Open thread: Data as cake and frosting?


  • Gerard St. Croix July 28, 2011 at 2:46 am

    Good up to the last image. The message gets kinda muddled there: crumbs of knowledge? Information digestion will leave you with an empty plate? I understand what he wants to say, but I’m not convinced the metaphor is any good.

    • I agree with you. After it’s all eaten no one else can get a slice…

    • I agree too. The first three panels suggest “data”, “information” and “presentation” by showing us something. The fourth panel suggests “knowledge” by showing us a lack of something. I have always thought knowledge to be greater than the sums of its parts – not less. So, I think the metaphor does not work. And, Ashley is right too – the fourth panel presents knowledge as a finite consumable rather than as something expansive that can be passed from generation to generation.

    • My take on this is: people consume the presentation at their knowledge level. In the picture It seems like the presentation was “delicious” enough to the consumer (and his knowledge), consumer didn’t leave anything on the plate!

      Other cases could end up:
      only a bite of what’s on the plate is eaten (Good presentation + poor knowledge)
      cake, but in the thrown up state (too knowledgable for a bad presentation)

      • Richard Smith July 28, 2011 at 10:34 am

        It’s not that difficult: knowledge is the consumption of the presented information.

  • I don’t think the metaphor really works (it’s fun, anyway :-)
    I would think as the ingredients as data, the recipe as information, the cooking and baking as knowledge, being a really good baker as wisdom. Eating the cake is part of the knowledge/wisodm, I guess.

  • robert adams July 28, 2011 at 4:29 am

    Cute, though for the last shot I’d have take a photo of a child licking either the plate or his/her frosting-covered fingers.

  • I think it works well. You consume knowledge and it changes you. The cake gets metabolized into things that then power more action.

    It also works well because, just like data, when you surprise someone and throw it in their face they tend to back away or dodge it… (okay maybe I’m reaching)

  • Tonio Fincke July 28, 2011 at 5:09 am

    The metaphor is rather mediocre, since it brings a lot of untrue implications with it: E.g., data can be used over and over again to gain new information. The last image is poor. Even if we assume that it is not intended to mean “Knowledge is crumbs of presentation” but rather “Knowledge is what we gain from presentation”, it still is very inconsistent because:
    – a distinct piece of cake can only be consumed by one person, but many people can gain knowledge from the same piece of presentation
    – Cake is digested, knowledge stays permanently (at least it is supposed to).

    • I agree that the last image is poor since in a way, it suggests that people who didn’t eat the cake will never obtain that specific knowledge. I guess you can just make another cake using the same ingredients, right?

      Which ties into what you’re saying about data being used over again to gain new information. You’re right, but I don’t think the metaphor suggests otherwise. Take those eggs and create a different pastry, omelet, mix it with ground beef for meatballs, etc.

  • It breaks down on second thoughts, but as a quick metaphor – I like it.

  • Steve Wells July 28, 2011 at 6:23 am

    I’d only change the last title from “Knowledge” to “Action” since that’s the point of accumulating/displaying/presenting data/information; driving new, better behaviors.

    Tonio, I think your comment is an example of pushing an analogy too far. We can all think of many ways that an actual cake and the eating thereof is not the same thing as information display, but the point of an analogy is to make a quick point to aid understanding and move on. I intend to use this graphic (with my edit) to make that point.

    • Tonio Fincke July 28, 2011 at 6:48 am

      I agree that the images serve to quickly illustrate a point (maybe except for the last image), but good metaphors can also serve for higher purposes, up to the point that they shape how we perceive or think about about something. This metaphor is not consistent enough to fulfill this purpose.

      • Steve Wells July 28, 2011 at 7:03 am


        Good point. A good analogy is more consistent and can do more “work” in making a point. I’d say if I’m going to use this one, I’d spend just a moment making the one point about data to action in a progression of steps without requiring the images to do more than that. Were the analogy better, one could make more of it.


  • I use a different saying: Data –> Information –> Knowledge –> Action. To me, information and presentation are synonymous – presentation is simply a characteristic of information (albeit extremely important which is why I read this blog!) Given that, i would move the presentation picture to the Information slot, add a picture for “hunger” and/or a knife and fork for Knowledge (i.e., I “know” how to satisfy my hunger), and then the empty plate for Action.

    • I’m not entirely sure presentation and information are synonymous. The results of statistical test are information, as are means and standard deviations. But how you convey that information is information.

