I’m still drafting the online survey discussed last week, but will hopefully have it ready to send out to readers of SciArt sometime after a meeting with Paz tomorrow. At this point, I’m expecting that we’ll be producing a website that stitches together the results of our research into environmental pollutants, the hidden chemicals in our air and water, and activist strategies for folks in Spain and the United States. Both Paz and I are interested in envisioning how these issues might play out in the future, so expect some license to be taken with our proposals.
I’ve made websites for several of my past projects— Quantum Tours Americana and the Foggy Bottom Microobservatory were both pseudo-fictional institutions that used graphic branding and web design to seem legitimate— but for this project, I’d like to do something more freeform and interactive.
Coincidentally, I was preparing a lecture about data visualization for my class this week, and found myself researching examples of immersive educational websites. I think some of these examples will be useful as we develop our own project. Surely we can do better than the convoluted data sets provided online by national and international water researchers (see previous blog post for examples of bad design). I want to use the data collected from the survey as a jumping-off point for illustrations, videos, and speculative design, but some amount of concrete fact reportage is essential to highlighting the dangers of pollution.
The BBC published The Making of Me and You earlier this year, and it’s a fantastic look at the human microbiome designed to illustrate the diverse organisms that make up the self. This seems relevant to our project of exploring chemicals and bacteria hidden in water, but it’s also a great website that frames hard science through familiar metrics like dollar-value and household goods (thanks, capitalism!).
The BBC’s data-driven anatomy lesson is a little overwhelming, but each section is clearly visualized with simple shapes— it’s just hard to decide which fact to look at when there’s so many. A lot of DataViz websites simplify this by forcing users through a specific narrative, with information appearing and disappearing as you scroll.
British technology firm Akita provides an elucidating look at the way information travels through the web in with their web page titled Movement of Data. It’s a great example of the full-page infographic; complete with scrollable animations and vector illustrations. It’s a fun journey but I’m not sure Paz and I will come up with a story that is as linear as the life of an email. Still, think about all those bits beaming around the world whenever you’re reading these blogs!
These scrollable infographics are fairly common, but I don’t really consider them data visualization so much as illustrations. Here’s a charming infographic about why our visual communication is so effective to our primate brains, but those vector illustrations aren’t really attached to data, they’re merely sitting alongside statistics. I’m not sure yet which direction Paz and I might take, but as activist artists, I reckon it should be stranger and more radical than these examples.
One more inspiring data visualization is the immersive website Network Effect by Jonathan Harris and Greg Hochmuth. This generative head trip through human culture uses your IP address to limit your access to the site according to the average life expectancy in your country. Clicking on one the shuffling words takes you to a thematic collage of statistics and video footage that is as moving as it is headache-inducing. I don’t know if we’ll be able to put together such a rich tapestry of data, but there’s certainly enough information out there about water. According to the BBC, there’s 1,566.2 oz of it in my body alone.
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Paz Tornero is an artist, visiting professor at the University of Caldas in Colombia, researcher at the University of Murcia, Faculty of Fine Arts in Spain, and visiting fellow at the Institute of Microbiology (USFQ) in Ecuador.
Benjamin Andrew is an award-winning interdisciplinary artist, storyteller, and Instructor at Pennsylvania State University.