A Year in Review ☆

Jihii Jolly | December 23, 2011

Well, not quite a whole year. For the past four months we’ve been reviewing data art projects from around the web. In 2012, we hope to further our discussion on the educational value of data art. Until then, here’s an overview of what we’ve covered so far. We’ve bookmarked many other interesting projects so look out for more reviews in the near future! Happy New Year!

Plotting the Past, Predicting the Future

As technology changes communication and science on multiple fronts at the same time, it’s worth studying the history of a medium to better direct debates on its future. Stanford University’s Rural West Initiative does just that with the history of newspapers, which you can “see” on their interactive map, and futurist Michael Zappa does it with Envisioning Technology, beautifully designed predictions on technology for the next 30 years. Check out our posts here:

Educational Takeaway: Excellent sample learning tools for history lessons, media literacy courses, or career mapping.

Bringing Survey Information Alive

We’ve stumbled upon a couple of projects that exemplify how to turn survey data into compelling and comprehensive visualizations. First: Interactive Things, a Zurich-based design and technology studio, helped the Zurich International School visualize survey reports evaluating their mission and progress in a way that was relevant to all members of its community. Second: UN Global Pulse held a contest in the summer of 2010 to have designers visualize data collected through mobile-phone surveys on how people around the world are coping with the global economic crisis. The winning design is a fantastic combination of sleek overview loaded with much detail to explore. Third: USA TODAY created 9/11 Plus Me, data about the United States in the ten years since 9/11, combined with an interactive survey feature, which personalizes the visualization based on a viewers Facebook or demographic details. See them here:

Educational Takeaway: Each shows how organizing data could help improve educational (or political) policies or make information on (a school’s) educational and technological offerings accessible to all members of a community. These are also good model projects to teach kids how to visualize their own survey data.

Creating Visceral Learning Experiences

These two are extremely creative projects that hold more aesthetic value than educational, but can definitely stir conversation on how visceral learning experiences can be impactful! First: A nuclear safety team, KSU, teamed up with two musicians to create a radioactive orchestra – an online application through which users can create music based on the decay patterns of radioactive isotopes. Pretty fantastic. Second: Jim Vallandingham created force-directed maps to visualize how racial segregation can “break apart” U.S. cities. They literally break apart. An interesting comparison are Salon’s chloropeth maps which provide more detailed data but no visceral experience. Check them all out here:

Educational Takeaway: Such representations can make data come alive (especially for younger students) in an out-of-the-box way. KSU, for example, hopes that other processes, such as climate change and astronomical movements, can be similarly visualized through music, photography or other artistic mediums.

Aesthetic Displays of Information

Along similar lines to the two projects above, we’ve discovered some interesting aesthetic representations of data that are useful both in and out of the classroom. For example, in our post on mapping words, we’ve discussed four projects that facilitate vocabulary development through interactive design. Another, more unique example, is World of 100, a book by designer Toby Ng, which presents statistical information about the world by reducing it to a context of 100 people. Each fact is presented through a creative visual. And finally, check out The Vertical Village, a mixed-media exhibition that combines research on tradition urban villages in East Asia with proposed architectural plans for vertical building.

Educational Takeaways: These are all examples of fresh ways to present complex research and connections and in themselves powerful tools to stir discussion across disciplines.

And of course, Infographics: What Works?

We haven’t focused too much on infographics this year but look out for exciting new posts on this in the future! For now, check these two discussions, both centered on the discussion of clearly representing data vs, painting a fascinating thematic picture of data. The first is our review of Gregory Hubacek’s visualization of an early Republican primary debate from this season, compared to his visualization of educational achievement in the U.S. Though very different topics, we’ve chosen two pieces by the same designer to discuss his use of color and the different things it can do. Second is our review of Derek Watkins’ map, Picturing Urban Decay, which is a fascinating map based on crowdsourced flickr data on urban decay in the U.S.

A Republican Primary Debate Visualized
Picturing Urban Decay

Educational Takeaways: The debate visualization is an ideal example of gaining fresh perspective by representing data clearly. All lend themselves to a larger discussion on infographic use in education. More to come next year!