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…
Numbers and statistics are a vital part of any modern data-driven business—or personal life. But unfortunately, simply shouting numbers from the rooftop doesn’t tend to change peoples’ minds.
There are too many alternative stories and interpretations (not to mention distractions) competing for an audience’s attention to allow one little piece of information to reshape a worldview.
There are lots of ways to overcome the problem of distraction: using engaging visuals and good design, finding a catchy “hook,” and answering an interesting question are all good places to start.
But once you’ve figured out how to overcome the distractions that may prevent your viewers from thinking about your data, it’s time to go deeper and find ways to connect with your audience. If they feel a connection with your data, they’ll be much more likely to integrate it into their thinking.
Theater of the Mind
The human mind is extremely powerful. It can impose structure, stories, and patterns on seemingly unconnected things, resulting in new insights. If your data supports a conclusion your audience already believes, you’re in luck!
The brain’s natural systems will sort the data into its rightful place. But if your audience is predisposed to disagree with your data, the brain will work overtime to resolve this “cognitive dissonance”—usually by dismissing the new, uncomfortable information.
It’s important to ease your audience in if you’re proposing a new or controversial idea. Letting your audience connect the dots themselves is an easy way to engage their pattern-finding specialties, so that the brain’s power works for you.
If you seem to be having trouble “getting through” with your data, especially if you’re pretty sure it has a clear message, invite your audience to participate in the interpretation of your data using things like interactivity, guesswork, the five senses, and rewards for engagement.
See the “scroll down” instruction at the bottom? Click to visit the site and see what happens!
Interactivity is much more than a buzzword. It’s a way to involve viewers in the story, letting them fill in the pieces and take ownership of the information. Data on its own can feel preachy or high-handed, but if you let your audience tell the story and then suggest ways to fill in the gaps, they will be much more willing to process the information.
Good forms of interactivity make the user feel in control.
This site, which proposes “an alternative view of London,” tells the viewer to “scroll down,” which seems like a simple, common request. But in this case, scrolling triggers animations, drawings, and photos instead of a simple “page down,” and this surprising response to a common action piques viewer interest because their actions had a clear, interesting impact on what they saw on the screen.
Interactive presentations like the Gapminder World graph accomplish the same thing by encouraging viewers to ask and answer their own questions by comparing axes, making the audience feel in control.
If you really want your viewers to think about a problem, ask them to guess what the data will look like before you give it to them. Suddenly, they have a vested interest in an abstract problem, because they want to know how close they got to the “right” answer.
As this New York Times article illustrated, guesswork can be a good, friendly way to invite your audience to reconsider their assumptions, especially if many people make the same mistakes.
Encourage your audience to brainstorm reasons they might have missed the mark together, rather than telling them the answer right away. People are much more willing to listen to ideas they came up with themselves!
Speak to the Senses
If your data will be viewed on a computer, it’s easier than ever to engage viewer senses. Sound (make sure it’s optional!), movement (especially animation and video), and even engagement through touch are all possible using today’s technology.
This art piece depicts the number of birds killed by agricultural products every day in the United States. It zooms out on the website to show the scale of the problem (click to view the full image).
If you have a chance to put together a presentation in the real world, the options are endless. You can play with scale to make a big impact as in the artwork by Chris Jordan, or have viewers physically participate in a display.
Whatever route you take to increase engagement, remember that if you want repeat visits, you need to reward that engagement.
Every click, every scroll of the mouse wheel, every action taken by the viewer should correspond to a clear and obvious reward—more information, an interesting sound byte, or an unexpected animation.
How you tie it to your message is up to you!
Every experience is the result of intentional design, or lack thereof.
I recently flew on a discount airline flight to visit friends. Perhaps you’ve done this, too? If you have, you have my deepest condolences.
Even if you have somehow avoided this hell, you probably know that flying, especially on a budget airline, is the worst.
So imagine my surprise when I walked off the plane having had one of the best customer experiences of my freaking life. I was offered not just a snack, but a choice of snack!
When I asked to have both coffee and a Diet Coke, no one gave me any shade about my severe caffeine dependency and I even got a full can.
When was the last time you had an in-flight TV on a domestic flight? With on-Demand? There were leather seats, people. Leather. Remember that anti-vegan material that used to dominate the airline recliner game?
I literally raved about the airline for three days to my friends, lost acquaintances and even strangers.
TBH, I was attending my high school reunion so it was an occasion that called on conversation with close friends, lost acquaintances, and strangers.
(I didn’t actively seek out all of these people just because I had a great flight. But still.)
And apparently I have less in common with some of my former classmates than I would have thought. Fortunately, I had my amazing flight story to fill those awkward silences with the former-football-captain-turned-lawyer types.
And you may think that makes me sound lame, but you’d be wrong. Because everyone had his or her own bad flight story to tell in return.
It is literally the most effective conversation starter I’ve ever used.
Bad flights seem to be a universal experience. A massive plague that has infected the human experience one trip at a time.
So why had my flight gone differently? I assure you, I didn’t pay up to avoid any unpleasantness. I’m far too cheap (re: student-debt poor) for that; round trip my tickets were under $150.
My experience was so great because it was designed that way. (Did I mention I got a full can of Diet Coke?!)
And it was a timely experience, with some useful lessons to put into practice because Maga is currently working on it’s own experience design project for a defense industry conference.
See also: DC EXCOMM 2015 Recap
Conferences, as a rule, aren’t known for being the most exciting or even pleasant experiences. Despite the promotional efforts that a million conferences have used before – networking!, new products!, technology!, free coffee and donuts! whatever! – here’s the truth:
Conferences across industries tend to be predictably dull and serving the same cheap wine for your one free drink coupon.
We’re leaving behind the traditional makeshift hallways of booths (aka the corporate equivalent of Halloween corn-field mazes.
Imagine booth lackies are the zombies placed periodically between the corn, half-heartedly trying to gurgle an indecipherable line at you before you hustle off to the nearest exit.)
We’re opting for open spaces to interact, linger, and converse. We’re bringing in interactive displays that get you talking. So you know, you might actually have a real conversation with a new contact.
And we’ve got a few more tricks up our sleeves for later.
We’re taking conferences a step further. We’re not just getting a bunch of pieces together. We’re assembling them in meaningful ways; building an experience through intentional design.
We’re not just hoping that attendees will get something positive out of this experience; we’re making sure they will.
If you’re interested in attending, we’d love to see you there. You can get tickets here:
Read next: Beginner’s Guide to Graphic Recording