BE­YOND PIXELS

Ivana McCon­nell ex­plains how she has learned the power of nar­ra­tive through read­ing sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis of sports

net magazine - - CONTENTS - McCon­nell (@IvanaMcCon­nell) is a UX de­signer, first hooked onto the web by Geoc­i­ties. She’s for­ever try­ing to re­cap­ture that.

Ivana McCon­nell on how sta­tis­ti­cal sports anal­y­sis taught her the power of nar­ra­tive

I’ve been an ath­lete for as long as I can re­mem­ber. But there’s a par­tic­u­lar layer to sport that has been un­ex­pect­edly help­ful to my work as a de­signer: ad­vanced an­a­lyt­ics.

For most, sports sta­tis­tics are straight­for­ward: goals, wins, points. But ad­vanced an­a­lyt­ics goes deeper. Tech­nol­ogy records ev­ery ac­tion on a field or court and its out­put is an­a­lysed. Spe­cialised sta­tis­tics are used to fuel de­bates about whether or not teams are dy­nas­ties, who the real MVP is and myr­iad other things. We can find a player’s value down to the win to their team, for ex­am­ple.

I be­came fas­ci­nated af­ter read­ing ‘Stephen Curry is the Revo­lu­tion’ on FiveThir­tyEight. Us­ing ad­vanced stats, the piece is a de­con­struc­tion of the three-pointer, a con­tention that “Curry’s bad shots are bet­ter than oth­ers’ good shots.” The story, un­der­pinned by data, makes a coun­ter­in­tu­itive con­cept com­pelling. It is in the read­ing of these analy­ses that I learn how num­bers pro­vide a frame­work to fash­ion a mem­o­rable nar­ra­tive.

To make a de­sign de­ci­sion, we need to gather and com­pare pieces of data that we might oth­er­wise see as dis­parate, find­ing (hope­fully) pro­found in­sight. But in­sight isn’t enough – it must then be com­mu­ni­cated and that is one of the most im­por­tant things I’ve learned from en­gag­ing in ad­vanced an­a­lyt­ics de­bates: the in­ter­sec­tion of num­bers and nar­ra­tive.

In sport and de­sign, not ev­ery­thing is as it seems: a high-scor­ing player might be tak­ing shots away from bet­ter team­mates, re­sult­ing in losses. Ad­vanced stats tackle prob­lems, ask­ing ques­tions of num­bers and doc­u­ment­ing the an­swers they give. The re­sult­ing story is used to ar­tic­u­late the in­sight to oth­ers. It’s not just about the con­clu­sion but about how we get there. The whole is greater than the sum of each statis­tic.

Un­cer­tainty and cri­tique, too, are im­por­tant. I al­ways want to re­move all doubt in a de­ci­sion but the pic­ture is never per­fect. A dataset can be used to de­clare Player A is bril­liant, while an­other set can ex­pose the same player as an over­priced fraud. And both can be cor­rect – it just de­pends on what we value. This is why cri­tique is crit­i­cal and the num­bers al­low us to set base­lines to tell our sto­ries and com­mu­ni­cate those val­ues to oth­ers – in sport, de­sign and else­where.

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