Data visualization: photography as a design lens

Data visualization: photography as a design lensAman DarwishBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingMay 1Using photography as the creative medium to visualizing data(bonus: this post includes a mini creative project that you can try out for yourself!)During my MA course in Communication Design, we were introduced to the idea of data visualizations or how to gather data and ways to present it.

The project, and the entire course as a matter of fact, was centered around the concept of design thinking and user centered design.

One of the ways that stood out to me was the use of photography as the design lens to communicate data.

DefinitionsDesign lens is a term used in user experience design to describe the idea of choosing one medium or idea through which the designer approaches their design decisions to communicate efficiently to the user.

So the main end goal was to visualize data that the user, in this case the viewer, could comprehend or intuitively understand.

Briefly, Data visualization is the means of representing data and that is usually in the form of charts, numbers, info graphs etc.

It is a way of mapping out information to make sense out of them and to deduct insights, if there are any, or to convey a message.

It is basically making visuals out of data.

Photography, on the other hand, literally translates to drawing with light in Greek.

It is an art that allows people to communicate emotions, thoughts and experiences.

In essence, they are both visuals that convey something of meaning.

Example of Annual Reports Info-graph, Nicholas FeltonThe project required us to collect data for one week.

Any data.

I thought about perhaps documenting the things I see while scrolling down my social media feeds all day and categorizing them yet I knew deep down I wouldn’t be too ecstatic with the results so I opted for a topic that I wanted to raise awareness on.

Research and InspirationAt the time I used to live in student accommodation and whenever I went to throw out the trash I would always wonder how is it that although we weren’t many, the things we threw out would always overflow.

I decided for this project to collect my trash for a week and see how much I personally threw out without thinking.

I thought of it as a self-reflection mission to see how much I, alone, am contributing to a much bigger problem; irresponsible waste disposal.

Photoviz, Nicholas FeltonOne of my main references for this project was the book Photoviz by the infographic designer, Nicholas Felton.

It introduced me to examples such as Peter Funch’s Babel Tales.

With the advancement of technology, we are now more than ever able to get creative with the means of displaying narratives and ideas.

Babel Tales is a constructed reality or scenes that capture the streets of New York at the same time of the day over the course of a particular time period.

The examples mentioned below are a documentation of people wearing the same color at the same place but at different times.

In a way this is a method of data visualization; he has conveyed pieces of information through imaging.

The book references many more artists who have different techniques and topics addressed through their visualizations.

Peter Funch (2007), ‘Babel Tales’Another extremely visually pleasing photography data visualizations were by the information designer, Feltron.

He is an interesting example because he used to document so many aspects in his life and it is definitely worth checking out the data visualizations on his website.

In some of his projects he documented movement of one person or object in one setting throughout a set time.

The example below is one where he tracked the movement of the ball during a basketball game.

FeltronInspired by my research, I started out with a mini project where I would take images of things I would see thrown out on the street on my way to university every day.

This series of work was named “Wastescapes” and the images taken where combined to recreate the scene and to display the number of, for example, plastic water bottles I had seen on one of the streets that day.

Wastescapes (2018)A week’s worth of trashBut as for the data that I collected for a week, they were displayed as a photograph of them on floor of my dorm room as a scale to how much space the trash I throw out takes.

My intention for this was to perhaps enable the viewer to visualize how much we individually and thus collectively, add to a much bigger problem without being aware.

I wanted the viewer to view the scale of how much we individually accumulate and impact our environment.

The photograph and the data presented are to communicate the idea of our irresponsible waste disposal habits that we are unaware of.

A week’s worth of trash (2018) ©Photography is such an impactful way of visualizing data or ideas.

People tend to be be more attracted to visuals and they usually resonate with them better.

Too many words or numbers in a chart could confuse the viewer.

It would actually be hard to get their attention, to begin with, if it isn’t direct and to the point.

Thus, the key to impactful data visualisation using photography is:Limiting the number of features (keep it simple and harmonious)Find a theme or a purpose (and an appropriate design lens if you’re not using photography as one)Brief:So you can also collect data for a week!.It could range from anything such as the time you spend on your phone every day (although there are apps for that now) but you can always look at things in a different way or just focus on one thing and document that.

Perhaps, you can even document one thing you’re trying to change all year and see how you progress, with photographs!.. More details

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