GDE720 - Week 3

GDE720 – Week 3 : Research

I already knew I was going to love this week – data visualization is something I admire and love. Not only for it’s place in our everyday lives but also I get a weird satisfaction from looking at fascinating data inforgraphics and learning something new. It’s this idea that the complexity of our lives can so easily be filtered down to something so simple, beautiful and, quite often, shocking or educational. With so much information around us now, and with us absorbing so much outside of our conciousness, we need to have simplistic views of the world to often make sense of it.

Take the current pandemic, every single day we’re reading new stats, new figures and absorbing so much information that changes on a daily basis. How do we filter out the truth from the falsified information? How can we truly understand and retain these multiple figures and facts? Every time Chris Whitty asks for a new slide we get a whole new TV screen filled with data and charts. Even now, if I google “covid 19 world”, Google provides me with an up-to-date, constantly developing inforgraphic with all the information I might want:

How can we trust all this information coming our way? How do we make sense of it all and how can we really take so much in on a daily basis?

Harriet talked us through the history of visualization and communication – design has always played a part, even back to the days of cave men and women. These drawings weren’t so humans in 2020 can learn about the animals they lived with way back when, it was to communicate with each other. To learn from each other and pass on messages. When I worked at Beningbrough Hall (a National Trust property outside York), we were taught to look at historical paintings and understand what the colours meant, the meaning of the materials used, why the subjects were standing in a particular way, what the backgrounds meant. Not because it’s a pretty picture, but because back in the 1600s, mere peasants could not read or write, and so in order for Kings and other wealthy landowners to be understood by their subjects. By providing this information in their portraits, their subjects could learn more about these people, their wealth status, where their wealth came from and their background. To quote many people, these pictures painted a thousand words, and more.

Even to this day, we use photography not just to capture one subject, but to paint a story. Without a story, the photography can be static or flat.

However, too much information is an overload for our minds, this complex data and information we face on a daily basis needs to be slimmed down and condensed in a meaningful and clear manner. For example, the London underground – we’ve looked at this a lot over the past few weeks, but in clearing the information given on one page, the immediate speed of our information processing is much faster than the earlier underground map.

Ikea’s cookbook, Homemade Is Best is something I’ve not come across before and I love it – the simplicity behind the design but the really beautiful neatness that comes with it is so satifisfying! Using the correct percentages and weights of the ingredients I find it truly interesting to look at exactly the comparisons of the amounts going into the recipes.

McCandless leads the way with data visualization – With our daily data overloads, we struggel, innately, to understand teh vast amounts of information given to us. As he mentioned, the use of figures and numbers in the media is meaningless to us unless we are given a comparison to work with:

By utilising comparitative data, we are able to begin making sense of the magnitude of numbers provided to us daily. I’ve always loved the infographics showing the real size of countries in comparison to what we see on our everyday map:

Or perhaps this map based on purely population rather than land mass:

Through gathering this data and making us understand it in a clear and visual way that is instantly recognisable, we’re immediately able to see the differences in what is real and what we believe. I’d love to see McCandless’ Mountains out of Molehills updated for the past year – with the media coverage of the pandemic I bet it’d be hugely different!

It’s not jsut information on these graphics though, it’s comparative data. We need comparisons to recognise and make sense of the data given, Take other aspects or data into consideration when creating these inforgraphics so we have a recognisable data set to compare to.

I’ve never before considered photography and data visualisation as one. However Nicholas Felton has blown my mind!!! Through long exposures or slow motion photography, we’re able to break down images and daily visuals into something really fascinating. Take the Babel Tales by Peter Funch, I’m obsessed with his work and it breaks down normal everyday life into something entirely different. Creating alternate realities of what we see on a daily basis, made up of real life images.

Or take the 7 Roombas, this has given me inspiration to perhaps attached glowsticks to my cats collar to observe his nightly routine!

Or, on a similar note, utilising flight paths and this data to create some fantastic imagery, as Aaron Koblin does so well:


McCandless, David (2008), Information is Beautiful

Cheng, Joanne (2014, updated 2015) ‘Analyzing Minard’s Visualization Of Napoleon’s 1812 March

Information is Beautiful (2018) Information is Beautiful

McCandless, David (2010) The beauty of data visualization

Interaction Design Foundation (2016) Information Visualization – A Brief Pre-20th Century History

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