Employment Opportunity: Art Director – Data Visualization

The following ad on Craig’s List illustrates a problem that I’ve been writing about for the last few years: confusion about data visualization and the arts. The title of the position is “Art Director – Data Visualization.” Here’s the ad in full.

Job Description:

We’re looking for an Art Director with 5+ years of relevant design experience and a portfolio that demonstrates conceptual thinking and the ability to deliver unique, creative solutions for complex, data stories. The applicant should push the limits of what creativity and storytelling mean. Their work should not only display analytics and metrics, but also assist users/readers in understanding macro and micro trends in the education arena, both broadly and on a student level. Utilizing information design, data visualization, relationship mapping and statistics, the applicant should apply all of those skills to create compelling infographics and dynamic dashboards to make data more digestible and more human.

Responsibilities of the Art Director:

  • The applicant should employ a user-centered design process and be equally comfortable working independently and alongside other design team members and developers.
  • S/he creatively conceptualizes ideas that may require extensive research in the field of education (previous experience in education a plus, but not required).
  • The applicant needs to demonstrate a solid understanding of where visual design, interaction design, information architecture and technology come together to create smart, compelling and usable experiences across channels and devices.

Requirements of Art Director:

  • Candidates must have an outstanding online portfolio.
  • Must have a well maintained sketchbook for in-person presentation.
  • Passion for design and the evolution of the interactive user experience.
  • Solid understanding of design principles and how they apply to the interactive space.
  • 5+ years of experience in design and art production. Design for mobile applications is a plus.
  • Solid typography, iconography, effective storytelling and an understanding of color theory, as well as meticulous attention to detail.
  • Excellent knowledge of prevailing interface design tools, including Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Flash and basic knowledge of HTML/CSS.
  • Experience in creating comprehensive wireframes, sketches, UI and final visual design.
  • Ability to produce great work in short timeframes, manage time efficiently while multi-tasking across different projects and clients.
  • Ability to communicate conceptual ideas and design rationale to other members of the design, development and client teams.
  • Comfortable taking specific direction as well as working independently with general guidance.
  • Experience working in a corporate environment is essential.

Notice the complete lack of requirements for training or experience in data visualization, data analysis, statistics, cognitive science, human factors, communication, or education. Here we have an organization that deals with education—something vitally important—that has been seduced into thinking that training in graphic arts is what’s required to communicate the important truths that live in their data.

Their ad probably doesn’t require appropriate expertise in part because they seem to lack a clear sense of purpose. It contains key words such as creativity, storytelling, analytics, metrics, infographics, and dashboards, but they seem little more than shallow buzzwords, rather than a clearly understood set of objectives. The clearest they come to declaring a purpose is contained in the last few words of the job description: “to make data more digestible and more human.” Digestible for what purpose? More human in what sense? Who will use the information? What will they do with it? It is only when they know the answers to these questions that they’ll be able to define the job and later measure the results.

I’ve worked with many education-related organizations over the last few years. I have a fairly good sense of the ways that they can better understand and communicate data to support their efforts. It isn’t likely that this ad will find someone who will do the job well. They’re looking for the wrong person because they’re confused. And why are they confused? In part because of the hype that surrounds data visualization today, including that which presents data art as data visualization. Data art (artistic images that are in some way based on data) and data visualization (displays of data that are meant to inform) can both be useful, but for different purposes. The hype and its proponents, including many so-called experts in data visualization, omit this distinction. When organizations that are doing important work, such as preparing students for the world, are influenced in ways that produce job descriptions like this, we can’t ignore the problem.

Take care,

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