Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘data visualization’

07 MAY, 2009

Writing Without Words: Visualizing Jack Kerouac’s On The Road

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Literature as a canvas, a book as a living organism, and rhythm as a texture.

London-based artist Stefanie Posavec has a gift for words. Or for the lack thereof, to be exact. Her latest project, Writing Without Words, explores the literary world when its most important building blocks are removed by visually representing text.

The project uses Jack Kerouac’s iconic On The Road and takes a number of different approaches in dissecting its content visually. One examines “literary organism patterns” through simple tree structures that divide each of the book’s three parts into chapters, which divide into paragraphs, paragraphs into sentences, and sentences into words. All these elements are color-coded based on key themes in the book.

Another visualization technique looks at sentences, representing them by lines organized according to the number of words per sentence and color-coded to the theme.

Finally, there’s an exploration of rhythm textures — visualizing sentences by using their punctuation to create circular diagrams. Each line represents a word, with the thickness of the lines and the space between them representing the cadence, pauses and emphasis created by the punctuation.

So if you fancy yourself a fan of the written word and an advocate of visual literacy, now’s your chance to nail both — to your wall, that is: The work is available as on-demand posters here.

More about Stefanie and her work from NOTCOT.

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06 MAY, 2009

Running The Numbers: Oceanographic Visualization

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What 20,500 tuna have to do with your old toothbrush, or how a plastic comb ended up on top of Japan’s most iconic volcano.

We love TED. We love data visualization. We hate environmental demise.

Naturally, we love artist Chris Jordan‘s (remember him?) response to the overlooked but tremendously concerning issue exposed by legendary ocean researcher Sylvia Earle in her TED Prize wish — overfishing and the rapid decline of oceans’ natural vitality.


In Running The Numbers II, the second installment of his Portraits of Global Mass Culture series, Jordan looks at mass phenomena on a global scale. Again, each image portrays concrete data about a specific issue.

Depicts 270,000 fossilized shark teeth, equal to the estimated number of sharks of all species killed around the world every day for their fins.

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Further zoom

Detail at actual print size

Finding meaning in global mass phenomena can be difficult because the phenomena themselves are invisible, spread across the earth in millions of separate places. There is no Mount Everest of waste that we can make a pilgrimage to and behold the sobering aggregate of our discarded stuff, seeing and feeling it viscerally with our senses.

Depicts 2.4 million pieces of plastic, equal to the estimated number of pounds of plastic pollution that enter the world's oceans every hour.

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Detail of the top of Mt. Fuji

Detail at actual print size

Jordan’s work is both a reminder of and an antidote to our individual sense of insignificance as we face these disturbing global issues with an increasing sense of urgency — we love the idea of juxtaposing the effect of our collective actions with the tiny individual contributions that make them up. It’s a new kind of call for personal responsibility — could that be your old toothbrush at the foot of Mt. Fuji?

We are stuck with trying to comprehend the gravity of these phenomena through the anaesthetizing and emotionally barren language of statistics. Sociologists tell us that the human mind cannot meaningfully grasp numbers higher than a few thousand; yet every day we read of mass phenomena characterized by numbers in the millions, billions, even trillions.

Depicts 20,500 tuna, the average number of tuna fished from the world

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Detail at actual print size

For a deeper look at our collective individualism in its cultural context, be sure to check out Jordan’s absolutely brilliant book, Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait — it comes with our highest stamp of recommendation.

via @TEDchris

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28 APRIL, 2009

A Typographic Visualization of Every TED Talk, Ever

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9,306 hours of culture’s biggest brain cloud, condensed into a tiny word cloud.

We love TED. We love data visualization. We love fun. So we had some fun with crafting our very own semantic representation of TED talks.

The data comes from this excellent spreadsheet of every TED talk available, compiled by an anonymous author. (We stumbled upon it somewhere down the Twitter rabbit hole months ago.) We used Wordle for the cloud visualization and pulled the words from the official title of each talk — a fairly reliable representation of what the talk is actually about.

Although this model is certainly limited and not at all representative of the full breadth of what TED stands for, an essence begins to emerge — it’s highly concerned with innovation and the future, it’s about tackling global issues, and design is a big part of the solution puzzle.

Share and enjoy.