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Geek Mondays: Dating Data Art

Why 1.7 million people yearn to have their balloons popped every day and what the MoMA has to do with matchmaking.

Jonathan Harris, of We Feel Fine and The Whale Hunt fame, is one of our all-time favorite data artists working in what we like to call “information aesthetics.” His ability to take pure information and transform it into pure visual magic is the epitome of modern concept art. And his last project is nothing short of that.

I Want You To Want Me explores our quest for love in the now mainstream world of online dating, which draws over 1.7 million web romantics every day. The project, commissioned by the MoMA, dissects the personal dating profiles, which themselves are meticulously curated presentations of how we’d like the world to see us and what we’re looking to find in it.

The interactive installation is displayed on a 56″ high-resolution touch screen hung vertically on the wall of a dark room. Visitors can control the weather on a digital sky, where hundreds of balloons float. Each represents a single dating profile and is coded for gender and age by color (blue=male, pink=female) and brightness (bright=younger, dark=older). Inside each balloon is one of 500 video silhouettes, showing a solitary person engaged in a particular activity listed in their dating profile — yoga, air guitar, jumping jacks, you name it. Viewers can move the balloons inside the sky at different speeds, activate thought bubbles for the people trapped inside them, and even pop them.

Movement: Snippets

The installation pulls data every few hours from dating profiles all over the world. Each movement highlights a different facet of online dating: Who I Am explores the revelation of the self, Taglines takes the taglines of people’s profiles and puts them in a DNA-like helix symbolic of human identity, Matchmaker offers a “resolution” of sorts by algorithmically matching people based on data from their online profiles, and Breakdowns offers insight into larger population trends from the world of online dating.

The project aims to offer us a glimplse of ourselves as we peep into the lives of others — a quest for self in the quest for love. It was installed at the MoMA on February 14, 2008, Valentine’s Day.

It is part of the brilliant, brilliant Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition curated by the ever-amazing Paola Antonelli.

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Don’t Click It

Why hover is the new click and how to undo 30 years of habituation.

The best of innovation usually involves taking something completely mundane and turning it into something completely different. Which is why we’re all over DONTCLICK.IT, a revolutionary interface that does away with web standbys like clicks and buttons, and lets you navigate in a radically new way with the mere position of your mouse.

The project was born out of an experimental idea that questioned the conventions of browsing behavior. Phase One, going on right now, invites the public to join in and explore the interface. Phase Two digs a bit deeper, analyzing users’ behavior within the interface to find out just how deeply rooted our browsing habits are.

The Button Lab showcases a few alternatives for the click — different mouse motions or a hover timer. And the Autopilot feature allows you to observe the first 20 seconds of browsing behavior of the 20,000+ site visitors — it literally replays their motions within the interface. There’s even a Mousecamp where you can get trained into getting the hang of clickless browsing.

The project has received multiple interactive awards — which is no surprise: Even though the site has been up for nearly 3 years now, it remains innovation unlike anything else out there. So go ahead, explore. Let’s see how click-hooked you are.

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Pepsi: Can It?

How Tim Burton could’ve made $1 million today and why the road to social media is paved with good intentions.

New Pepsi LogoThe recent Pepsi redesign produced a new logo, fresh packaging and a slew of mixed response across the social web spanning the entire it-sucks-it-rocks spectrum — not quite the all-around applause last year’s award-winning new Coke identity got, but still an interesting conversation to follow.

The evolution of the logo alone sparked a heated discussion in the design community.

A multi-talented artist friend of ours loved the very first one best, declaring: “It looks like Tim Burton did it.” Which of course gives anything more street cred than any advertising can buy. And the guys at Make The Logo Bigger just launched a Design Your Own Pepsi Logo contest on Flickr for all the naysayers and smart-asses who think they know better than Pepsi’s $1 million design team.

Meanwhile, the ever-eager Steve Rubel of Edelman, Pepsi’s PR firm, got to spreading the word ever which way he could. First, influential social media types got a kit of 10 Pepsi cans showing the evolution of the logo, complete with a teaser note.

Pepsi: Logo Evolution

Pepsi Teaser

Then, a YouTube video popped up tracing Pepsi’s design history. And despite the questionable editing and the cheesy music choice, we found it somewhat endearing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOL8MBN8-IQ

Rubel even set up a room on FriendFeed called the The Pepsi Cooler where Pepsi is inviting ordinary web users to help shape the company’s media future. An admirable, albeit misguided initiative as it seems that so far, the bulk of room members are professional social media all-stars. Heck, Chris Brogan is on there.

Also from the well-intentioned but misguided front: We came across this cool tag cloud in the FriendFeed room, showing responses to the redesign. No love link and thus no clue where it came from, just a random image hosted on the Amazon cloud server — but pretty neat nonetheless.

It may be smart of Edelman/Pepsi to actually stand behind the Flickr contest and hear what the design community has to say in the only language it speaks. After all, they put themselves on the social media table, so now it’s all fair game. And, sure, it could turn into a food fight — but they’d better be ready to join in and play.

But enough about our take. What’s your 2 cents on Pepsi’s $1 million redesign initiative?

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Chris Jordan’s Photographic Visualizations of Excess

What Van Gogh has to do with Big Tobacco and how piles of folded laundry put the prison system in perspective.

Skull With CigaretteThe best of art is about something bigger than aestheticism, something that reflects on culture and makes a social statement that moves people. The work of artist Chris Jordan does just that. It grabs culture by its most unsettling truths, then displays them in gripping visuals that are part data, part philosophy, part brilliant photographic art.

Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait, Jordan’s latest project, exposes those hidden layers of consumerism, the big truths we give little thought to, by putting the devastating scale of our cultural excess into perspective. A visualization of statistical data, the project attempts to bring a human perspective to the alienating world of numbers.

Each statistically accurate image is a collage of miniature photographs portraying a specific excess:  The 15 million sheets of office paper we use every 5 minutes, the 106,000 aluminum cans we chug every 30 seconds, the 3.6 million SUV’s we buy every year, the 2.3 million Americans in prison, and so forth.

Plastic Cups depicts the one million plastic cups U.S. airlines use every 6 hours. Looking at the image from far away, it resembles a neo-industrial landscape where factories are spewing filth into the sky. Closer up, it transforms into a series of interwoven pipes. And really close up, you realize these are all stacks of actual plastic cups.

Plastic Cups

Plastic Cups: partial zoom

Pastic Cups: full zoom

Barbie Dolls exposes the 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries performed in the U.S. in 2006 through an equal number of Barbie dolls. The soft natural curves of a woman’s body seen in the full-scale image stand in stark contrast to the plasticky unrealness of the dolls in the close-up.

Barbie Dolls

Barbie Dolls: partial zoom

Barbie Dolls: full zoom

Denali Denial paints a portrait of the parts of nature we’re losing thanks to our reckless unsustainable habits. The image is composed of 24,000 logos from the GMC Yukon Denali, equal to six weeks of sales of that model SUV in 2004.

Denali Denial

Denali Denial: full zoom

Watch Chris Jordan’s eye-opening TED talk where he talks about his art, probes uncomfortable truths, and compares public reaction to the 3,000 deaths in 9/11 with the lack thereof to the 11,000 deaths from smoking that day and every other day.

What we admire most is that his art doesn’t aim to point the finger but, rather, to put our individual role as change agents into perspective.

In a world where large numbers have become practically meaningless, it’s easy to glide over the piles of zeroes, but it gets a little harder when we’re looking straight at the building blocks of our apocalypse.

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