Takeaways from Eyeo 2016

By Mindy Cultra

- June 14, 2016


I had the opportunity to attend the Eyeo Festival in Minneapolis last week. It is the third time I’ve attended in its six years of existence. This isn’t your typical conference and it’s not 100% relevant to my day-to-day job. The place was full of creative coders, data artists, eccentric engineers and “truth and beauty operators,” as one attendee described himself. I think I may have been the only market researcher.

And yet, the content was adjacent, inspiring and helped me shift my perspective and imagine new realities for the work we do—and could do in the future—at Halverson Group.

At Halverson, we pride ourselves in widening the aperture for our clients, helping them think about their products and services in a broader context and understanding the substitutes that consumers use that may be outside of their traditional competitive set. But we don’t always widen the aperture on ourselves.

Honestly, I don’t consider myself to be a market researcher in the traditional sense—and I don’t believe Halverson is a market research company, though many people likely view us that way. It’s an easy trap to fall into. The best description that I’ve come up with for what we do is “creative analytics.” We collect and analyze data in ways that I haven’t seen other “market researchers” do. Which is exactly why Eyeo is so exciting—I get to see how people in other areas related to data, analytics and artistry approach their work. And from a much more creative angle than anything I’ve seen before. Often, the project or resulting artifact that was being shared wasn’t the main point. It was the creative process and thinking that it took to get there which was so inspiring.

Below are just a few of the presenters and ideas that resonated with me.

There is poetry in data

Paolo Ciuccarelli, founder and scientific director of DensityDesign Research Lab, spoke about the poetics of data experiences. He spoke of layering pieces of information, showing things one at a time vs. in macro. He also talked about the absence often being as powerful as the presence, which is something that particularly resonates with me and is a foundational thought behind Halverson Group’s approach to motivational spaces. You can’t see what’s possible if you only measure what you think is true. Check out more of his work here.

Data can be experiential

Moritz Stefaner, who is renowned in the data visualization space, took a more hands-on experiential approach with a talk about his Data Cuisine workshops, where he recently created “small, and slow, but sensually rich, data experiences” through participatory workshops with food. Check out some of the creations here.

The resulting visuals weren’t what I enjoyed most, but rather the idea that we should be creating information experiences. The data cuisine workshops were simple, yet immersive, which made them memorable. Adrien Segal, another speaker, shared the following image. Her talk had nothing to do with food (other than the imagery she used), but had everything to do with the experience of the information, the ‘consumption’ point between presentation and knowledge.


Data (like nature) can be seasonal

Tega Brain gave one of my favorite talks. An artist and environmental engineer who works at the intersection of art, ecology and engineering, she calls herself an “eccentric engineer.” The project she spoke of that most applies to the work we do at Halverson Group involved her study of phenology (the science of cyclical natural phenomena). At Halverson, we’re often studying consumers and seasonal patterns of behavior; in her project, she was portraying phenological patterns of various plant species over several years. She searched the Flickr database for various plant species and arranged the photographs by year (the rows) and date within the year (the columns). At Halverson, we could look at the seasonality of brand and consumer behavior through photographs as well. Here are a few of her works showcasing Flickr images. Check out more on her website.


Data is better with a human touch

Throughout most of the talks, people were showing examples of work that they have done using big data sources or other open source means of quantifying information. A theme that I felt wasn’t present in previous years, but definitely was this year, was the sincere questioning of what the big data actually means and the uncertainty that comes with it. Marek Tsuzynski, focused on his work with Tactical Technology Collective, in which he questioned our quantified lives and the social questions surrounding it. He showcased an exhibition called Nervous Systems from a collection of artists.

The images below are from a project by Tega Brain, called Unfit Bits, providing “simple techniques for generating great fitness data no matter what your lifestyle.” It underscores the point that big data may not be any more “real” than other forms of consumer data. Without knowing the true source behind the data, you can’t be certain of its authenticity.


Below is another image from Adrien Segal’s talk. A quote from her sums it up. She says, “Modern conventions place an emphasis on technology and a scientific evaluation of the environment that dismisses intuition and undermines the intimacy of a human connection.”

I believe there is a balance, and data doesn’t have to be void of human connection. When you ask people the right questions, sometimes the data conveys a powerful sense of humanity.