Some people might argue that numbers were never sexy. After all, nobody but the odd rocket scientist would conjure up the word “sexy” if the conversation was about Albert Einstein. Even in Hollywood, despite recently romanticizing John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind” and Alan Turing in last year’s Oscar nominated picture “The Imitation Game,” numbers have never been a sexy topic.

The importance of numbers may be changing our appreciation for them, but making them a hot topic is still rather challenging. We live in this overstimulated world full of visual. Everywhere we look we see images and, more and more, video. This is what drives our understanding of the world around us. It’s what we connect to. It’s what we would more readily accept as ‘sexy’. Yet in this world where we are bombarded with content and imagery, it is increasingly difficult to cut through the noise. That goes doubly so if the point you are making is numbers-based.

I hear you statisticians and data analysts in the background objecting. Yes, numbers are paramount levers for understanding our world and, in a less grandiose aim, understanding our day to day. It’s isn’t the importance of numbers that is the issue, it’s actually the opposite. Given how crucial numeric-based data is, why don’t they get a rise out of us? Why can’t we get up in the morning, look at our social media feeds, see numbers everywhere, and be delighted for it?   

One problem may be that numbers only lead to more thoughts. Hear me out here, I’m not arguing for a world where we think the least amount possible (that may be where we are headed anyway, but I digress). It’s true that numbers on their own force you to paint your own picture. Whether you are drawing up a roadmap for a product you are managing, or analyzing the results of consumer research, you need to take numbers and create a story to really understand their impact.

Essentially, numbers demand that you build a mental image of how things look rather than having one presented for you. This isn’t easy! That’s why we are much more apt to take in images and videos, where things are presented quite clearly for us. Even physicists can get behind this idea, it’s essentially the well known Path of Least Resistance.


Visuals Must Lead The Way

If the problem is that numbers just aren’t sexy, then what is the solution to keeping them relevant and interesting? It’s not as if we change them from what they are. Dress up a 3 all you want, it’ll still be a 3 at the end of the day (or an 8, if you connect a couple dots). It doesn’t seem like banging our heads against the wall and hoping numbers become more popular is a winning formula. In a world where visuals inundate us daily, we may have to approach things a different way for numbers to be popular.

One way is to simply let visuals lead the way. You may call it surrender, I would call it a smart tactic. If we’re going to insert more numbers into the conversation, we’re going to have to go visual. We’ll need to show how impactful numbers can be, but do it visually. One way is to go the route of taking numbers and spawning visuals from them. This is the concept behind information visualization/ data visualization and visual analytics. They’ll show you a visual representation of numerical data in the hopes that they tell you a story you are more likely to listen to.

But what if we went further. What if we could make data-driven fields like analytics more visual to begin with, and draw the interest of numbers from there. It’s a reversed approach, using visuals as the magnet that they are, and bringing in the importance of numbers along with it. This is already happening in some fields, like mobile app analytics where we can see the advent of qualitative analytics.


How to Make Analytics Sexy

If we can’t make numbers sexy, maybe we can make analytics sexy. That is something that qualitative analytics does by virtue of what it is. Qualitative analytics eschews the numbers-only quantitative analytics by given us visual data. With mobile app analytics, this could be using a feature such as user session recordings. This feature allows mobile app owners to see real video recordings of their users so they can instantly understand behavior. Nothing is more impactful than seeing exactly how your users are struggling to get past a certain screen, or tapping on a part of the screen where no button exists.

app user recordings

For mobile app product managers, developers, and other professionals, this is as sexy as it gets. They play a video and get instant insights. Now these are people who may already be interested in numbers, based on the career they chose. But even if they were less numerically-inclined, they can instantly see the value in analytics without numbers. From here, their observations could then be supported by other numeric-based metrics, instead of the other way around. Now those numbers may not be sexier, but they’re certainly more exciting once you’ve already seen some visuals.

Using numeric-based analytics within a qualitative analytics platform allows these professionals to get the best of both worlds. I like to call it the matrimony of qualitative and quantitative analytics. It also could make those numbers stand out, after they were lured in with visuals. This might be an example of something from a particular niche, but perhaps it can be applied elsewhere. The path to making numbers sexy may not be to make them sexy per se. It may just be to cut through the noise with other visuals, and once you lure people in, give them some supporting numbers when they can appreciate it. It’s just one idea, but until Justin Timberlake sings about brings numbers back, it may be the best we have.


This piece was originally featured on Appsee’s Medium page.