Treemap data art

Details of a Treemap Art Project have come to my attention, showcasing data-generated artwork from one of the most influential names in data visualisation, Ben Shneiderman. The project has the compelling strapline ‘Every AlgoRiThm has ART in it’.

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Ben has had a hugely distinguished career and is responsible for a host of notable achievements in this field, along with Human Computer Interaction. His ‘Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design‘ and ‘Visual Information-Seeking Mantra‘ are but two of his most enduring footprints on these subjects. However, I’m sure it would be the case that many people most associate him as the pioneer of the treemap visualisation technique.

He has been working on a summer project to create a set of artworks based on his treemap technique, which has now come to fruition with the hanging of 12 framed images (24 x 36 inches) on the walls in the University of Maryland Computer Science Instructional Center.

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Whilst the noise has died down somewhat recently, the negative reaction many purists have to data art as a concept is often misplaced. Data art should be judged through a different lens to data visualisation. The latter is generally concerned with discoveries from or communication of data, whereas data art is more about self-expression or an exhibition using data. Sure, there may some consequential discovery or enhanced cognition about the underlying subject through the resulting patterns, but that is not the goal.

Although I conceived treemaps for purely functional purposes (understanding the allocation of space on a hard drive), I was always aware that there were aesthetic choices in making appealing treemaps, such as the layout, color palette, and, aspect ratio of the entire image. Also certain treemaps were inherently interesting because of the data displayed or patterns revealed.

Ben goes onto explains his belief that there are at least four aesthetic aspects of treemaps:

  1. Layout design (slice-and-dice, squarified, ordered, strip, etc.)
  2. Color palette (muted, bold, sequential, divergent, rainbow, etc.)
  3. aspect ratio of the entire image (square, golden ratio, wide, tall, etc.)
  4. prominence of borders for each region, each hierarchy level, and the surrounding box

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The dedicated website tells the story, shows sets of draft designs, and full size PDFs for the 12 images. There is also a flyer for those who want a 2-page summary with all 12 thumbnails and some pictures of the installation.

Ben explains that the prints will be up for at least two months…

then we’ll see what happens… I’ve been getting increasingly enthusiastic feedback as we refined the designs. Now dealing with requests for prints, which is a good sign. It’s been very interesting to shift my thinking to the aesthetic side and commit to making artistic choices.

Videographic for BBCs 100 Women season launch

The BBC News website has today launched a new series titled ‘100 Women‘, bringing together a range of interviews, profiles, articles and other digital content to look at the world we live in through the eyes of women.

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To mark the series they have released a videographic (or is it info-videographic? infographic video?) that explores some of the sobering and staggering statistics around women’s continued battle for parity, opportunity and safety in our modern society, ebbing and flowing between positive stories and then more depressing contexts. It is not possible to embed the video but here are some screengrabs and just click on the images to get to the video’s page.

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Interestingly, looking purely at the design execution, for the purist, there are probably many flaws behind the representation of the data in this video and it has that infoposter-elements look and feel. However if the measure of effectiveness is about the clarity and impact of the information communicated, then I have certainly found it a success.

Visualising the ‘Fallen’

The Fallen 9000 was an artistic ‘event’ to coincide and mark International Peace day on 21st September. The project took place on the D-Day landing beach of Arromanches in France with the objective of representing the estimated 9,000 civilians, German forces and Allies who lost their lives on 6th June 1944.

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The project was the idea of Yorkshire sand artistis, Jamie Wardley and Andy Moss. They created a series of stencilled drawings for a team of volunteers to use to create the image prints of bodies in the sand.

Our challenge is to represent those lives lost between the times of the tide with a stark visual representation using stencilled sand drawings of people on the beach. Each silhouette represents a life and when it is washed away its loss. There is no distinction between nationalities, they will only be known as ‘The Fallen’.

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As the authors describe, “the exact figure of the fatalities will never be known due to the horrendous carnage that is often termed the ‘fog’ of war. 9000 is a rounded down to the nearest thousand and is most likely a conservative number based on 3000 French civilians, 2000 German Forces and 4414 Allies.”

