MEC‘s presentation at the Cannes Lions Festival on Tuesday afternoon, ‘Data: Human Creativity Without Intervention’

MEC‘s presentation addressed how representations of data provided by the art and de...

MEC‘s presentation at the Cannes Lions Festival on Tuesday afternoon, ‘Data: Human Creativity Without Intervention’, addressed how representations of data provided by the art and design world offer a powerful solution to the marketing and media industries. 

Taking to the Innovation Forum stage alongside the visual artist Stephen Cartwright, Verra Budimlija, chief strategy officer at MEC, said: “Advanced computing has generated a vast amount of digital data that almost defies interpretation. It’s so dense and there’s a lot of it, and we’re struggling to extract meaning from it.” 

She outlined how visual representation of data, together with knowledge of design, could lead the industry towards obtaining “transformative insight” from big data sets, potentially finding more meaningful patterns than data that is reimagined in the minds of analysts.


In a session chaired by Jane Martinson, The Guardian journalist, Budimlija and Cartwright went on to explore the issues involved in interpreting the overwhelming amount of big data now available to the industry. 


Cartwright showed examples of his art, based on him tracking his latitude, longitude, and elevation every hour of each day since 1999. This has led Cartwright to compile an “enormous amount of data”, reaching some 160,000 data points. He has used this to create visual art that tracks his relationship with places over time in forms that include sculptural map visualisations. 


Budimlija said that planners who are struggling to work with big data sets could find a potential way forward in using visual representations of the information.


Outside of Cartwright’s work, she cited the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York’s project, with Brooklyn-based painter and conceptual artist Daniel Kohn, to tackle data overload in analysing the spread of disease and cyber attacks. 


There was also discussion of MEC’s own art installation project with Thames21 and artist Jason Bruges that puts a spotlight on the health of the River Thames. Spotify’s ability to turn the presence of emojis in the descriptions of 35 million of its playlists into a way of recommending similar listening was also identified as an example where “complex customer data is played back to an audience in a simple and engaging way.” And IBM was mentioned for its approach of hiring designers to work alongside data scientists and training its entire 400,000 workforce to “think, feel, and work like a designer”. 


There were several questions from the audience that related to issues around the impact of data on art as a form of human expression and of Artificial Intelligence on the creative industries. Budimlija rounded things off by pointing out that this application of artistic and visual principles to data will have significant impact on the kind of talent teams that brands and their agencies will need to assemble: “If IBM is on the track already, it’s just the start of new kinds of talent coming into companies, people who can pick out interesting correlations. We will see a more diverse workforce, not just data scientists working with huge volumes of data.”

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