Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘data visualization’

21 NOVEMBER, 2012

A Visual Timeline of the Future Based on Famous Fiction

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Proof that in the year 802701, the world will still exist.

The past has a long history of imagining the future, and humanity has an equally long history of mapping time. Several months ago, I shared a link to a timeline of future events as predicted by famous novels. Italian information visualization designer Giorgia Lupi saw it on Twitter and was inspired to create an ambitious visual version for La Lettura, the Sunday literary supplement of Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, with her design team at Accurat.

Giorgia was recently visiting and after she shared the story, I asked her to create an English edition of the exquisite timeline exclusively for Brain Pickings, which she generously did:

(Click image for hi-res version)

Giorgia explains:

The visualization is built on a main horizontal axis depicting a distorted time-line of events (in fact we put them regularly, in sequence), starting our future-timeline in 2012. The y-axis is dedicated to the year the novel / book foretelling the event was published.

On the lower half of the visualization you can find the original quotes (shortened)

We then wanted to add further layers of analysis to our piece:

- finding out main typologies of foretold events (are they mainly social, scientific, technological, political?)
- discovering and depicting the genre of the book,
- and most of all, dividing them into positive, neutral or negative events.

Finally, good news, in 802,701 the world will still exist!

Here are a few progress sketches for a fascinating glimpse of her process:

See more of Giorgia’s wonderful work on her site, then imbibe some visualization lessons from the world’s top information designers and data artists.

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10 MAY, 2012

Graphing Jane Austen: Using Science to Extrapolate the Human Condition from Classical Literature

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What literary Darwinism reveals about universal values.

In 1959, C. P. Snow lamented the tragic disconnect between science and the humanities in his famed “two cultures” lecture. In Graphing Jane Austen: The Evolutionary Basis of Literary Meaning, researchers Joseph Carroll, John Johnson, Daniel Kruger, and Jonathan Gottschall — who gave us the fascinating The Storytelling Animal earlier this week — embody Snow’s vision and bridge the gap between science and literary scholarship by borrowing from the evolutionary biology and modern data analytics to construct a model of human nature that explains the evolved psychology of character dynamics in nineteenth-century British novels.

Using the framework of the model, they asked a sample of several hundred readers to give numerical ratings on 2,000 characters from 202 British novels, including all of Jane Austen’s.

This exercise in literary Darwinism produced three key findings: (1) these novels have determinate “agonistic” structures of meaning — centered on protagonists, antagonists, and minor characters — that can be captured using the model’s framework; (2) the perceived differences between protagonists and antagonists are much more structurally pronounced than the differences between male and female characters; and (3) the agonistic structure of these novels fulfills an adaptive social function, wherein literature articulates and cultivates specific social values.

A few of the findings (PDF) follow, in unnecessarily ugly academic graphics. (Please, oh, please, would some talented literature-loving information designer care to spruce them up?)

The researchers examined the positive and negative emotional responses readers have to characters based on a number of character qualities, including sex, age, attractiveness, personality, motives, and mate selection criteria. Five key motive factors emerged — dominance, constructive effort, romance, subsistence, and nurture — which varied greatly across the male and female protagonists and antagonists, and which played a key role in readers’ emotional responses.

Personality was also broken down to five factors: extraversion (assertiveness and sociability), agreeableness (warmth and affiliative behavior), conscientiousness (organization and reliability), emotional stability (calmness and evenness of temper), and openness to experience (curiosity or mental life).

The authors sum up the findings in a conclusion that seems as true of literature as it is of real life:

Standing as a protagonist — a good major character — typically depends on a combination of prosociality and an active mental life.

Also found were normative differences in personality based on gender:

In personality factors and mate-selection criteria, female protagonists most fully exemplify the normative tendencies of good major characters. The norms of the novels are thus gynocentric or feminized.

Though some may argue that bringing the rigorous lens of scientific research to world of literature is a barbaric way to rob the latter of its whimsy, if we subscribe to the view that fiction illuminates reality, Graphing Jane Austen shines a spotlight that not only would make C. P. Snow proud but also helps better understand our culture’s relationship with constructs like personality, gender, and introversion.

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01 MAY, 2012

Lessons in Conveying Complex Ideas with Simple Graphics from the World’s Best Information Designers

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What Frank Zappa’s life has to do with e-waste, whale songs, and the black market for body parts.

Much has been said about visual storytelling and how to tell stories of data in the information age, and there is no shortage of great books on data visualization. But count on Taschen to tackle a big conceptual challenge with a big, beautifully designed book: Information Graphics by art historian Sandra Rendgen explores the four key aspects of visualizing data — Location, Time, Category, and Hierarchy — through exemplary work from more than 200 projects, alongside essays by information architect and TED founder Richard Saul Wurman, Guardian Datablog editor Simon Rogers, Density Design’s Paolo Ciuccarelli, and Rendgen herself.

'Geek Love,' The New York Times, newspaper article, 2008

Exposed to Dungeons & Dragons Early in Life. Design: Sam Potts. Art Direction: Brian Rea

'Medallandssandur,' a blend of the sound specters form sonar and whale song. From a series of drawings, 2010

Design: Torgeir Husevaag. Article: Adam Rogers

'The Very Many Varieties of Beer,' poster, 2010

Design: Ben Gibson, Patrick Mulligan (Pop Chart Lab)

'Two Mindsets,' Stanford, magazine article, 2007

Data Source: Carol Dweck: 'Mindset: The New Psychology of Success', 2006. Design: Nigel Holmes

'Body Parts,' Esquire, magazine article, 2006

Design: Peter Grundy (Grundini). Art Direction: Alex Breuer

'Frank Zappa Chart,' painting, 2008

Artist: Ward Shelley (represented by Pierogi Gallery)

'The Growing E-Waste Situation,' GOOD, website, 2010

Data Source: CBS News; ABI Research; US EPA; Basel Action Network; Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. Research: Brian Wolford. Design: Andrew Effendy (Column Five Media). Art Direction: Ross Crooks

'Mission(s) to Mars,' IEEE Spectrum, magazine article, 2009

Data Source: Cornell University; European Space Agency; NASA; RussianSpaceWeb.com. Design: Bryan Christie, Joe Lertola. Art Direction: Mark Montgomery, Michael Solita

Information Graphics features work by a number of Brain Pickings favorites, including Stefanie Posavec, Nicholas Felton, Ward Shelley, Hans Rosling, Nathalie Miebach, David McCandless, Toby Ng, Michael Paukner, Christoph Niemann, Sam Potts, and Jonathan Harris. The cover image is, of course, the unmistakable Web Trend Map by Information Architects.

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