The job of a data analyst is just like a painter

By | November 18, 2014

This week’s topic reminds me a lot of stuffs in my previous work. At that time, I was a data analyst in a research company. Everyday’s job is to deal with bunches of data,data,data… Yet the research data in our clients eyes are totally different from our perspectives.

In client’s perspective, the data are orderly displayed in different kinds of charts, tables or figures, some of which are really fantastic. They enjoy the front end of database. Those readable, ordered and comprehensive data provide our dear client pertinent ideas on marketing and PR strategies.

At the same time, we, the data analysts, were struggling with clusters of intertwining raw data. To us, these data were not inherently insightful. Raw data are just “simple” data, which were dull, boring and obscure. The point my supervisor always emphasized was “how to bring the key points to clients”, which means how to use all these raw data to compose a logical and narrative data report. In this sense, data analysts are all art workers. What type of chart to use? Which data bring out the key point? How to arrange the order of pages? Is there any misleading information? Actually my role was not the manufacturer of report, but the porter and processor of existing data, which were collected by inexhaustible computer programs (and this is the real back stage). Data look like the pigment. My job is to draw with the pigment and give these materials esthetic sense. The audiences of a painting should not notice the pigments on it, to them the painting is a whole. This standard also works for our clients. In their perspectives, there’s no “recognizable datum” but dozens of executable insights for business.

I think such a working flow of my previous job is a vivid explanation and experiment of “database aesthetic”. From the backstage to the front end, data are collected, sorted, categorized and ordered by computers and other colleagues in technological departments. Finally in our hands, we handle the data and combine them into a readable and insightful data report. We eliminate the “forms” of data and bring them to the content level. Besides, some “decorations” of the data are also necessary, since charming data charts such as cloud chart (to display the word frequency) or the radiation chart (to discover the relationships between different key words) are always attractive to clients. Besides the contents and insights of data, of course we also expect our clients would “enjoy” the beauty of data.

One thought on “The job of a data analyst is just like a painter

  1. shannon Post author

    What a lovely analogy, Fan! Your work is both aesthetic and rhetorical — you practice the art of data presentation, which allows others to derive meaning from those “raw” data. I hope you’ll share some of your work experience in our in-class discussion!

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