript of the narration is also available to the learners.

What about the experience surrounding LCI? In order for LCI to be effective, it must be easily accessible. If the learning experiences are not easily accessible, the learner’s interest will be lost before they even reach the content. This requires the use of a quality Learning Management System (LMS) as a convenient portal for learners to access the content in a single location. The completion of a micro-module would be automatically logged into the LMS and viewable to administrators.

LCI presents a “win-win” situation: employers can train their employees in an effective manner and reach company goals, and employees can receive training in subjects areas of interest to them and find it exciting and engaging in the process.

Uncovering the Mystery of Blockchain in 2 Minutes

By: Trevor Brown, Senior Project Manager


So Blockchain…what is it? Let’s start with what it isn’t. The term is tossed around quite a bit, as it relates to Bitcoin, on sites such as The Silk Road. Blockchain, at least in some circles, seems to be synonymous with nefarious activities and shady online personas,  but that shouldn’t be the case. Blockchain technology, in all of its forms, has many reasonable and perfectly legitimate business, government, academic, and social applications. So while Bitcoin certainly uses Blockchain technology, that particular cryptocurrency is a very small example of the overall power of Blockchain.  

Now, what IS Blockchain? Most of the time, people are talking about distributed ledgers, i.e. a list of transactions that is shared among a number of computers, rather than being stored on a central server. A decent working definition is “a distributed database that maintains a continuously-growing list of data records hardened against tampering and revision,” according to The Economist.     

Confused yet? Yeah, the concept, and the underlying technology, can each be a bit obtuse. Let’s use an example to illustrate:

I think one of the best commercial applications would be an aggregated rewards program, maintained in a closed Blockchain system by a series of horizontal industries that do not compete in a direct manner, but rather share many clients across a spectrum. The rewards, we’ll call them “MagaPoints” for simplicity, would be used to buy services at all participants. Picture a car rental company, a national coffee chain, an airline, and a hotel chain.  

One customer will likely use this collection of services during a single trip, whether for business or leisure. So within the confines of the closed network, a client could use their rewards points from a coffee purchase to upgrade a flight or use the rewards points from a car rental to acquire a hotel room.   

The client has ease of transaction, without having to juggle multiple rewards programs, while having peace of mind, knowing that at no time was their personal information utilized. Therefore, saving them from exposure to identify theft or fraud. The entire transaction, and all of its parts, are stored in an open public forum, allowing for a seamless transaction that was 100% transparent.

The storage functionality of Blockchain is literally without limit. It could store your car title, the information on postal packages, or your bank records – just to mention a few uses. Because the technology is stored on a decentralized ledger that is accessible to nearly everyone, each of those would be nearly tamper-proof. This is because changes to the ledger are added instantly and are accessible by any user. So where does it go now? The technology has endless possibilities across data storage, monetary transfer, government transparency, and more. I say embrace it and enjoy the ride…

Our 5 Favorite New York Times Visualizations

Given the many problems facing traditional publishing, old-fashioned newspapers like the New York Times have had to adapt to keep up. One way the NYT has done this is to experiment with stories online that change depending on viewer input, allowing readers to, in part, shape the stories they’re reading.

This has taken many forms, from simple infographics and data maps to complex human interest stories with videos and moving images that appear upon scrolling. Here are five of our favorites. Feel free to share yours in the comments!

1. Mapping Migration in the United States (image)

1This “Voronoi treemap” shows how many people living in a particular state were born there, following on from this interactive article showing population changes by state. And it does it in style, with eye-catching, colorful shapes depicting each percentage. As the article points out, one drawback is that the shapes don’t always match the percentages exactly, but overall, this kind of chart is a solid choice. It also lends itself well to certain kinds of financial data.

2. How the Recession Reshaped the Economy, in 255 Charts (see image here)

2255 is a big number, especially when it comes to charts. Nobody wants to sit through a presentation with 255 slides or graphs. But somehow, this visualization makes it work. Combining and overlaying graphs is not a new concept, but by overlapping so many lines in one image, overall patterns and trends emerge that might not have been visible on their own.

Combining so many graphs might be ill-advised in most situations, but careful overlapping keeps each line separate and visible. Additionally, scrolling causes overlays to appear that explain various trends in housing, healthcare, and other fields, highlighting related graphs. This puts each industry into context in a creative, visual, visceral way and drives the enormity of the economy home in a way that separate graphs might not.

3. Up Close on Baseball’s Borders (image)

3This fun visualization puts Facebook data to good use to settle a few perennial questions: where, exactly, does the line between Yankees fans and Red Sox fans lie? And how big are the disputed territories? By using an algorithm to smooth out data for how many people in a particular zip code “liked” a particular team on social media, this nifty little image was born, no doubt settling a few bets along the way.

4. In Georgia, Politics Moves Past Just Black and White (full article here)

4How do you map the changing face of a city? In this story, a simple population map comparing the demographics of Atlanta, Georgia in 1990 to its makeup in 2010 drives the image home. With simple interactivity highlighting particular counties, this visualization provides clear data, grounding a complex piece highlighting the new diversity in the Old South.

5. Norway, the Slow Way (read story)

5For something completely different, this human-interest travel piece on one person’s quest for the Midnight Sun uses video of the Norwegian coastline, excerpts from Norwegian TV programs, hand-drawn graphs illustrating relatively minor points, and charming animated maps to bring its story to life. Are they completely necessary? No. But they are delightful moments that change the pace of a long story, maintaining interest and inviting reflection.

In a story that is so much about pace and the visual details of Norway’s culture, these moving and interactive images contain more than a thousand words. They set the stage as well as dress it and guide us along the narrative in a way that words alone might not have accomplished. Scrolling almost seems too clunky a way to navigate the wonders of sea, sun, and land as it is presented here.

Data is often used to bolster arguments, clarify complex issues, or settle disagreements. Visualizations can be beautiful enough to be art. But used properly, data – in the form of graphs, maps, or images – can also tell a story, the bottom line that unites each of these articles.

How can you use interactive visualizations to tell your story in a more engaging way?