Furthr’s director, Andy Pemberton, inspires LSST students and staff on data visualisation and a ‘broken’ social media

Kunal Chan Mehta

By Kunal Chan Mehta | Article Date: 28 June 2017

Furthr’s director, Andy Pemberton, is a world-respected content expert with international experience working with organisations such as Cisco, the United Nations and Nestle. He edited Q magazine in London, launched Blender magazine in New York and also edited Spin magazine. He has written for the New York Times, GQ, Esquire, The Sunday Times, The National (Dubai), and the world’s largest newspaper, The Times of India.

Article date: Wed 28 June 2017

Photo Source: Andy Pemberton​’s own

He is also a leading data visualisation expert, and is a judge at this year’s British Media Awards.

Mr Ali Jafar, LSST’s head of admissions and marketing, presents Andy with a set of questions collated from LSST students and staff:

I run a company called Furthr. We make data visualizations and other content for brands. Our biggest client is Cisco. Right now, we are working on rebranding their central database which is called Centro. It collects all their data from Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa. Our job is to try to persuade folks to look at it.

Imagine you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course you look. Everyone looks. The internet interprets behaviour like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply them. The next thing you know, your newsfeed is filled up with ever more bonkers assertions, graphic images and car crashes.

Anyone who has worked in content knows that if you give people what they say they want, you end up in ever decreasing circles. But this is the model of internet content. It rewards extremism – with catastrophic results for our society. I’ve been banging on about this for a couple of years now, but now it seems the idea has finally landed. A lot of people look at Web 2.0 and social media and see that it is meaningful – its changed how we communicate – but it is not profound. It has not yet tried to tackle any significant human problems such as a lack of education, poverty or health. I look forward to the day it does. It the meantime, we have to regulate it. Screening live murder is obviously unacceptable, Facebook!

I train a variety of courses including data visualization. Data is ubiquitous now – like oil – but it does not mean much if it is in crude form. It needs to be refined to help people make decisions. Data viz helps with that and I help people make sense of data and share it. We have a few golden rules, but here is a big one: no title, no infographic. If you don’t know what your data visualization is titled before you design it, it’s going to be a long long walk.

A recent Pew survey revealed four out of ten adult internet users had been harassed online. If you wanted to design a platform dedicated to bullying people, I think you’d come up with Twitter. Trolling, bullying and abuse seems to be what it is for. I am not the only one who thinks this. Evan Williams, the man who came up with Blogger and was an early investor in Twitter thinks so too. Clearly it can be saved, but first Twitter needs to be cleaned up. Bullying and abuse is obviously unacceptable.

I am not a frustrated trombonist or anything like that. I have a fairly normal ration of ambition and I find that it is more or less satisfied at Furthr. Having said that, I am sorely disappointed not to be writing hit songs for a living, but hey, that’s showbiz.

At school, I learned to play the trumpet. I was not good. But I did pick up one thing. My trumpet teacher used to say: “if you can’t say it, you can’t play it.” He meant if you can’t sing the part you are working on you will never be able to play it on the Trumpet. (In most cases I could not do either). His words were prophetic. I’ve found that if you can’t close your eyes and see what you want to do – it will be hard. That is why designers make sketches. It turns out it’s called “vision” for a very good reason.

Note from the Deputy CEO:

My personal thanks to Andy and his team at Furthr for their time and for acknowledging LSST’s proud partnership with the University of West London and London Metropolitan University.

Data visualisation seems essential in academic writing and research today. I urge LSST students to implement Andy’s creative approach to data visualisation and to use the many weblinks found in this article. I leave you with a question: will the future synonymously term academic writing and research with academic visualisation?

Mohammed Zaidi, Deputy CEO, LSST

Please email the author of this article for any questions or comments.

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For Andy’s infographics see:

Follow Andy on Twitter: @andypemberton