Different Ways of Looking at London #1

London as Typography

Taken from an A-Z Map, with everything removed apart from the text. Courtesy of http://blog.gooneruk.com. I think its really interesting how you can still see the river and the main open spaces…as well as follow the regions quite well. I’d probably prefer this to no writing whatsoever as a newcomer, but maybe not after having lived here a while.


‘Network Visualization in an Age of Interconnectedness’ – Manuel Lima Talks at BBH

A talk on Data Visualization by Manuel Lima, courtesy of @madebymany and @bbhlondon, 25th August 2009.

“I am a Functionalist Troubled by Aesthetics” – Manuel Lima, quoting Wim Crouwel

Ostensibly Manuel talks about representing data, visually: at a more abstract level, he is talking about the transmission of information across a continuum from raw data, to a global, understandable ‘information’, to a communicable ‘knowledge’, and finally to a personal ‘wisdom’. This process remains contingent on context, and on the relationship between production and consumption of data.

Firstly, Manuel spoke of the ways in which information has been communicated throughout the ages – considering cave drawings, moveable type, and of course, language. Contextualising his topic, he moved on to what he referred to as a ‘Visualization Outburst’ – brought about by five key factors.

1. The capacity of digital to store information.
References to the exponentiality of digital growth and ‘Kryder’s Law‘ were made, examples being the capacity of the iPod to store 160GB of information in 2009 compared to the benchmark model in 2001 boasting 5GB capacity. Kryder’s Rule states that the capacity of information storage will double every 18 months, and this has been proven in several cases: the iPod being one, and to name another, Manuel suggests that a laptop computer will have a commodity drive capacity of 1 Petabyte (1 million Gigabytes) by 2030.

2. Openness of Datasets
In sharing data (eg IBM’s Many Eyes), and allowing others to access your data, as well as being able to aggregate multiple users data (eg through APIs), we have more data to work with: and more is better – although perhaps more complex. An onus on transparency and openness is championed in many contexts, and the manipulation of data by third parties can be mutually beneficial – as well as forward facing.

3. Social Networks

The interconnectedness of individuals in an online capacity has a huge impact on information sharing. Not only who is connected to who by eg a LinkedIn profile, six degrees of separation and so on: but also through topics of interest, communal activity, music tastes and so on. Further, the aggregation of user data by host platforms such as Twitter, and the APIs they provide, are sources for data viz in their own right. Tag clouds used within the flickr platform were early and benchmark examples of democratized data visualization.

4. Democratization of Tools

Further exploring the democratization of data, we are shown examples of software such as processing and flash facilitating UG data viz. Data visualization is no longer confined to academic field, but can become part of a wider conversation of users and resultantly is allowed to form the syntax/discourse/language for communicating data across disparate platforms.

5. Mainstream Media
Along a similar line, Manuel talks about ‘vernacular visualizations’, and a point is raised from the audience about how whilst openness of data-sets drives data visualization, similarly the dissemination and adoption of data visualization drives the opening of data-sets. Manuel rebuts along the line that sharing information is about an exploration; a journey – a return to the link between producer and consumer – and that the objective is to provide a greater explanation; a function of the data, rather than visualization being an end in itself. I shall return to this point later.

Visual Complexity: We need to make a transition from Tools of Curiosity to Tools of Functionality”

California NanoSystems Institute

California NanoSystems Institute

Secondly, Lima moved on to discuss his own project, Visual Complexity. Here he moved through several fascinating examples of how data viz is being used, with an emphasis on plurality: in working towards a ‘common language’. His work and curation encompasses a variety of fields, where the data he has collected might be from biology, social networks, business, IT, music, politics or astrophysics. The point in many ways is that the subject matter, doesn’t matter: the interpretation of the viz is subjective and entirely within the control of the user. The job of data viz is to make that interpretation clearer or more valuable than through other methods.

Within this section he gave several examples, the highlights of which for me were a project on GPS drawing, whereby children would walk around a large open space and physically ‘draw’ a simple object, the example being an elephant’s head. They could then map this data using GPS technology onto the terrain which they had navigated, and remove sufficient data to create a real-life, mass-participant ‘art attack’. Neil Buchanan would have been proud. Other examples included linking last.fm music tastes across a social network and so on, before Manuel moved on to more hardcore applications of this hybrid of design and technology (‘a new science’). He alludes to several examples of visual representation of terrorist networks, identifying key players over a temporal space, as well as analysis of the demise of Enron, a stab at the ‘fat cats’ of the US and many more – all of which are available on his blog.

