Charles Joseph Minard is arguably the world’s most famous data artist. By combining several data sets, including troop numbers, direction, temperature and terrain, he created in 1869 a visualization of Napoleon’s 1812 Russian campaign. Though that military exercise ended in disaster, Minard’s map remains “one of the best statistical drawings ever created.”
Were he alive today, perhaps Minard would find success in the emerging role of data artist, thanks to the incredible volume and availability of data and the speed and processing power of modern technology. Today’s data artists bridge the gap between IT and business, creating visualizations from terabytes of obscure data that can quickly and easily be viewed and understood by business leaders to help accelerate decision-making and improve the odds of success.
Role and Responsibilities
With today’s emphasis on data-driven decision-making, the data artist role is quickly becoming critical, says Justin Langseth, CEO and founder of Zoomdata. While the rise of the data scientist has been a major step forward in helping organizations make sense of their data, a chasm of understanding remains between the technical data analysts and business professionals. That gap has necessitated a new role that combines the technical expertise of a data scientist with the creative abilities of artists and graphic designers, Langseth says.
“In the midst of all the conversations around AI, big data, machine learning, data-driven decision-making, we realized that more enterprises were trying to tell stories based on their data using infographics, but that wasn’t telling the whole story,” Langseth says. “The problem is that infographics are static — information is constantly streaming in and new data can mean new results. There’s also a comprehension gap — businesspeople not understanding the same ‘language’ that technical data scientists are speaking. So, a data artist bridges that gap by presenting the technical information in ways that are easy to understand, through visualizations.”
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