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You can read more about the project here and also see the full gallery of photos and images emerging from this event here.

Ideas Lab: Visualizing Global Trade

Launched yesterday comes a new interactive visualisation project and week-long accompanying series on global trade issues from ‘Ideas Lab‘.

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As the authors describe, the tool maps global trade against economic opportunity and quality of life indicators with the purpose of examining the relationship between global trade and social and economic factors within and between countries around the world.

The project is primarily based on a navigable map and/or list of country codes that enable you to compare one country’s trade ‘data card’ with another. Each card is packed with indicators about the country’s reliance on trade, including matters such as the ease of doing business, the country’s global competitiveness and the Human Development Index for context.

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You also have the ability to create your own colour pallete and interact with a sliding range selector to view the reliance on trade of countries up and down the spectrum. By toggling the inclusion or exclusion of the blue (doing business), red (global competitiveness) and yellow (HDI) factors, you see a colour mix applied to the profiled countries at each point on the selector to highlight their relative readings across these indicators.

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There is a lot going on in this project so it is really helpful to be welcomed by a screen full of explanatory annotations and instructions. Like we saw recently with the project ‘Kindred Britain‘, don’t just dive in and expect to be immediately intuitively capable of interpretation/understanding, it needs a bit more patience and careful navigation before you reach that stage.

I therefore found it really helpful and refreshing to see this project avoiding the lazy option and just putting out a tool, abdicating responsibility for how effectively users interact with and unearth findings from the tool. Instead, the designers/authors have created four sections of key Q&As including key insights, functionality, elements of the data visualisation, and data analysis. There is also a detailed blog post that provides more depth about the background, workings and findings of the project.

Changes in British social attitudes visualised over 30 years

Thanks to Mel Taylor for sharing some nice work from NatCen, a leading independent social research agency, revealing the changes in British social attitudes over 30 years.

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The project presents the key findings showing how opinions have changed in Britain between 2013 and 1983, accompanying the full written report with a interactive view of five key slices of analysis. The first view, shown above, is a neat slider showing a montage of different imagery associated with some of the main topics or significant changes over the 30 years.

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As you scroll down the page you move through the 5 main topics: Economy, Welfare, Morality, Politics and the Environment. Each section is accompanied with two or three charts showing you the key findings as well as offering interactive filters, milestone hovers and the option to download the data yourself.

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If you want to read more about this project visit the NatCen project page.

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‘Kindred Britain’ maps 30,000 people in British history

A fantastic new visualisation work has been released today titled ‘Kindred Britain‘. Created by Nicholas Jenkins and Elijah Meeks of Stanford University in partnership with Scott Murray (amongst others) the project offers a deep, exploratory interface into a network of nearly 30,000 key figures in British culture connected through ‘family relationships of blood, marriage, or affiliation’. As the designers describe, ‘it is a vision of the nation’s history as a giant family affair’.

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The site itself will do far more justice to the mechanics of the visualisation but the basic idea is that you can explore the relationships between key figures in British History. With 30,000 nodes there exists a potential 897 million different paths through the network. One way to interact with the contents is to search for and isolate a key figure then drag them over another one to establish their network of connections and relationships.

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As well as the network view you also have a ‘Gantt chart’-type timeline view of the applicable individuals and a map view providing a geographical narrative.

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Aside from serendipitously finding interesting people, you can use the menus across the top to short-cut your selections based on curated views and popular selections: most viewed, professions, families, firsts and lasts, notable combinations and key stories.

This is one of the deepest visualisation undertakings I’ve seen for a long time and the creators have done an incredible job providing a route into this fascinating subject matter. There is an exquisite balance between the elegance and clarity of the design and the preservation of the weight and multi-faceted complexity of the content.

Amongst many great features, one of the most important and impressive is the care for the reader’s experience. Rather than over-simplify this project, diluting its essence, instead there is a respect for the reader demonstrated by a great level of annotated assistance and insight. Nowhere is this better shown than the welcome windows that introduce the project, describe the basic interactive functions used to explore the site and explain the colour palettes and important visual keys.

