Saturday, March 21, 2009

Not Your Average Music Video - the Art of Data Visualization

photo: Radiohead "House of Cards" video

This blog is full of videos and static images that are used to convey stories. To that, add my interest in what Garrick Schmitt, group VP-experience planning and global lead for User Experience at Razorfish, terms "data visualization" - the art of turning bits and bytes of data into stories.

While the ability to manipulate this data into images used to lie singularly with mathematicians and computer coders, the practice has become more widespread, thanks to "virtual scientists" and the digital age.

The recent explosion in "data visualization" is changing the way we create and consume stories about events, campaigns, consumer goods, and services.

Check out these examples:
* Google - Earth, Maps, Trends, and Zeitgeist products. Check out this website for Google Earth Outreach Case Studies. The one I'm most familiar with is Appalachian Voices' use of Google Earth to stop Mountaintop Removal in Appalachia.

Mountaintop Removal is a form of surface mining, used to remove coal from the earth. Over 90% of the coal used in the USA is used to generate electricity.

The Appalachian Mountaintop Removal layer was produced by Appalachian Voices as the centerpiece of, an online action and resource center launched in September of 2006. Through, 7 grassroots organizations from across Appalachia are using cutting edge technology to reveal the devastation of their mountains and communities and to build a national movement to end the practice.

The map pinpoints areas of mountaintop removal with graphics of flags at half-staff, and a 3-d tour reveals clear views of sludge ponds, blasting holes and mountains scraped of their peaks.

* The New York Times - Visualization Lab. Created in partnership with IBM, it allows users to create visual images of charts, graphs, and maps, and then share and comment on these visual images.

* The Economist - Debate series. Users can track debate developments and change in public opinion on a daily basis.

* Visa - Go campaign website. On the Go website, users can upload photos to a Go group on Flickr, and then these images appear on the Go website, as part of the campaign's messaging. This shows how Visa is "helping more people go places and do things." Banner ads feature streaming video from cities around the world, like Times Square, that show people "going" places.

* Flickr - clock. Users can upload their videos (a new Flick feature, itself) and apply these videos to the Flick clock. It was created by Stamen Design, a small design studio in San Francisco that is attracting attention for its work in the infographic space.

* Stamen Design also created the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's Artscope project. It turns the SFMOMA website into an interactive database that contains images and data about 3,500 pieces of art in SFMOMA's collection.

* Stamen Design also created Oakland Crimespotting. The site provides access to email lists, RSS feeds, and maps that indicate where and when crimes have occurred in Oakland, CA, a city located to the east of San Francisco. Users can sort through the data according to their personal interests - for example, block by block. The website's designers believe that "a clear understanding of our environment is essential to an informed citizenry." I second that.

* Radiohead turned data visualization into art, by using 2 technologies - Geometric Informatics, and Velodyne LIDAR - to create their new video, "House of Cards." These 2 technologies forgo lights and cameras, and instead create images by capturing 3D data, and then transforming the data into a series of images. Radiohead partnered with Google, and released the data to the public, for remix purposes.

Source: Data Visualization Is Reinventing Online Storytelling, Advertising Age, by Garrick Schmitt, 03.19.09.

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