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Data Aesthetics

by Christian Hogue

Some say we live in the information age. this started in the late 70’s with comput-
ers.. actually we now live in the data age.. so much data we can no longer see the
information any more. data from flight recorders, mobile phones, GPS systems,
google search data, Internet activity, money transactions, currency and stock
transactions, medical data, immigration data, pollution, weather, co2 levels, suicide
attacks, IED data, and facebook activity. torrents of data surging into our collective
data storage devices.. so much data storage that we are causing brownouts from
the need to power the air-con systems to stop the data centers that attempt to
catch this ever growing deluge of data from melting down!
so much data it seems beyond the ability of mere humans to comprehend it all...
talk about not being able to seeing the forest for the trees!
how to process this data, shift it, see patterns in it? can we write programs to do
this for us? these attempts have been slow to achieve results. the holy grail of Arti-
ficial Intelligence has not been discovered. it still eludes us. so if we cant rely on
the computers to make sense of the data for us then how?
thanks to a small but growing group of data miners.. pioneers of the wild west of
data discovery.. designers and artists are harnessing the biggest computers on the
planet to help make sense of the data.. they are harnessing the human brain it-
self. in particular the optical system of the human brain... the human brain is a
stupendous feat of evolution and its biggest feature at least in humans is dealing
with vision. the human brain and optical senses are specially wired to see patterns
and movement. this originally helped us in staying alive, avoiding predators and
finding prey determined to hide from us.. perhaps by presenting data visually we
may be able to harness our brains optical cortex's to see the underlying patterns in
data..
Originally man invented tools to help interpret data. the humble graph and pie chart
where among the first and still very important tools in the tool box of data explora-
tion.
However a new type of human is entering the field of data. no longer is it the sole
preserve of scientists and politicians. in the last few years graphic designers have
been exploiting the affordable computer power available to them and the easier to
learn visual programming languages enabling them to bring their expertise to bear
on understanding and above all communicating the insights discovered in The Data.
Simultaneously another sometimes overlapping group Artists have become fasci-
nated with exploring the visual beauty of the data in its manifest forms.
Designer’s have extended the tool set with new techniques including video and in-
teractive applications thereby exploding the ways to communicate the messages in
the data. However this comes with a heavy responsibility because not only is it
possible to express the meaning in the data it is also possible to interpret and slant
The Data’s meaning in the data as well.
For the Artists the beauty is int he Data. using in many cases the same tools as the
designers they are also producing visualizations to awe us, to amuse us, to fasci-
nate u, to motivate us...
this exploration of data visually is vitally important as much of the data effects our
every daily lives, the state of the markets, our economies, the spread of deadly
diseases, the quality of the air we breath, the very resources we consume and then
cast off to litter the land and the oceans and often poison our children and grand
children, our impact on ourselves and our planet.
these data visualization pioneers are vital to allowing us to see the truth in the data
before its too late to do anything abut it.

many thanks to:

Lina Kunimoto at Gestalten the publishers and Sven Ehmann the author of
Data Flow and Data Flow2 for their help with research on the article.
You can read a set of Q and A with Sven Ehmann on some of the is-
sues raised int he article here.. http://bit.ly/QandA-with-Sven

to follow data aesthetics read these blogs

infosthetics.com
www.visualcomplexity.com
/www.informationisbeautiful.net
www.generatorx.no

some artists

www.aaronkoblin.com
reas.com
postspectacular.com

images by:
Aaron koblin
By Michael Najar from Data Flow 2, Copyright Gestalten 2010

contact the writer at xian@lostinspace.com


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