 

Beneath this you have so much more detail about the project, including extensive user guides, project FAQ’s, glossaries and a super account of the design challenge by Scott.

A wonderful project, congratulations to all involved and do spend some time exploring it.

‘Movie Galaxies’ social graphs in movies

Jermain and Michael are co-founders of a data visualisation project called ‘Moviegalaxies‘, “a place to discover the social graph in movies”. I recall I saw an early version of this project last year but it seems that the depth of movies now available has grown significantly.

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The project essentially enables you to search through a catalogue of (currently) 775 movies and explore a network graph of the characters and their relationships within each film. As the founders describe, “beyond the story and actors of a movie, the interactions and relationships among actors play an important role in how movies are perceived.”

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Once you select a movie you can browse through the characters, with a fish-eye feature zooming in on your current view. You can select and isolate an individual character and see the specific connections.

It is particularly interesting to explore movies that you already have a familiarity with in terms of structure. For example, compare the parrallel story structure of Babel with the multi-character epic Casino.

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As the developers express this experiment is driven by a mixture of uncertainty and curiosity and I love that they have added a ‘wish list‘ feature to the site to collate ideas for future developments. This approach would be great if it was incorporated into many more self-initiated projects like this.

Windswept: Mesmerising wind observation installation

Thanks to Rob Rolleston for sharing this video with me. It came up through some analysis of the Hint FM Wind Map and, as you can see for yourself, it provides a mesmerising ambient display of local wind patterns, making the invisible visible.

Commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission, Windswept is a wind-driven kinetic façade consisting of 612 freely-rotating directional arrows creating a large-scale observational instrument that reveals the complex interactions between the wind and the building. The wind arrows serve as discrete data points indicating the direction of local flow within the larger phenomenon.

Unspeak: Interactive documentary looks at manipulative power of language

Many thanks to Luis van den Ende from Submarine Channel for sending me details of this fascinating interactive documentary titled ‘Unspeak‘ that combines film, data visualisation, technology and design to investigate the issue of language that deliberately manipulates public opinion.

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The subject matter is based on British journalist Steven Poole´s book ‘Unspeak‘ about a form of coded language that is used by politicians, corporates and the media to manipulate public opinion: terms like Oil Spill, Climate Change, File Sharing, Erectile Dysfunction, and Clean Coal:

This project aims to kickstart the conversation, educate and empower audiences, and make the prevalence of Unspeak framing visible to the public. People will not be taken in for a moment by the power of deceptive language if we actually stop to think about it. Once you tune in to the wealth of daily Unspeak talk, you’ll start seeing and hearing it everywhere. And then, perhaps, we can fight back.

The trailer provides an alternative introduction:

Within the site you have several elements, from the glossary of terms and their explanations and a series of 6 short films with each episode covering a different theme: such as natural disasters, financial crisis and political rhetoric.

You then can explore the prevalence and usage of the growing bank of Unspeak terms, looking at the mentions of each term of twitter over time, by geography and within networks, with options to break down the results by gender, sentiment and age.

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Everyone is invited and encouraged to record mentions of the usage of ‘Unspeak’ words or contribute new ones, as well as help increase the awareness of this growing vocabulary of manipulation: “The more people contribute new words, the better we can fight back“.

‘Watch Dogs: WeAreData’ smart city data mapping

To accompany the launch of the Watch Dogs video game, ‘WatchDogs: WeAreData‘ is a demonstration of some of the ‘smart cities’ concept that forms a major part of the game’s narrative.

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The site offers detailed data on London, Paris and Berlin based around an explorable 3D city map which continually feeds information from open sources such as social media accounts like Twitter or Instagram as well as the overall infrastructure of subway activity, traffic light and public toilet locations.

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The result is an interactive real-time map of European cities, almost a digital terrain layer of some of the invisible activities to provide a whole new sense of the life of a city. The design and interactivity is very slick with a really useful tutorial feature to talk you through the key elements of the site’s functions and information.

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