“Aesthetics should be a Consequence, not a Goal of Data Visualization”…

Tracing the Visitors Eye

Tracing the Visitor's Eye

My personal favourite combined UGC in the form of geotagged flickr photographs, geographic data and temporal data to create a map of the paths people take around a space: in this case, the city of Barcelona. Basically, the data aggregated user photos of landmarks in the city, and pitched them against the time they were taken, to establish the routes people created: “Tracing the Visitor’s Eye”. This data was then overlaid on a map of Barcelona to show the traces people had taken, with stunning informational and aesthetic effect.

“Time is a Very Difficult thing to Map”

The final part of the talk focused on network visualization, and how this translates into every day life. Examples were given of visual representation methods, as well as interactive exploration techniques, ranging from radial convergence models and radial centralized networks, through to multi-sensory installations such as a Californian project involving the representation of nodes in both colour and sound, across a three storey building.

So. What has all this got to do with me? Well, to be honest, I wasn’t 100% sure, but all I knew was: it looked fucking cool, and seemed to serve a real functional, valuable purpose in today’s data rich and time poor society. However, I had an inkling that my work looking at creativity within systems, and as processes, would relate – especially in terms of how best to represent this visually. In his final section, Manuel alluded to the complexity of networks, considered from different levels of aggregation, and how data viz can serve to simplify models of complex phenomena.

He splits the system up into three levels: the macro level, or ‘system level’, where data serves to indicate patterns; a relationship level, where connectivity between nodes is of focus, and the micro level, looking at individual nodes. I map this on to my own work, discovering parallels within a creative system of Culture as System (Macro); Organizational (Relationship) and Individual (Node) level aggregation.

Further, his ideas on time, and how this is difficult to map were very interesting. I attempt to map the development of creative projects over time both through language; and diagrammatically. Lima uses an example of a temporal based network visualization, showing schoolchildren interacting with a teacher, and one another, over time. It blows my mind, despite its relative aesthetic modesty. But his point here is that nodes within this system can and should be represented intelligently: incorporating temporal factors, factors of relevance (eg proximity to other nodes: there’s no need to see the whole system, actually, only what’s relevant), and factors of simplicity.

He closes with an allusion to a ‘Universal structure’ – which he translates as matching images of neurons in a mouse’s brain to the Millennium Structure, developed recently to represent the universe-as accurately as we can, using a self contained data set of 25TB.

He jokes at the juxtaposition, but similarity, between one of the smallest things you can see, and one of the biggest things you can think of: but to me, and probably to many who were there, the message was clearer: working towards data visualizations or representations of the monolith of data we face is not an end in itself, but a stepping stone in creating a multi-disciplinary and cross discourse platform for communicating information: be they ideas, data-sets, evolutionary systems or, indeed, Facebook friends.

Manuel Lima | Visual Complexity from digup.tv on Vimeo.

Anyone who was at the event, please contribute to my thoughts. Manuel: keep up the good work.


Manuel Lima & Visual Complexity

I’m off to a talk tomorrow by Manuel Lima, a visual complexity/information visualization aficionado who recently spoke at TED. Organized by Many to Many, and hosted at BBH, they say:

“Manuel will be re-presenting his TED talk on understanding complex interconnectedness and highlights from a range of fascinating information visualization projects”

Some examples from his site and blog, Visual Complexity, are shown below.

Information Visualizations, as complied by Manuel Lima

How it would be if a building was dreaming” (Above) The conception of this project consistently derives from its underlying architecture – the theoretic conception and visual pattern of the Hamburg Kunsthalle. The Basic idea of narration was to dissolve and break through the strict architecture of O. M. Ungers “Galerie der Gegenwart”. Resultant permeabilty of the solid facade uncovers different interpretations of conception, geometry and aesthetics expressed through graphics and movement. A situation of reflexivity evolves – describing the constitution and spacious perception of this location by means of the building itself.

