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Data Visualization

Let Me Tell You a Story

Last year, at the urging of a friend, I participated in the annual Spokane Zine Fest event at the Downtown Library (oh, those were the days).  This was a gathering of people sharing stories that use words and images.  My entry was a short picture book (really a coloring book) about my adventures welcoming a Newfoundland puppy into my life.  I could have written a collection of essays full of anecdotes describing my first year with Guster, but I chose instead to focus on the visual aspects of this unique journey.  Guster is a very large dog, and seeing the chaos that can bring into any situation is a lighthearted an entertaining way to experience the story.  I was able to share this personal narrative with a few specific drawings that engaged the audience.  In the end, I hope my finished Zine used what David McCandless from Information is Beautiful called the “language of the eye and mind.”

When jumping into the topic of Data Visualization, I instantly enjoyed not only the complexity of some of the infographics and charts, but also the creative thinking and problem solving that went into their creation.  For example, the Histomap created my John B. Sparks exhibited and compressed a huge amount of historical information into a small space. While not a perfect representation of the historic civilizations depicted the Histomap is an interesting example of how the visualization of information can make knowledge accessible. The visualization helps connect an audience to new and challenging topics through image storytelling.  This type of visual knowledge collection is an interesting way in which historians and humanists can organize large amounts of information into more manageable data repositories.  This can be seen in The Fir Trade in Canada: Mapping Commodity Flows on Railways infographic created by Joshua MacFadyen and Nolan Kressin. The researchers used GSI technology to create animated maps that focus on Canadian railways and the goods they carried.  As a result, this project helped them uncover geographical patterns and create visualizations of historical change.

After reading on the topic and viewing a wide variety of presentation methods, I came away with the belief that data visualization is a method of forming relationships between knowledge and images.  These relationships allow the audience or researchers to recognize trends and patterns, while encouraging them to search for the meaning behind what is being shared or presented.  This was especially true for me when I reviewed the data infographics found on the US Census Bureau: Data Visualization Gallery.  I randomly clicked on the Population Without Health Insurance Coverage: 2008 to 2015 visualization and found myself seeing first-hand how federal legislation impacted the general population.  Like it or not, there is visual evidence, and my take away was that the Affordable Care Act definitely had an effect on the US population.  The viewer could see that the end result was many more people having access to health care coverage.

Today we are inundated with data, graphs and charts showcasing information on topics like the upcoming election, the spread of COVID-19, and troubling weather-related incidents related to climate change through social media and news outlets.  As an audience member it is my responsibility to learn and make connections from the information being presented. And, to acknowledge, that just like my silly little Zine, data visualization as another form of creative storying telling.  When done well, it can make challenging concepts easier to comprehend and more accessible to a larger set of audiences. 

Drawing by Melissa Baker, Guster The Newfoundland Zine 2019.

2 replies on “Data Visualization”

Good article, and great drawing! I would love to see the complete Zine. Excellent post also, building a compelling portrait of visualization as an accessible learning tool. I would be curious to know your thoughts on the Gibbs article, and the shortcomings of the format.

Hello, I really liked that you created your own definition for data visualization instead of taking one someone already wrote. Its interesting that you actually have experience with creating visualizations, I especially love that it was connected to your dog. What were some of your favorite data visualizations that you saw at the Zine Fest?

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