Information and Beauty

I went and explored Candy Chang’s website containing projects she initiated in cities. These projects strike me as almost the definition of “pinpricks of change,” being so simple and elegant yet make a difference in a community, adding a certain “spice” (for a lack of a better word) that adds character. I really liked the elegance and the visual appeal of her projects. I especially like some of the guides she has made for renters and street vendors, which contain all the information these people (who often are vulnerable) need in order to get by and at the same time are visually appealing. I think it was from this project I learned the most.

Candy Chang practices a guiding principle we have discussed in class: no matter what we do, beauty is not optional. I would like to probe this idea further and explore its relationship to my primary object of study: data.

I study economics and statistics here at the University of Utah, I hope to enter the University of Utah’s MSTAT program, and my dream job is to be a data scientist. Right now, I work for Voices for Utah Children studying data, relationships in it, and presenting the results for a non-specialist audience. A big part of data science and my current work is visualization, or finding ways to present data in an effective way. Here is what my current understanding of what makes a good visualization:

·         It presents the data accurately

·         It allows the reader to see and discover new patterns

·         The data is presented cleanly and clearly

·         It allows the reader to easily make comparisons

·         It draw’s the reader’s attention

In many ways, a visualization has to be pleasing to the eye and even beautiful in order to be fully effective. The eye processes lots of information rapidly; it is a powerful organ and serves our primary sense. Bland tables or dull visualizations do not teach or convince as effectively as visually striking images involving color, movement, proportion, and so on. With modern technology, it is even possible to create interactive charts generated immediately that allows people to explore data almost in a tactile way. So the idea that “beauty is not an option” rings a cord with me.

Bland tables or dull visualizations do not teach or convince as effectively as visually striking images involving color, movement, proportion, and so on.

Lately, I have seen a lot of videos and other media discussing the possibility of data to be beautiful and powerful at the same time. This book shows many beautiful and powerful visualizations about London, from popular bike routes to famous people the city inspired. And here, David McCandless discusses how important beautifully visualizing the massive volumes of data now available is.

We have discussed a lot of information in our class this semester, and I believe one pinprick of change I could add would be a site to visualize data related to the issues we discussed in a dynamic way. This could go far in educating people and providing people the necessary tools to learn and convince others. I hope to create a website that people can access to present these applets. This is something I can do now by myself, and while I may need to learn more technical skills, I believe it is within my abilities. This could be a way for me to make change possible, and I am excited to pursue my idea further in the next semester.

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