Hopefully this will relate to my PhD work in a number of ways: firstly he is talking predominantly about networks of information, and how these may or may not be organized, similar to the network theory of creativity I am developing, building on the work of Csikszentmihalyi. The overlap between design/aesthetics, and organizational theory are fascinating. Further, TED notes on his talk say:

“Networks are omnipresent. They’re in brains, in cells, power grids, ecosystems. This is why it is important to try to map networks. He studied Warren Weaver, who wrote on complexity, and “problems of simplicity.” There are problems of simplicity, problems of disorganized complexity, and problems of organized complexity”.

Hopefully, it’s gonna be good. I shall blog about my findings in next couple of days. Looking forwards to it.

iPhorest branches out to make first truly ‘living’ app

iPhorest, now available on the App store, means that users can now ‘activate a seedling both virtually and physically’ by downloading the app, growing a tree on their phone, and also as a result have the company behind the app, iPhactory, in conjunction with The Conservation Fund, plant a tree in real life and subsequently begin the regeneration of vulnerable wildlife habitat on the Gulf Coast.

The app is fun: you can dig a hole to plant your seed by using iPhones accelerometer, and create a storm to water your seed by shaking the phone. You can also view other iphorest users around the world. But mainly, the point is as surmised in the app’s copy line: “Not all apps need to be a killer. We’re happy to bring you one that’s living”.

Whether it will be successful or not remains to be seen. Thing for me is, a lot of companies are bringing out branded app content (think BMW/Audi’s driving sims, and recently Walkers Crisp flavour races…
Walkers Crisps
…but they are often of little value, and only really work as ‘FREE’ apps. But with a charitable slant on things, eg if the game has a purpose in the real world other than to drive a brand simply through awareness, if it relates to some sort of augmented reality tie in (perhaps in the iPhorest example you should be able to grow the tree successfully, and once this was done you could start again and another tree would be planted, thus increasing the longevity of the game and encouraging users to spend their five minutes waiting for the tube playing a ‘game’ which has consequence as opposed to one that does not); one that you could clarify its real world impact – then the value of this content on iPhone would surely be premium. A treasure hunt using an app, GPS, and the ‘real world’? An app where high scores translated into real life prizes or competitions? Who knows. But the current branded content is very basic. The nascence of augmented reality gaming, apps and mobile virtual/real play is something that brands should look out for and embrace, and is something I think agencies should be thinking about.

Now, I’m off to plant a tree.

Agencies, New Business, Opportunities and Blogging

Michael Gass over at Fuel Lines recently posted an article discussing the use of agency blogs as first point of call for new business development.

“Your blog is one of the most important agency new business tools you will find. It is becoming the gateway portal for an ad agency’s prospective clients. Your website is becoming more like an agency brochure or portfolio.

I’ve stated repeatedly that the key to effective new business tactics is consistency. For an agency to maintain their new business efforts when they are busy, is a chore. New business activities are usually the first things that are put on the back burner. But from my own experience, when you are busy is often the best time to step up your new business efforts.

Everyone has the same problem. Most agencies are busy. When I mention blogging to my clients, their first reaction is, ” They don’t have time.” But when they see the value of having a blog, how inexpensive it is and how the content created for the blog can be used in so many other internet applications, they are converted.”

I totally agree with this: some agencies have exemplary blogs that are useful and engaging, whereby clients, fellow practitioners or just people with an opinion can have conversations, which ultimately can lead to new business opportunities – or opportunities of any kind. Certainly, this is not the case if an agency blog is naval gazing, introspective or impersonal piffle.

I think a great example of how top do this well is we are social … the ‘brand’ of the blog, is the people. You can see their twitters, their posts…all under the umbrella of the organisation, with the ‘portfolio site’ norm reinforcing the front of shop ‘This is who we are, this is what we reckon’.

And as an aside – for me its not necessarily about New Business…its about opportunities in general; for beginning and building upon relationships.

Define the Space: It’s all about Context #1

This is a ‘fail’ from failblog: illustrating nicely how ads are defined by their context…

bullshit bingo


Every time you hear one of the over used clichés in the above 5×5 grid, circle it. Once you have a completed row, either up, down across, or even diagonal [passing through the centre- like on Catch Phrase] then you have the right to stand up and shout BULLSHIT! at the top of
your voice so everyone in the office can hear you. Your prize is a Twix.