‘Fields of Play’ is a technique that we often employ on decision support projects that involves creating visual representations of data - typically from multiple sources or derived datasets - that help users identify patterns and trends that can inform their business strategies.
The concept is based on two main ideas. Firstly, that data is not just a set of numbers but a web of interrelated factors that influence each other. Secondly, as Gurjeet Singh, co-founder of machine intelligence company, Ayasdi [now Sensa] puts it: “Data has shape, and shape has meaning.”
"Data has shape, and shape has meaning."
The game of Go is a complex and strategic game that requires players to spot and exploit visual patterns on the board. Just as mastering the art of spotting visual patterns in Go can lead to more successful gameplay, in a professional setting, being able to see patterns that give context to your data can help you discern the sequence of moves you need to make.
But unlike Go, where the difficulty of spotting these patterns is all part of the appeal, the objective within decision support platforms should be to create visualisations that are more intuitive and reduce your 'time-to-insight' ratio. This requires a process of sensemaking and framing that considers the outcomes you're seeking, the data that's most useful and the visual affordances that best represent the mental models people apply to the situation.
“What is the situation now, and in the future, and what can I do to interact with that situation to achieve the outcomes that I want?”
In this example, part of a patent intelligence platform, a Field of Play visualisation is used to reveal competitor based on quantifiable many-to-one relationships between a corpus of patent filings.
The visualisation is intended to reveal trends in relation to a specific patent or even a portfolio of patents. For example; "Applications of patents that cite mine are broadening" or "A broad range of ideas is now being applied to my domain."
By better understanding these trends, IP owners can make more informed strategic decisions about where they should exploit or protect their assets.
Making actions explicit
Another example was developed for a company who provide algorithmic pricing for an asset class that's often seen as being late to the party when it comes to digital transformation. A key product challenge for the firm was not only delivering increased alpha to its customers, but also about winning the trust of people who are not used to working with complex data. There was a risk that showing too much would leave users unable to see the wood for the trees.
We provided users with simple visualisations to help them better understand the factors driving pricing recommendations, such as how their own internal performance stacked up against market forces over time and gave them an intuitive view of what this means for pricing strategies.
Decision making lenses
In this example, a Fields of Play visualisation is used to establish guidelines for budget allocations across a portfolio of brands across multiple markets. Users could apply various data points to the axes of a scatter plot and then configure 'hit zones' within the plot that would determine the amount of budget those items would receive in the next financial year.
This allowed analysts to quickly build, compare and contrast different scenarios that examined "what would things look like if we based our decisions on this combination of KPIs."
Best laid plans?
In our explorations for Planscape, a VR project management application for a multi-national life sciences company, we applied the Field of Play technique to shape the terrain of the environment users found themselves in. Tasks and milestones are rendered in 3D space as paths that the team need to take on their journey to meeting objectives. Users could assign KPIs to these paths, such as the level of effort needed to complete them and their ultimate impact on the business.
Using these values, we were able to generate a topographical view of ROI across all of the initiatives the team are working on - providing a heads-up on where they're achieving quick wins with low effort and where they face an uphill struggle for little benefit.
Visualising fields of play is not just about creating pretty pictures; it's about gaining a deeper understanding of your data and using this knowledge to drive strategic decisions. By thinking of visualisations as ways o map their territories, companies can identify patterns and trends that may not be apparent through more traditional data analysis techniques.//