Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘data visualization’

28 JUNE, 2010

Visualizing Divisions and Bridges in Cyberspace


What the Tea Party has to do with Twitter and the anxieties of dating.

Data visualization is an obsession around here and viz-wiz duo Wattenberg and Viégas are among our absolute favorites. At the recent Personal Democracy Forum, they gave an excellent talk about some of their recent projects and how data visualization can be used to better comprehend behavioral patterns acorss the social web.

Among the highlights: Web Seer visualizes how different groups — men vs. women, Democrats vs. Republicans — complete the same Google Suggest search queries. (Remember Question Suggestions?)

We get a portrait of people’s anxieties.” ~ Martin Wattenberg

A new, unreleased project looks at trending topics on Twitter and uses hand-crafted (as opposed to algorithm-designed) visualizations to capture the racial profile of certain topics.

Another not-yet-released project looks at Twitter conversations algorithmically, clustering words related to a specific search term around certain topical areas based on the hashtags used in the tweet mentioning the search term — in this case, “Obama.”

The algorithm also allows you to switch to avatar view, offering a curious collective portrait of the kinds of people engaging in conversations about that topic.

There are a lot of divisions in cyberspace and visualization helps expose them, but it also helps expose how the bridges are being built.” ~ Martin Wattenberg

See more of Wattenberg and Viégas’ fantastic work on their new joint online home,


We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

07 JUNE, 2010

Color as Data: Visualizing Color Composition


Abstracting glossy magazines, or what pie charts have to do with the Mona Lisa.

We love data visualization and color. So what happens when you apply the former to the latter, visualizing color composition like you would any data set? Today, we look at three projects that take the color composition of familiar cultural artifacts and break it down visually.


Computational artist Mario Klingemann, a.k.a. Quasimondo — who by the way authored the brilliant Peacock pattern generation tool for free Adobe creative suite killer Aviary — combines circle packing with data visualization to visually analyze the color composition of famous artworks in a technique he calls “pie-packing.”

The pie charts represent the distribution of dominant colors within a circle area.


Designer Shahee Ilyas‘ amusingly minimalist deconstruction of country flags by color composition is an absolute treat.

Besides the playful irreverence, the project reveals some curious patterns of color choice, raising even more curious questions about color symbolism. For instance, we couldn’t help noticing the overwhelming dominance of red and white, in almost equal parts — the former traditionally associated with violence and the latter with peace. Food for thought.


Data viz superheroes Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas have taken their visualization magic to the world of fashion photography. Their Luscious project distills the color and light of fashion photographs and ads in glossy magazines into abstract compositions.

To create the images in luscious, we began with a series of magazine advertisements for luxury brands. We then used a custom algorithm designed to extract “peak” colors from any picture. A random arrangement of concentric circles fills the plane, representing the essential colors of each region. The resulting image hides context and representation and lets the viewer concentrate on pure color.

By abstracting away content, the project reveals interesting patterns of color choice for specific fashion designers and even entire product categories — from the luxurious reds and blacks of eveningwear to the bold blues of hard liquor to the rich earthy tones of makeup collections.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

28 MAY, 2010

Spam as Art


Flowers from junk, postmodern poetry, and a beautiful way to invite Nigerian scammers into your living room.

Spam. The very use of the word sends most people cringing. (Not to mention its use here pretty much ensures our weekly newsletter won’t reach its recipients this week.) But count on artists to take life’s most cringe-inducing lemons and make beautiful lemonade. Today, we look at three fantastic spam-inspired art projects.


From London-based illustrator Linzie Hunter comes Spam One-Liners — a gorgeous, colorful set of hand-lettering based on spam email subject lines in Linzie’s inbox.

From your usual slew of local chicks, weightloss aids and humorously poor euphemisms for ED to more the more cryptic, let’s-try-to-trick-you-into-opening-this-by-confusing-you efforts, the series is as wildly wonderful as its inspiration is maddeningly annoying.

Much to our delight, Hunter has published the illustrations in Secret Weapon — a collection of 30 terrific hand-painted, spam-inspired postcards that transform junk mail into a kind of postmodern poetry.

Select prints are also available on 20×200. (Which continues to top our list of places to buy affordable art.)


Romanian artist Alex Dragulescu creates “dynamic for the people.” His Spam Plants series consists of incredible generative sculptures based on the text of spam messages.

His work reminds us of binary sculptor Paul Prudence, whom we featured more than two years ago.

See more of Dragulesco’s projects for even more generative fascination.


Instead of sweeping junk mail under their proverbial carpet, design getup ToDo decided to put it on their literal wall. Spamghetto is a gorgeous typographic wallpaper rendered via generative software and completely customizable so it wraps around any objects and shapes on your wall’s surface.

Spamghetto is like a designer Wordle for your junk folder. We’d actually love to get a version based on real, personal emails — how lovely would it be to have emails from your friends and family covering your walls with typographic goodness?

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.