  • I always referred to data as oil in the ground, able to used many ways, and information as gas at the pump, refined and delivered: I never got to the other two steps (not a designer). I agree the plate of crumbs is sketchy as it implies finite knowledge. Perhaps a better analogy would use something where the end product is duplicated. A printing press comes to mind but who knows what that is? A tray of type is data, a set up page is information, a proof sheet is presentation, and a line of people all reading their own copy is knowledge.

  • Mike Kretzler July 28, 2011 at 8:28 am

    I think it works, crumb-picking aside.

    • SarahDSparks July 28, 2011 at 9:10 am

      I agree. I think people tend to use data/info/presentation synonymously, rather than understanding they are steps/ingredients in developing and using knowledge. I see that as a common problem in the whole “data-driven decision making” scene; people get mountains of data and don’t know how to make it usable. As for the final graphic, maybe switch out the crumbs for a happy person with a full belly. :)

  • I loved the last one. I thought it was a great way to communicate the point of all of this; it’s not to look pretty but is to “get knowledge into someone”. Life food. Once they’ve eaten it, mission accomplished.

    I thought there’d be more complaints about the presentation metaphor.

    All in all a fun example.

  • I think the metaphor works out. Once the cake is eaten, there are only tidbits of the presentation left (crumbs), but the knowledge has spread through others already who will create new data cakes of knowledge.

  • I have always seen the knowledge bit as slightly different, since as well the knowledge the information adds to, the consumer of the information also needs a certain level of knowledge to make use of the information being presented.
    My analogy would be the car speedo – the fact that something in the gearbox spins around at a number of revolutions per second is the data, it become information when the mechanism (whether analog or electrical) turns the number of revs into a position for the needle. The needle will align with a number on the dial which is the presentation. But in order to use that information you need to know that MPH, means miles per hour (or KPH means kilometres per hour for the Europeans amongst you), which is the knowledge, otherwise the information is useless

  • I think people are over-thinking the crumbs. I think the crumbs are just to let you know that the cake was eaten. If it was just an empty plate, one could think the cake was stolen or fell on the floor.

    Actually, people are over-thinking all of it. I think the Knowledge image only means that knowledge comes from the consumption (of the data through presentation of the information).

  • how about adding to the last image the satisfied face of a kid who has just eaten tons of delicious cake and is left happy and with some chocolate smeared on his upper lip? i guess most of the objections are born from the perceived negativity of the last image (empty, left overs, nothing, consumed)

    • ok may be not chocolate, frosting

      • Ah…keep the chocolate!

        Is it a perfect metaphor. No.

        Does it make you THINK? YES!

        Is it FUN? YES!

        Will it promote discussion about the topic? Just look at the threads.

        Nice work.

  • i guess most of the objections are born from the perceived negativity of the last image (empty, left overs, nothing, consumed)

    Exactly. I think of knowledge as something that, when shared, doesn’t diminish the giver’s supply. If I give you a cake, I no longer have it. If I give you an idea, we both have it. The analogy doesn’t work with physical objects. A candle, where I light mine from yours, as in Jefferson’s example (below), makes more sense than a cake.

    “He who receives an idea from me receives [it] without lessening [me], as he who lights his [candle] at mine receives light without darkening me.”

  • Well, it’s an interesting idea, but I think it’s too similar to the OSI seven-layer cake model.

  • Delicious and awesome!

  • Well, if data analysis were really a piece of cake, everyone could do it. Corny, I know, but I just couldn’t resist.

  • I agree with the last comment.. knowledge is what you gain from tasting the cookie….:))

  • I like the analogy – especially the final step to knowledge – the information is worthless if we don’t act on (eat!) it.

  • I get it. It makes complete sense. Knowledge equals consumption. Consumption of food nourishes the body, just like hopefully consumption of information nourishes a company’s business strategy.

  • Great analogy if you treat as such, using simple pictures that are worth thousand of words. I agree that the last picture illustrates the concept of knowledge only indirectly (I challenge anyone to do better), but it does convey quite well that fact that you need to ‘consume’ the information in order to generate knowledge.

  • This is such a great analogy. And that cake is the most delicious data I’ve ever seen.

  • I agree with previous posters that the last image misses the mark in trying to represent the knowledge that comes from internalizing information, but it’s a worthy attempt.

    It seems like he is paraphrasing Wurman/Shedroff’s “Path to Understanding”, the steps being: Data > Information > Knowledge > Wisdom.

    In this case, would Wisdom be the ability to make the cake again from scratch, sans recipe?

  • It works. Digested information = knowledge. Great work!