Could Chaos Truly Unite Data and Creativity?

The need for a truly human-obsessed approach

This essay is part of Data + Creativity 2020, a Muse by Clio insight report exploring that critical intersection in marketing—and how to leverage it to create more impactful work. Click here to download the full PDF report of 12 essays, or here to read them on the Muse site.

For a long time, they've been awkward friends: data and creativity. But in recent years, the two have become much closer. An ARF 2019 study found that 65 percent of creatives and strategists believe research and data are important to the creative process. But what happens now? We are arguably in the teeth of chaos; will creativity and data continue to be friends? Can data still provide the right models and insights to fuel creativity as we evolve as a society? 

George Box famously said, "All models are wrong, but some are useful." The current crises could have us believing that very few of our models were useful. It appears we didn't have a great model for pandemics, and when it comes to social justice, things are even worse. But was the data wrong? Or were we relying on models based on outdated norms and judgment? The data linking ethnicity and disadvantage has always been clear, but now we are galvanized to act and, hopefully, create fundamental change for the better.

Arguably the largest issue we face is that the people looking at the data have chosen to ignore what it was really telling them. One change we must make is to apply extra scrutiny to historical norms and benchmarks that are likely the product of privilege and be less accepting of judgments on data. If our judgment has been wrong, getting closer to the data can help us reset our understanding of what matters. Data can help us behave with more humanity and, by doing so, fuel new types of creativity.

The work

Our work with Thorne, an innovative leader in health supplements and diagnostics, took people on a journey inward to help them make sense of the chaos and beauty that lies beneath the surface. Droga5 combined biometrics, audience research and data visualization to explore The Frontier Within, which resulted in an artful story driven by science and data. The unique experience that was created as a result allowed people to connect with the way their body works from the inside out.

Our research revealed that, no matter what level of good health our audience achieves, they always strive for improvement. This mirrored Thorne's own ambition to challenge the status quo of the health-solutions category, which is often focused on outward appearances. Together, these truths inspired a new brand purpose for Thorne: to defy the expectations of good health. Redefining what it means to be healthy was the catalyst for the creative idea, The Frontier Within.

On National Selfie Day (June 21, 2019), a day focused on outward appearances, we launched the Frontier Within as an in-person experience in New York City and as a web app simultaneously accessible to everyone using people's real-time biophysical data to create a living, breathing, interactive portrait of their own body—an Inner Seflie.

These Inner Selfies used each person's unique biometric data (heart rate, breathing, brain activity) to create a visual and verbal story, depicting the meaning and visual beauty of what that data represents—the real you and the real value of taking care of yourself from within.

This was an exciting project for Droga5 for many reasons but especially because it allowed us to take such a unique and ambitious approach to data. By exploring the idea of using biometrics—data that is unique to you and no one else—we were able to fuel a hyper-personalized experience. Not only were we able to use data in the traditional sense—as support and validation for our hypothesis—but it also served as the creative. By bringing data to life and by humanizing it, we were able to effectively illustrate the beauty and complexity of the inner you. It was a creative celebration of human function, a literal example of human data fueling creativity. 

What's next?

Going forward, data that properly represents humanity should be the most important driver of creativity. Some might say all future creativity must be humanity obsessed.

"The truly creative changes and the big shifts occur right at the edge of chaos," said Dr. Robert Bilder.

There is no better time to reshape the creativity that's forging an even closer union with data. Data can be the driver of equity within our work, and it can help us understand the breadth of humanity we need to communicate with.

As we forge this closer union, we'll need to be careful. Statistics can support bias, Andrew Lang once warned when speaking of the dangers of using statistics like a drunken man uses a lamp post—more for support than for illumination. 

However, if we use data to enlighten and expand our thinking, especially in times of chaos and uncertainty, and if we look beyond the surface and take a truly human-obsessed approach to data, then we can more effectively inspire humanity-obsessed creativity. 

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