Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘data visualization’

24 FEBRUARY, 2009

Geek Tuesday: Data Immersion Gone Wild

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Making sense of the world one dataset at a time, or what Mahnattan men and the poverty line have in common.

It’s no secret we’re huge (HUGE) data visualization junkies here. So we’re all over UUorld, a fantastic new immersive mapping environment that helps you makes sense of the data through highly intuitive visual analysis.

UUorld, pronounced [world], uses four-dimensional mapping — an approach that exposes the spatial and temporal context implicit to virtually all data, revealing insight far deeper and more compelling than any brain-numbing array of numbers splattered on an Excel spreadsheet could. (Which doesn’t surprise us, given the overwhelming evidence for the visual-spatial sketch pad’s role in cognition, comprehension and memory.)

While UUorld is capable of analyzing international trends and patterns, it also allows you to zoom in on sub-national elements like states, counties and even cities. The software comes with an enormous portal of free data, or you can import your own to visualize. The maps you build are highly customizable, so you can flex your creative muscle and art-direct your data visualizations to aesthetic perfection.

Visualizations and maps are downloadable in a variety of formats, including KML — which means you can export your data creations to Google Earth, plotting your data in its planetary context. And because Google Earth has an open API, we can only begin to imagine the fascinating potential for crowd-sourcing data visualization from UUorld users, eventually building an immense global library of trends and patterns that help us better understand our world and each other.

We’d love to see UUorld eventually explore the dynamic, creative potential of rich data analysis by partnering with data visualization artists like Chris Jordan, Aaron Koblin and Jonathan Harris.

A robust non-commercial version of UUorld is available for free, or you can go Pro for just $49, which we think is beyond reasonable for you get.

And if you aren’t ready to commit just yet, go ahead and explore the data gallery — you’ll find such delightful edutainment as the percentage of households run by single mothers, U.S. magnetic field intensity, a state-by-state dissection of the Obama stimulus package, and the average earnings of Manhattan men.

17 FEBRUARY, 2009

Vintage Design: Innovation Lessons from the Past

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Bleeding-edge art direction, what Obama’s agricultural policy has to do with vintage graphic design, and why 2009 is exactly like 1939.

It all began in the 1980′s, when editorial entrepreneur Janet A. Ginsburg stumbled upon a wonderful series of illustrations on a roll of microfilm while researching a story in the Chicago Tribune‘s library. The illustrations, titled “Robert and Peggy in a Century of Progress,” chronicled the adventures of a little boy and his sister at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Despite the poor quality of the microfilm, the artwork struck Janet with its aesthetic brilliance and intricacy, so she embarked upon a long journey to uncover the lost creative gems of the Chicago Tribune.

Art of The Message: The Story Behind the Chicago Tribune Collection captures Janet’s investigative expedition of trials and tribulations that eventually unearthed some of the 20th century’s most defining print design treasures. Gems like poster design so brave and groundbreaking it would be considered cutting-edge even by today’s jaded standards.

Pieces of history like the most pivotal moments of color photography — the first color photograph to be taken outdoors, away from the controlled environment of studio lights, which required elaborate three-plate filtering of the different colors and took technicians an entire night to get the engravings and half-tones just right.

From interactive inserts inviting the reader to play with the medium…

…to conceptually and aesthetically sophisticated advertising, complete with brilliant art direction and stellar typography, standing as an antithesis to the generic cliches flooding the pages of today’s print publications.

Then there was the editorial side, framing compelling op-eds in gripping visuals — literally, like in the story of the last emperor of China.

But most fascinating of all are the Tribune‘s striking data visualizations, a pinnacle of bleeding-edge journalism condensed in a vessel of stellar graphic design. Something that lives at the intersection of Al Jaffe’s iconic fold-ins and Chris Jordan’s gripping data representations. Something today’s magazines often try to do well and only rarely succeed –  you might find it in Wired‘s visual exposés or on the pages of GOOD, where our present-biased generation gawks at it in marvel of the innovation. Which, of course, is hardly novel, given such executions can be traced as far back as the late 1920′s — executions no less, if not more, visually and conceptually compelling, made with every bit as much thoughtfulness and wit and an aesthetic sensibility, yet made without any of today’s bells and whistles. (Adobe CS4 and $40,000-a-year graphic design schools, we’re looking at you.)

But here’s the most interesting part: At the closing of TED 2009 a couple of weeks ago, when the audience waved their iPhones into the air lighter-style to Jamie Cullum’s rendition of “Imagine,” we remarked what a metaphor this was for the times.

We’ve come a long way technologically, yet the social and cultural issues John Lennon sang about in 1971 are every bit as relevant and pressing today.

In a lot of ways, the Tribune‘s data visualizations are a similar reminder that those biggest burdens of yesteryear have not healed but swollen into social abscesses. Case in point: This dissection, circa 1938, of what a billion dollars is, trying to put economic scale in a culturally digestible context.

Remind you of something? Or of something else?

The same is true of this 1936 farm plan, a striking prequel to today’s most heated debates on agricultural subsidies and sustainable farming.

And as if it isn’t eye-opening enough to see two of today’s most hot-button issues — the economy and sustainability — make waves decades ago, there’s the matter of the truly biggest one of all: The tensions of international politics and their propensity for armed conflict tearing the world apart.

The moral of the story, of course, is that we did not invent the wheel — in design, in journalism, or in cultural concern, for that matter.

And while we may have honed our skills with new and better tools — better graphic design software, new media platforms for journalism to play out on, more awareness and philanthropy efforts — we still have a long, long way to go before we can declare ourselves truly innovative and claim real progress.

Explore The Art of The Message, it’s one of those rare fresh perspectives you won’t find on the regurgitated pages of today’s mass publications and info-recycling blogs.

via @TrackerNews

03 DECEMBER, 2008

Geek Wednesdays: The Ephemeral Web

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A modern time machine for data and what we can learn about the web from Victorian toys.

Kevin Kelly: The One Machine With the constant proliferation of data and its spread across the social web, we’re closer than we think to what Kevin Kelly has dubbed the One Machine. The final leap in information systems lies not in accumulating more and more data, but it in making sense of the information that does exist — which, of course, is increasingly hard the more of it there is out there.

That’s why we’re digging Zoetrope, a breakthrough development by four University of Washington students in partnership with Adobe Systems. It’s a revolutionary visualization system that allows interaction with the evolution of data as it changes across the ephemeral web — a set of operations that analyze content stream and extract temporal data.

And when you think about it, that’s pretty damn novel — after all, we’re used to looking at web pages that are nothing but static snapshots that stay a certain way for a given period of time, then update into another static snapshot.

Zoetrope lets you create a “lens” — a dynamic filter that tracks something you’re interested in as it fluctuates over time.

You can set up a lens for a specific topic, bind two lenses together to explore the correlation between two topics, anchor a lens to a specific portion of a web page and track how it changes over time, or even create a lens for the price point of that shiny new gadget you’ve been dying to get your hands on so you can pick the best time to buy it.

Zoetrope is also brilliantly extensible and data extracted by it is usable in many other information services, like the wonderful Swivel (which we’ve featured before) and IBM’s Many Eyes — systems whose forte lies in representing data in slick ways, but not necessarily in tracking the information in the first place, which is where Zoetrope steps in.

Victorian Zoetrope The system’s name is an allusion to the Victorian zoetrope device — a cylinder that creates the illusion of action by spinning static images in rapid succession.

Ironic, since the web is actually the complete opposite — action taking place faster than we can process, forcing us to artificially create static safe spots so we can keep up.

No word yet on when we’re to expect Zoetrope in public beta, but something tells us this one won’t have trouble on the VC circuits.