Friday, April 12, 2013

The Art, Poetry & Music of Data Viz. Or. What do you mean when you talk about data?

This could be one of my favourite talks.
I think it's fun because it's a bit irreverent but with lots of work I  love from people around the world. That's always nice to talk about isn't it? So, it's sort of about data visualization.
Many many hours appear to have been dedicated to questioning, interrogating, correcting and recontextualizing information graphics, data visualizations and generally pictures involving statistics.
Not to mention all the effort that has gone in to telling David McCandless how wrong this or that is.

So, when I was asked to put together a talk introducing Data Visualization to Elmar Trefz's students at the University of Sydney I took some delight in starting from a principal that the real truth in a data set disappears when you put pen to paper. That through the act of representing the data set and analysing the data set you arrive at a set of conclusions. That those conclusions are impossible to truly balance because a) pattern-recognition is interpretive, but mainly b) we expect our visual to communicate more than just the data. In other words we want a story - just like we do from a newspaper. And normally we want that story to confirm our own assumptions and prejudices. Unless it's the weather... Hmm. Maybe with the weather too.

So instead I wanted to look at the increasingly good art made with data. Or interpretations of literature, or music, or history being taught using the same methodology. Can data visualisations be pedagogic, or contemplative, or raw and emotional, or fun?  It's interesting when you don't know enough about your subject to be comprehensive, but hopefully enough to inspire. That was one of these talks. Forgive me if I have sinned. I hope you like the examples.