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Book – Data FLow

Visualisation is part of our daily lives and we re constantly reading, interpreting or producing this kind of communication. In today’s book visualisations are described, as “Visual metaphors are a powerful aid to human thinking.” It goes o with referring to the modern time and the newly found complexity with “As our experience of the world has become more complex and nuanced, the demands to our thinking aids have increased proportionally.”
Anyway, the book is about visualiing information and called Data Flow – Visualizing Information in Graphic Design. It is not new, new, but recent, published by Gestalten in late 2008. It brings together a great collection of recent graphic visualisations of information and data. Of course the book it self is highly designed and a real joy to look at.

Image from Data Flow – Cover

The book is structured into six topics, namely Datasphere, Datanet, Datascape, Dataoid, Datalogy, and Datablocks. This is a purely visual characterisation of the final products, but formally helpful and of course sexy. Actually sexy is pretty much everything in this book.
As these titles already tell you the represent circle, net, surfaces, blocks. Those are the simple ones, the hard ones are Dataoid and Datalogy, here some references are needed to explain what the editor means with the title. Datanoid is deriving from humanoid, meaning “having human characteristics or form”. It describes visualisations humans can easily relate to through different ways, by integrating people, photographs and actions. The Datalogy seems to derive from analogy and refers to “similar to”, combining comparison and experience.
To make things simper a complex structure is needed. The book certainly achieves this. They seem fairly formal groupings at first, but have some thinking behind.

Images from Data Flow – Chapter introduction

The introduction to each chapter stars with a quite poetic description of each topic. This makes reading the book fun but is little helpful if one is interested in details. It is followed by a summary of the chapter again in a fairly superficial manner, but comparing or introducing a few key examples. This gives a good impression of what follows. Each graphic is then described with a short text block of around 60 words. This is very brief an each creator could probably fill pages with contextual information, but the visualisation is designed to speak for it self so it might be a good compromise. This kind of defines the character of the book; it is more of a compendium than a reader, containing a collection and not a description.
Between all this there are a few interview with designers of some of the presented visualisations, they are, Lust, Jessica Hagy, Cybu Richli and Catalogtree. Some of their work also features over a number of pages, whereas normally through out the book, one page is one visual, with 256 pages this might be about 180 different visuals in full colour obviously.
The interviews are rather short, something around eight questions. The style of the interview is a rather school like question and answer game. A bit more of a flexible chat would probably make the discussion more interesting. In the end one gets the feeling that the questions generally have been rather implicit, which leaves little room for surprising answers. Anyway, I you have the patience to read through them there is interesting insight on who the designers approach projects and what they think about the topic of visualisation.

There are a number of diagrams we have seen published elsewhere before. One of Christian Nolde’s Emotion Maps, the San Francisco Emotion Map is published here. For his book Emotional Cartography see earlier post here. Funny enough this is in the chapter Datascape and not in Dataoid. Other projects are the cap spotting project that features with a graphic (see blog entry), or the “manual” visualisation of mobile phone activity by Nicolas Fischer, maybe something the MIT should be thinking about (upcoming blog post) or the plotting of the 90 minutes movement of footballer, taken from the Game England vs. Poland in the 2006 World Cup. Who won 2:1?

Images from Data Flow – Sample pages

Some of the other stuff, mainly the Dataspheres recently featured in the Computer Arts 2009 March edition.
To conclude on this review, the book is great and very sexy, as mentioned above. It is one of the sort of books that give you real inspiration and immediately makes you wana pimp all that recent stuff you have produced. And once more you find yourself saying, I knew it for long it is possible to actually produce great visuals! And for a very short moment you forget about all the crap and ugly stuff your are surrounded by, nice!

Image from Data Flow – Sample page, just because it is so nice.

The book:
R. Klanten, N. Bourquin, S. Ehmann, F. van Heerden, T. Tissot, 2008. Data Flow. Berlin: Gestalten

Some links to designer featuring in the book: