Gamifying Data

Jim McManus, January 23, 2017

Leading up to President Obama’s departure from office, the New York Times ran a new kind of interactive graphic about his legacy. It encouraged the reader to use touch to guess the path of various statistics from the past eight years — looking at unemployment, deportations, healthcare spending, etc. Readers got to see how accurate their own predictions were, turning what could have been a standard data presentation into an engaging game.

I thought it was great… and Stanford, having spent most of his professional career making charts, described it as “a really engaging way to physically test your sense of an actual metric.” 

Coincidentally, the day before I saw this graphic a client had asked about ways to make certain kinds of educational information more compelling to their students — so they would take advantage of the information rather than simply put it aside after a first look.  An interactive game-like experience felt like the right answer. 

We’ve recently taken this interactive engagement approach with a couple of information-rich projects where the goal wasn’t simply to get across one or two main ideas, but to share lots of useful information in an effort to educate the audience. 

A few months ago, the United Nations contacted us about a new initiative to educate individuals in developing countries about energy conservation, particularly in areas where energy delivery can be inconsistent. We all agreed that a game-based interactive approach would incentivize young people (a prime audience) to engage with information, so they would learn as they competed with others. 

We ultimately concluded that the UN really needed a game with enough sophistication that a true game developer needed to be involved; but the principle still held true that playfully interacting with data made that information much more likely to be learned and used. 

This concept also can apply to engaging experts in their field — accomplished ophthalmologists, for example. This past October, we created an interactive touch screen display for the pharmaceutical company Santen to brief doctors about the development status, safety, and effectiveness of a new drug to fight the eye condition Uveitis. We could have conveyed the information beautifully in a passive form — through a presentation, video, or digital brochure — but by encouraging the audience to touch the screen and interact with the information they were actively interested in, Santen was able to more fully engage their audience and help them feel more personally invested in the content.

We’re continuing to explore opportunities to create active interaction experiences with educational information,  to heighten the usefulness, effectiveness, and personal engagement with these stories.