16 August 2011
The design community has been fascinated the past few years by data visualization. The convergence of science, technology, and design has provided new strategies for design thinking. Visual hypotheses are springing up everywhere because of our unlimited access to data and the designers quest to bring transparency to complex subjects. Investigation and analysis provided designers the opportunity to become tool creators and educators. These tools are especially effective in the field of interactive design where multiple levels of data can be revealed through interaction. Manuel Lima declared that “Interactivity is Key” in his Information Visualization Manifesto. “By employing interactive techniques, users are able to properly investigate and reshape the layout in order to find appropriate answers to their questions.” Only through user cognition can the data be trusted and authentic.
Graphic and Interactive Communication department at Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) wanted students to gain experience with data visualization and looked to the work of Edward Tufte, John Maeda, and Nathan Shedroff for a conceptual framework. These thinkers influenced analytical design and its transition into current graphic design culture. Tufte states that “the logic of design replicates the logic of analysis; design reasoning emulates evidence reasoning.” This statement resonates with Maeda’s Laws of Simplicity because clarity and understanding are his primary goals for the user. The Laws of Simplicity are an approachable doctrine for students to adapt to everyday observation and work.
RCAD faculty collaborated to create a Junior/Senior interactive experience focusing on critical thinking, information structures, and user experience. The faculty encourage students to think about application design while creating dynamic prototypes based on user feedback, streaming data, and shared content. Using a collective learning model, student teams are able to tackle larger concepts spanning a wide range of possibilities including application, mobile, website, widget, and database design. They discuss real-world entrepreneurial considerations to determine what markets could be interested in their application. Rather than simplifying data, students are contextualizing it.
The semester map is created on a five-phase model inspired by Nathan Shedroff’s Information Interaction Design theory. Project DataNet enables students to be imaginative and playful with concepts ranging from pirates, to grocery lists, to nuclear power. Teams research and develop data prototypes that include historical, preference, mashup, real-time, and polling sources. Students work to collect, organize, and visualize their data into unique interactive experiences.
The projects below showcase how data visualization helps students investigate different visualization methods to enhance user experience.
Society tends to label everything it can. In the simplest of terms, in the most convenient of language, from the clothes we wear to the food we eat to the person we are; we all wear labels. But if a person is greater than the sum total of our parts, how can a label accurately describe who we really are?
Earl is a bookmark comparison application. The students collect bookmarks/urls from fellow classmates. They align their data to 11 broad categories. The students consider this application a possible acquisition for Delicious or Digg.
Bag of Goods takes an essential grocery list and break it down according to varieties available to the public. List nutritional facts for each item, then compare these facts with diagrams making them easily understood by the user. Daily updates allow the users to see what they buy and consume in relation to others using the tool.
The Designer’s World application helps designers find and determine career opportunities around the globe. It provides information on job availability, average pay rate by position, and cost of living. With this application the designers can learn about opportunities in any part of the globe that interests them.
Students use the entire Adobe Master Suite to create their design applications. During the research and development phases, teams document their work using InDesign and Illustrator. During the data design phase, they use Illustrator and Photoshop to create prototype designs. In the final data prototype phase they use Flash and After Effects. Their final platform is an Adobe AIR application created with a sophisticated level of ActionScript 3.0.
The amazing work created daily on NY Times, Good, and Visual Complexity offers abundant and accessible inspiration for students and their faculty. Everywhere we look we find endless possibilities for visualization that can enhance context and expression, and better communicate evidence. The RCAD Data Visualization course offers students the opportunity for a transformative experience that may change the way they think about design.