Note: I’m a graduate student at the University of Miami working on my capstone, a visualization of the Pictures of the Year International Archives. If you’re curious about my journey, here are my posts tagged with capstone.
Between the holidays, an emergency appendectomy (yep, that happened and I’m still not 100%), weather, and various other acts of God, I’m trying to keep calm and carry on. It turns out that I’m missing a lot of data. So, I made the effort to acquire it but there’s no guarantee. So, I decided to focus on what I can do and can control while I wait.
“Think about the visual form”
This advice (below) comes from Nadieh Bremmer in an interview, “Forge a career in data viz with these pro tips and tricks” in ahead of her generateJS Conference talk.
I like that she puts an emphasis on “getting the basic chart form right”. Even bar charts have a lot of variation and you really have to be careful. Alberto Cairo taught us about being responsible designers. I took that to heart and the last thing I ever want to do or be accused of is misleading people as that can have serious consequences.
So, based on what I do know about the archive and the data so far, I looked for design precedents, works that focused on aspects I wanted to explore. Some work with photos, others with paintings or even the covers of magazines. All work with large datasets.
I’m still sorting out how to focus given the so many different directions I could go. It feels on many levels like a giant bunch of tangled yarn!
One person who is new to me and whose work I’ve come to admire is Moritz Stefaner. Below is Selfie City, an explanatory and exploratory visualization of selfies from five international cities. The “imageplots” are so much fun. From this screenshot (below), you can see the patterns and relationships between each city and within each city. Then, as you hover, you see the individual within the larger context. The visualization becomes more than a data point (Source: Manovich)
175 Years of Scientific American’s Covers
And, this visualization by Jen Christiansen and Nicholas Rougeux on 175 years of Scientific American covers gives me ideas on how to possibly present the photographs in the archives. It’s accessible, fun, and engaging. But also very telling about technology and editorial direction over time. Yes, there are stories from magazine covers!
Understand the tools I need to learn
Based on the design precedents above, I know this project will force me to learn or reacquaint myself with new tools, including programming languages (eep!). My semester turned into a programming semester with a heavy emphasis on D3js.
Python may be needed as well as more R and if I can acquire missing data, I’ve been speaking with the data librarians and GIS specialists available to me at Richter Library about using ESRI’s ArcGIS to plot images on a map. Mapbox is another possible solution.
There are a lot of possibilities so I made an effort to research what I may need to learn to execute my ideas.