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Designing for data projects at Leeds Digital Festival

We’re proud to be an associate sponsor of Leeds Digital Festival this year, to help regenerate the city and get people together to celebrate all things digital. This event brings together the tech and digital industries from across the North, where businesses can meet and learn from one another. We attended a webinar on data projects and interaction design hosted by Interworks.

This webinar brought together experts from design and data backgrounds, including Emily Blandford: Head of Design at Mundano, Dominic Hirst: Senior consultant at Infinity Works and David Mannheim: Global VP of CRO at Brainlabs to share their insights on the complexities of balancing design, delivery, and good communication.

All three speakers were engaging and had something worth taking away to digest, but before I dive into the particulars of their talks, I must pull out my favourite question from attendees; “why is it so hard to find a good data analyst?”.

The speakers collectively agreed that data analysts are expected to be Polymaths, with good data and design skills alongside commercial awareness and empathic skills that enable them to make great decisions. It is a rare mix that some would term a “unicorn”, but each speaker presented content that can help others try to get the most out of their data.

Emily Blandford was the first speaker, with a talk on data visualisation for decision making. The whistle stop tour of a data projects and their lifecycle talked about those times when data visualisations don’t hit the mark, leaving something that users don’t understand, or that doesn’t support their objectives and how data projects can be better approached to avoid this outcome.

One of the best insights was the need to look past the first question to uncover the real challenges stakeholders want to solve when looking into data projects. I know that it is important to ask the 5 W’s; Who, What, When, Where and Why, when undertaking any project. Emily stressed the Why, how it fit into the project lifecycle developed by Mundano and how it adds value, leading to visualisations that are more likely to be used by stakeholders and lead to more interesting data discovery. Emily also talked through the importance designing for simplicity, not making the users work to understand or interpret data.

As with so many projects, feedback was also a significant mention. Establishing an iterative process that focused on the people who needed the information, gathering feedback, testing and producing useful, insightful outcomes that enable them to get value from the data.

Dominic Hirst, described by the host as “the data guy” asked an important question, “who is in the driving seat, design or data?”. He delved into the challenges of balancing top-down interest in a project with the needs of user connected designers and data driven analysts, working towards a synthesis of the three.

Dominic talked about the usefulness of design guides like those produced by and the BBC. While there is no universal best practice, by establishing a set of guidelines it can be something that evolves and also provides a framework for both design and data people to work within. Referring back to Emily’s presentation, Dominic also emphasised feedback and gathering feedback as an important step in the process, especially around emotionally charged decisions.

David Manheim’s presentation, “the myths and lore of CRO that must die” was very different. CRO was discussed as a field where data is both useful and misleading. There are classic case studies on huge impact delivered by small changes such as Google’s 41 shades of blue experiment from 2014, which sound incredible, but are impractical at scales smaller than those commonly encountered by FANG companies. David instead advocated making motivational changes, rather than UX changes, addressing user anxieties and frustrations, looking at qualitative data, not just quantitative.

David also talked about experimentation being one tool among many and how many CRO experts struggle with ego, as they have the potential to make large impact on a business, but also have to balance an expectation of many skills that are standalone disciplines and creating operational conflict through change.

As part of the overall Leeds Digital Festival, this was a great deep-dive into data and just one of a range of data centric sessions that happened over the two week event.

If you have any data projects that you would like help with, our team of experienced inhouse data specialists can work with you to understand your goals and requirements. Get in touch by sending us an email to

James Dewes - Modo25
James Dewes
James Dewes - Modo25
James Dewes
Data Engineer at Modo25

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