Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘how-to’

26 JULY, 2011

Visualize This: How to Tell Stories with Data

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How to turn numbers into stories, or what pattern-recognition has to do with the evolution of journalism.

Data visualization is a frequent fixation around here and, just recently, we looked at 7 essential books that explore the discipline’s capacity for creative storytelling. Today, a highly anticipated new book joins their ranks — Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics, penned by Nathan Yau of the fantastic FlowingData blog. (Which also makes this a fine addition to our running list of blog-turned-book success stories.) Yu offers a practical guide to creating data graphics that mean something, that captivate and illuminate and tell stories of what matters — a pinnacle of the discipline’s sensemaking potential in a world of ever-increasing information overload.

And in a culture of equally increasing infographics overload, where we are constantly bombarded with mediocre graphics that lack context and provide little actionable insight, Yau makes a special point of separating the signal from the noise and equipping you with the tools to not only create better data graphics but also be a more educated consumer and critic of the discipline.

From asking the right questions to exploring data through the visual metaphors that make the most sense to seeing data in new ways and gleaning from it the stories that beg to be told, the book offers a brilliant blueprint to practical eloquence in this emerging visual language.

On the book’s companion site, you can find downloadable data files, interactive examples of how visualization works and, if you’re technically inclined, even code samples to use as the basis for your own visual experimentation.

Visually stimulating, intellectually illuminating and creatively compelling, Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics is equal parts practical vocabulary for an essential modern language and conceptual testament to the power of data visualization as a new form of journalism and a powerful storytelling medium.

For a historical perspective on infographics, be sure to see the story of Otto Neurath’s Isotype.

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15 JULY, 2011

How Illuminated Manuscripts Were Made

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From the Middle Ages to the Digital Age, or what sheep skin has to do with content curation.

As we ponder the future of publishing, it’s worth revisting its past — not from a Better-Nevers perspective of romanticizing a bygone era in order to bemoan technological innovation, but out of a more philosophical reflection on the incredible craftsmanship that went into early “publishing” and how we can reintroduce this respect for and value of the art of publishing as we straddle these new digital platforms.

In this fascinating short documentary, part of The Getty Museum‘s excellent Making Art series on ArtBabble, we get to see the astounding patience and craftsmanship that went into the making of medieval illuminated manuscripts — remarkable books painstakingly written and decorated by hand, coveted as some of the most precious objects produced in the Middle Ages.

For more on these marvels of the written word, you won’t go wrong with Christopher De Hamel’s A History of Illuminated Manuscripts — though, regrettably, not an illuminated manuscript itself. And, in the meantime, perhaps we should consider what the new vehicles of patience and craftsmanship are for creating value in today’s greatest feats of publishing — journalistic integrity, curatorial sensibility, information discovery.

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31 MAY, 2011

Drawing Nature: Learning to See the World by Learning to Draw It

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From pine needles to zen in 192 pages.

After last week’s look at how field scientists do nature-inspired art, it’s only fitting to take a look at how art does nature. Over the past decade, illustrator Jill Bliss has charmed the world with her colorful, playful and distinctive nature-inspired designs, brimming with vibrant dots, lines and other bold shapes. This season, she’s inviting the rest of us to join her in this wonderful visual language for celebrating nature. In Drawing Nature: A Journal by Jill Bliss, she offers an invaluable guide to drawing natural objects with ease, joy and, yes, artistic merit. Almost scientific in its methodical rigor, the journal features a series of exercises broken down into categories, each starting out with blind contour drawings and building upon them to break your expectations of what a natural object is “supposed” to look like.

Throughout the years, I’ve learned various techniques to successfully teach people who aren’t necessarily drawers how to draw and how to see things better by drawing them.” ~ Jill Bliss

Images courtesy of Buy Olympia

Whimsical, artful and meditative, Drawing Nature is the missing link between your favorite childhood pastimes and that always-wanted-to-learn-but-never-got-around-to-it grown-up creative hobby.

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03 FEBRUARY, 2011

How to Read: Simon Critchley’s Guide to the Great Texts of Humanity

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Last week marked the release of How to Write a Sentence — the much-buzzed-about modern rival of the iconic The Elements of Style. And it reminded us of a fantastic series of books by editor Simon Critchley that addresses the other end of the equation: How to Read.

Each of the books tackles one of humanity’s great texts of literature, philosophy, science and religion, from Shakespeare to Freud to Darwin to the Bible, and enlists a leading scholar in that subject to break down the classic in a way that facilitates, deepens and enriches your understanding of it.

The collection includes the following titles, each a treasure trove of intellectual stimulation and contextual fascination:

Bonus points for the beautifully designed paperback covers.

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