In June I was fortunate enough to attend the quickly sold out eyeo festival. This was the second year of the event, and given the apparent success of the first I was excited to attend. It’s held in Minneapolis and this year the main venue was the Walker Art Center, but other evening events were held at different venues each night. Minneapolis seems like a great town, and the Walker was a good choice of venue for the main events during the day.
As others who have written about the conference have mentioned, it is difficult to pin such a broad event down to a single blog post. I can’t help but think back to the conferences years ago that revolved around the Flash design and development community and how they were attempting to speak to many audiences at once. eyeo is certainly more focused toward a design slant but features enough for anyone interested in the area no matter their title. Here, I think there is a sense of a burgeoning scene around designers and data visualization coming together that allows for a broad spectrum of practice and theory to mix comfortably.
The increasing quantity and complexity of information generated means methods of helping people consume the data will continue to evolve. As Drew Breunig shares in his “Frontiers through the Ages” list, Data is the next frontier.
I wanted to talk about a few speakers in this post. Over time, the organizers are adding talks to their vimeo channel so you will likely be able to see more than I discuss here. However, the talks below resonated with me because of how we work at DesignMap and their relationships to the type of deliverables we create and how we create them.
Amanda Cox is a Graphics Editor for The New York Times, has spoken several times at various conferences and won many awards for her work in data visualization.
Amanda shared an historical view at her department beginnings along with a truly massive selection of graphics the team has created over the past 20 years. What she showed was a hefty sample of the 100,000 graphics created in the department organized in a huge scrolling page. What was interesting was to see and hear about the influences each graphic has had on later, similar problems the team has tried to solve. To see previous work recombined in more effective ways, cross-pollinating, was only possible by looking at all of the work. Certain graphics couldn’t happen without previous graphics.
A few snippets of her talk:
Can we tell you something more by throwing something away?
Bar charts don’t respect what’s unique about the data. It’s the lowest level of conversation. Not exposing the underlying content in a new more useful way.
The best kind of journalism is not mad-lib journalism. Same thing goes for graphics. You can make fine graphics, but you’ll never make great graphics.
Stefanie is known for her visual analysis of the novel On The Road by Jack Kerouac and this project is what she shared at the conference. She spent 3 weeks documenting the novel in various ways, the end result was 4 poster that visually represent aspects of the novel. By visualizing the book in this way, Stefanie is able to call out the key themes of the novel and when they appear in the narrative. What resonated most for me was the fact that her work of analysis was done by hand, something that we value here at DesignMap highly. By putting her nose in the source material so thoroughly, she left with an intimate understanding of that material and was able to craft something that would undoubtedly have moved the author with her insights.
I wasn’t sure how much I’d take away from Nicholas’ talk. Seeing as how his Annual Report work is something I own copies of and read through several times, I expected it might not be as eye-opening as other sessions. But it was interesting to hear him discuss his process for design in more detail. How he deals with the same blank-page anxiety we all do and especially how he starts working with something, anything, to keep moving in a direction until he knows the right direction.
I did however leave the talk wanting to understand a bit more about the relationship between the data he records and how it influences his end result. On his blog, he describes the purpose of the 2010/2011 report with a Philip K. Dick quote:
“a person’s authentic nature is a series of shifting, variegated planes that establish themselves as he relates to different people; it is created by and appears within the framework of his interpersonal relationships.”
The Feltron 2010/2011 Biennial Report explores this notion by overlapping facets of Nicholas’ behavior to visualize how his personality varies based on location and company.
He discussed many of the steps to ending up with the finished piece, but one detail that I enjoyed was his use of triangles to form what are essentially bar charts in the 2010/2011 Biennial Report. A detail like this exposes underlying thinking which isn’t always obvious by viewing the end result.
Natalie’s work is probably the hardest to qualify as having specific parallels or direct use for inspiration in our day-to-day work here at DesignMap. However, I found the work very interesting because it was taking data visualization in a different direction. Manifesting data in 3 dimensions or the form of music scores (including performances of the scores) were moving away from a reliance on written language to communicate these complex patterns of data. She focuses on translating data into a tactile experience in the form of woven sculptures and musical scores. By using 3 dimensions in her woven sculptures, she’s able to relay the relationships between data in a way that’s difficult to do in printed form, or even in interactive ways.
It felt as though, given enough time, and enough samples with like data sets and scales, that one could learn this new language.
Some of these sculptures reminded me of an exhibit I saw in Peru years ago. The exhibit contained several examples of quipu, recording devices made from knotted strings meant to track numeric values such as crop yields and other bookkeeping needs for the Andean people of South America.
These quipu translate data into a tactile form in the same way Natalie does in her sculptures. Of course, the data density of the quipu is much smaller, but the notion is the same. To me, this example means the work Natalie does isn’t as far out as it might seem at first glance.
Would attend again
To wrap up, there were so many interesting talks about a big variety of data and visualization techniques that I didn’t cover here, so definitely check out the videos. I hope to attend again next year and would recommend it for others interested in the field.