We are nothing without data. The products we build, the UIs we design, the problems we solve – they are all influenced by short-term and long-term information. This could be information that we have collated through our own efforts, or through more established research from third-party sources. Our work can also be influenced by more congenial information too, such as best practice.
Starting in an obvious and tangible place, the early web very quickly defined its own best practice with little other research to dictate how developers approached website design. Splash pages were the norm and we didn’t think twice about telling our visitors to set their screens at a particular resolution for the ‘best viewing experience’.
Times have changed and we are no longer locked down to an 800×600 viewport (1024×768 if you were lucky). Web design is a good example of how the evolution of consumer tech and the parallel change in user habits, behaviours and expectations have shaped the web into what it is today. Companies from specialist design agencies through to the big guns like Google, Apple and Facebook invent millions into research, with UX and CX teams analysing user behaviour down to the tiniest detail. The ultimate goal is a better user experience, or arguably, greater conversions. Whilst these research endeavours are for the most part, short-term exercises, they allow us to build up a long-term picture.
How photography changed the internet
A good example here is how photos began to change the web. Long-term, we know that the introduction of faster internet, digital cameras and smartphone cameras drove the popularity of picture-based services like Instagram and Pinterest circa 2010. This culmination of events pushed photo-sharing to the forefront of user behaviour and expectations. In turn, 2013 saw a wide and dramatic design shift towards full-bleed photos, with websites like The Next Web, Weebly and many others displaying photography and images edge-to-edge. This change in design direction was a short-term exercise in response to users’ greater requirement for visual content over text-heavy websites.
When we look at our own work and research at AndAnotherDay, we are initially focused on long-term environmental, societal and economical issues. We know about the problems that the world is facing thanks to research that is widely available, so it’s clear where we can focus our efforts. This ‘zoomed out’ approach to data has helped us define who we are as an agency, and what we want to achieve. This also means that we know what our ideal client looks like, and the kind of projects we would like to take on.
We’ve got the skills, but we’re picky about what pays the bills
As an experienced technical agency, we are fortunate to be able to turn our skills to just about any digital project. But like many businesses, we choose to use our tech ‘for good’. And it just so happens that the technologies we use are well-suited to products that we work on. One such example is GraphQL, which is an incredibly efficient way to build data visualisations. We’ve written about GraphQL before, looking at its benefits and why it’s so well suited to data-heavy projects. You can check that out here.
GraphQL enabled us to fetch all the data required and return only the specific data needed by the platform. This reduced the size of and sped up the dashboard we were building. Six months later, we had achieved more on our platform than we had in the two years prior.
We can also harness the power of APIs to work with just about any of the technologies that we use. Allowing various applications to talk to one another is invaluable and makes things like dashboards and platforms a powerful and versatile asset in a wider digital product. Fundamentally, if the data is there and it can be accessed, we can create something informative, interactive, valuable and actionable.
When we look particularly at the kind of work that we want to be doing as an agency, we are in a good place. The rapid growth of IoT (Internet of Things) means that we have more data at our fingertips than ever before, whether that’s the opportunity to fetch the data ourselves, or access it via a third-party. Councils, universities, governments and charities the world over are using IOT-enabled devices to measure a multitude of environmental factors such as air quality, traffic density and energy usage to make informed decisions. We’ve no shortage of examples in our recent blogs on smart cities, showcasing some impressive and proactive digital products that are a direct response to poor quality of life in built-up, urban areas.
This is what it’s all about for us – proactivity around world issues related to climate, food, wildlife, water, land, and much, much more. This ambitious mission to help solve some of the world’s greatest problems through digital product design and development is fulfilling and satisfying, but with it comes a responsibility. We must be sure that we are acting in good conscience, working with honest and open organisations, and channeling our efforts into the right causes. So whilst data does indeed make for beautiful visualisations and powerful dashboards, it also acts as validation, to ensure that the work we are taking on aligns with our own ethos of making the world a better place.
Data isn’t just the facts and figures to shape a digital product, it’s the affirmation and authentication that deems a client or a project as a good fit for us.
Does this sound like you? Are you striving to make the world a better place with a brilliant digital product? Does data play a key role in the work you do? Get in touch.