Trompe-l’œilis a painting technique to deceive the eye of the beholder with the intention to trick the watcher’s reality. In contrast, data modeling is a technique to deceive, change or replace the user’s information(reality) perspective. Since we use data modeling usually to extend the information horizon of the watcher, and we try to merge this with existing reality, we can think of data modeling as theTrompe-l’œilof information. Data isn’t an actual reality, but we want our users to perceive it as one, and one integrated and correlated to their own actual reality. Data can be seen as the ultimate deception. But unlike the art-form, data modeling is also very practical. By extending the users reality using information driven pseudo reality, we can increase the user’s insight in our actual realities. Data modeling is a Trompe-l’œil with the function to let us not just to trick our perception, but indirectly enhance and control it. That is what we aspire to. Alas, current events like fake news, election rigging, information manipulation and cyber threats show us the darker side of this art.Trompe-l’œil noirI call this, the art of dark deception. While I don’t know data modelers have turned to the“Dark side”we should realize that ‘Data Modeling” has one aspect a Trompe-l’œil does not have: transparency. This is an intrinsic (p)art of Data Modeling, one that can be used to counter the dark side of data. We cannot just extend, alter or change a users reality, we can also extend the extension! This way we can show the change in reality. Usually we modelers do this with what is usually known as “metadata” or data about the data. This way we can paint a see through on top of our reality. A powerful feat impossible to do with just brushes and paints.
Next time you create data models of any kind, think about the darkness you are driving away, the useful and convincing reality you are creating without the deception but with the drive to maintain transparency as well.
Martijn Evers is Chief information architect at and co-founder of I-Refact, delivering top data engineers and architects to high profile organizations helping them to managing their data effectively. He’s an expert facilitator and researcher on a large range of data modeling topics and is regarded as one of the best data architects around.