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Friday April 18, 2014

NY Convergence ORIGINAL

VISUALIZED Part I: Data Can Be Beautiful

Speakers Sven Ehmann (Gestalten), Maral Pourkazemi (Small Media Lab), Ciel Hunter (The Creators Project) (Photo Credit: Lauren Keyson)

By Lauren Keyson

The Visualized Conference was held at Time Center in Manhattan on Friday to explore the evolution of communication at the intersection of big data, storytelling and design.  The event inspired with new ideas on how to make a bigger impact when visually sharing the story of a data set, whether for personal use, business, education or social innovation.

The exhilarating two-day event brought together thinkers and social innovators from around the world who are trying to change the way people understand and interact with data. The attendees gained insight into designing data-driven narratives that connect with audiences and that visualize the human experience.

Each speaker had a different take on data and storytelling. Kevin Lyons, SVP Analytics, Exelate, explained how combining art with technology and data analytics can be amazing.  “I’m amazed at the importance of art and how it can play such a big role in making some very difficult and complicated topics more understandable in a way that resonates better with individuals and impacts their emotions”

Shan Carter, graphics editor, New York Times, talked about three lessons to be learned from print design that can be used online and through interaction. “You shouldn’t use interaction to hide your data, you can expose things upfront, and you can use interaction to multiply the lessons that we’ve learned with print paper.”

Ciel Hunter, creative director, The Creator’s Project, talked about the role of data in artwork experiences and how data or visualization can strike an emotional connection with an audience. “I’m really interested in the threshold audiences have for types of technologies or types of visualizations or storytelling — and what context you need to provide to match with the audiences awareness. Sometimes simple can be produce more wonder and excitement than something more complicated.”

The message that Maral Pourkazemi, visual researcher, Small Media Lab in London, showed the audience was that through data is there is change. “With knowledge you can make change, and through design you can make the invisible visible — and that is a huge benefit of being creative.” She showed how she had mapped out the Iranian internet, “which is something so very surreal and so far away for someone like you and me, but it is worth visualizing it.  You get a feeling of how the internet could look like in a censored country which is practicing censorship and filtering. Though data you can understand it a little bit better and ask more questions that leads you to knowledge.”

Sven Ehmann, Gestalten, in Berlin Germany told the audience that he wanted them to continue to innovate their visual languages.  “Think about your own audiences in regards to telling a great story but make sure people are actually really hearing you.  Maybe they are not taking enough from the story to change their lives, their behaviors, their own attitudes to the world. If you look at nutrition facts on food packages, there is information about the level of sugar and fat calories on it, but it doesn’t really tell you anything that is for a specific reason. As someone who deals with visualization, maybe even the topping that you have on a bagel or doughnut can actually indicate that same kind of information a very different way.  It’s just thinking about the moment of taking the food, the experience of it, of how you want to encourage or distract it somehow.  Some people in design and data visualization are so much in love with their little story and their little data set, that this moment of creating meaning, relevance for someone else is probably a little underestimated.