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Wednesday April 23, 2014

NY Convergence ORIGINAL

VISUALIZED Part II: Data Is Not Dry

NYU student Matthew Epler and his Grand Old Party project. (Photo Credit: Lauren Keyson)

By Lauren Keyson

Speakers at the Visualized Conference in Manhattan Times Center in NY on Friday showed how powerful data can be if it’s visually created. The event’s message was that images and drawings and interactive capabilities of data can be turned into thrilling art projects that resonate better with individuals than with flat numbers and information.

Data can also be controversial and even a bit insane. Matthew Epler, a NYU student, was invited to present his idea of emotion in data because of his ‘Grand Old Party’ project that was created in the last semester of school.  “It’s about taking voting data and putting it in the form of rubber butt plugs — essentially it shows the popularity of Republican candidates for the GOP amongst Republican voters. I wanted to take an extreme stance and make it funny and loose and something that people would talk about. In the end you can make something beautiful, but if people aren’t going to talk about it, and they just flip the page and go on to reading the next article, then you haven’t done much.

“I think it’s the same as television,  he continued, it’s something you can start a conversation about without knowing anybody and say, ‘Hey, did you see that one thing it was ridiculous’ — and if you look closely there really is good information there — -it doesn’t provide less information than anything that’s done in a standard way.  But it allows for people to engage in more serious conversations that they may want to be in, but don’t feel like you can just talk about that at dinner.”

Hyperakt is a small design studio in Brooklyn that takes hard abstract numbers that are often trapped in Power Point presentations or excel spreadsheets, and turns them into stories people can understand and make actionable.  “We help change makers tell their stories and expose truths about all kinds of different social issues,” said creative director Deroy Peraza.  “For example, Voices of Youth has a platform that allows kids and adolescents to exchange conversations about all of the issues that UNICEF covers, everything from health to war crimes to sexual abuse to climate change.”

Katy Harris, Fathom Information Design, collects data on a global level for the Millennium Developmental project, a micro site that starts out with a basic image, “The more you interact with it, the more information you can get. But if you do nothing else with it, the front of the site answers the simple question ‘How are we doing?’

“Data isn’t dry,” said moderator Chrys Wu, strategist, cook and coder who founded @NYCRubyWomen.  “There a lot of emotion about it, and a lot of desire to help people understand things. There is this context of understanding and meaning that runs through every one of the speakers presentations, even without me saying people are getting this.”  She gave the example of generative artist Cedric Keifer, creative director at Onformative, who explored the space between human movement and what is possible as an expression of data by recording a dancer with a series of connects then translated her movements into data and started manipulating that into art.

Maral Pourkazemi, conception and graphic design discussed the Iranian internet and how it has been blocked by the Iranian government.  “Through data I was able to tease out what the Iranian government and the internet actually look like.  We showed it in the context of Persian rugs, so you’re seeing something that is at once artful and at the same time connects the human piece of it. It’s not just text messages, or blogs, posts and social media being put up on lot, but rather that there is a human being who is doing that, and their life could be at risk.” In the fifth iteration of her design, she showed the number of people who have been killed because of what they’ve been doing.