Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘data visualization’

19 NOVEMBER, 2009

Nonsequential Narratives: Hypertextual Books

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What your weapon of choice has to do with the evolution of storytelling.

Remember Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks, the interactive fiction hit of the 80′s? Designer Christian Swinehart is dissecting the genre in CYOA — an incredibly ambitious atomic-level structural analysis of a dataset of 12 such books, visualizing all the possible reader paths within the narrative.

The color-coded visualizations divide the plot of each book into different structural elements and groups based on the number of choices offered and how positive or negative the story ending is. The twelve books are then laid out chronologically, each arranged into rows of ten pages to better reveal their structural patterns. You can even explore each of the narratives as an animated visualization.

This visual dissection of literature reminds us of Stefanie Posavec’s Writing Without Words, though Swinehart’s approach is much less abstract and far more technically elaborate.

While CYOA books may seem like a fad of the past, they’re actually an early example of much of the non-linear storytelling and interactive narratives that take place on the web today — jumping around book pages, constructing your own story, is a lot like exploring a blog through its tag cloud rather than reading the entries sequentially, or skimming your RSS reader with articles from different publishers showing up in a shared timeline, or just hopping around your countless browser tabs.

What makes Swinehart’s CYOA visualizations noteworthy is that they offer insight not only into the structural patterns of the genre, but also into its evolution, revealing a gradual decline in possible endings — the earlier books show a colorful mix of reds and oranges, the middle of the story outcome polarity spectrum, while in the later ones a single favorable ending, in yellow or blue, tends to emerge.

And we hope this isn’t a prophetic metaphor for where the evolution of modern storytelling is headed — but we have to agree with artist and explorer Jonathan Harris, who has spoken up against the sad homogenization of the web. In an era where anyone can be the co-creator of our collective story, it’s all the more important to preserve the authenticity of voices and the diversity of proverbial “reader paths.”

Explore CYOA and think about the endings you’re choosing for your own stories through the kinds of content and narratives you engage with daily, both online and off.

via Information Aesthetics

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11 NOVEMBER, 2009

Physical Data Art by Willem Besselink

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What a 1950′s house has to do with 125 days in Berlin and the weather in Sarajevo.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a number of artists experimenting with data visualization at the intersection of digital and analog — you may recall Nadeem Haidary and his In-Formed series of physical data art. But Dutch artist Willem Besselink plays on a whole different level.

In his latest project, RE:ID, he tracked the movement of the 12,500 visitors to Rotterdam’s Museumnight, then visualized the data in real-time both online and as a large-scale public installation. The physical visualization was built out of bricks and cement on a public square, with full-blown construction equipment including a churning concrete mixer, red and white tape, and a crew of 10 construction workers working in near-real-time. Cement piles reflected the changing amount of visitors, “updated” every 15 minutes, and brick walls indicated the most popular Museumnight routes throughout the city.

Besselink has a long hisotry of physical data installations. In 2004, he exhibited 16 Days in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina — a cubic grid of 16×16 nylon wires, with one axis visualizing his pulse recorded in 30-minute intervals over the course of 16 days, intersected with temperature variations in the city over that period of time on the other axis. (This pulse visualization is somewhat reminiscent of Jonathan Harris’ 2007 project, The Whale Hunt.) The resulting 3-dimensional installation was suspended in mid-air in the gallery space.

Timelines offers an ambitious visualization juxtaposing how one specific house was used in the 1950′s, and how it is going to be used in the future, after a large-scale neighborhood renovation project.

Berlin Rotterdam is an abstract comparison of the scale of the two cities. During his 125-day stay in Berlin, Besselink recorded his position in the city in fixed intervals, then visualized these time and location data with glass beads, hanging from a map of Berlin suspended on the ceiling, down towards a map of Rotterdam laid out on the floor, moving closer to Rotterdam as the days progressed.

Explore the rest of Besselink’s data sculptures — while it may be tempting to dismiss this as cool-for-coolness’-sake postmodernist experimentation, it bespeaks a deeper cultural concern: Our restless need to make sense of all the abstract data that surrounds us, to make it more digestible and graspable by making it more tangible, more physical, more real. And art has always been a potent vehicle for exorcising our collective restlessness over the cultural concerns of the day.

via Infosthetics

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10 NOVEMBER, 2009

The Visual Miscellaneum

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Infoporn meets brain candy, creationism vs. evolution, and how to make data relatable.

It’s no secret we’re majorly obsessed with data visualization. And one of the main sources fueling this obsession over the past couple of years has been David McCandless’ wonderful Information is Beautiful blog. So we’re delighted to see David’s book, The Visual Miscellaneum, is finally out — and it’s fantastic.

Through remarkable visualizations and infographics, the book dissects our relationship with information in the digital age, offering hope and inspiration for making sense of the cold and alienating world of raw data.

From the most pleasurable guilty pleasures, to how long it takes different condiments to spoil, to the creationism-evolution spectrum, The Visual Miscellaneum scoops you up and tosses you into a fascinating world of knowledge and learning that feels like whimsy, not work.

But what makes the book so special is that it goes much deeper than pretty infoporn. Through all the eye-and-brain candy, McCandless implicitly answers the pivotal question of what makes information design good — something relevant to anyone, not just designers. Because, at its bare bones, information is just ideas. And we all want to communicate and share our ideas in compelling, engaging ways — whether they’re on a storyboard for a client, or a paper napkin at a dinner party, or a brainstorming doodle in your garage.

The Visual Miscellaneum is easily one of the most exciting design-and-beyond books to come by this year, not just an essential handbook of modern visual culture, but also a potent digestive aid for the information age.

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