Data is only data if you understand it


Even at the age of 40 my parents still ask me how my diabetes is and what my average blood sugars are. Being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetic 30 years ago, blood levels are something you are constantly measuring.

My standard response is that they are good. Generally they are, but if I replied that my Hba1c is 50, down from 53, what would that mean to the uninitiated? Is it good or bad?

Even for the initiated the figures can be daunting, a recent follow up letter to a diabetic appointment talks about a BP of 122/75, cholesterol of 4.80 and Hba1c of 53 mmol/mol. The last one I know is good but what do the other two mean?

So what’s the point of sending data if the recipient does not know the context?

Like a professional cricketer or golfer a diabetic is regularly looking at their averages to see how they are performing. This data can be shared with medical professionals for them to analyse and comment. They will also run their own tests to draw their own conclusions. 

It is how this data is presented which interests me as unless you trained to understand the data or regularly exposed to the data then how can you know what it means.

This is the challenge for every communication – if the end user doesn’t ‘get it’ or understand it then its failed.

A potential solution

In our world of creating user-friendly infographics, it has helped to translate complex data into simple bite size chunks of knowledge.

With the Rugby World Cup tournament starting on the 18 Sept there will be lots of stats flying around which could be meaningless unless presented correctly.

So, here are a few sporting infographics that I think are simple and explain the data without too much knowledge of the sport being required…

Simple summary of facts

England Rugby World Cup 2015 infographic

No need to read long match reports

Rugby World Cup 2011 infographic

Overview of the whole league

Barclays Premier League

The New York Times’ infographics published on 4 February 2012 showed a scaled representation of the players and coaches most mentioned during the latest football season and, in the bar chart, the number of mentions per week

A scaled representation of the players and coaches most mentioned during the latest football season

Requires an understanding of the game

And as we have just won the Ashes this is for those initiated in cricket and is an example of where you need to know something about the player and the game to explain the star icon in the last column

The Ashes 2015 information about the players

Oh and by the way if you are worried about your BP (blood pressure) this should tell you if you’ll survive another Jonny Wilkinson moment during the World Cup!

Blood Pressure


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Henry is an experienced online communications consultant who has worked with a number of FTSE 100/250 companies, helping them to communicate with their key stakeholders whilst maximising their use of data to generate informed decisions and increased engagement with customers. He heads up our Digital and Corporate Reporting teams, and is interested in all gadgets that make life simpler. Recent projects include an international product launch across Europe, Middle East & Africa as well as leading a large data integration project in the UK. A fan of all sports, he is often seen supporting the Exeter Chiefs most weekends but without the headdress and tomahawk!


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