Visualisation workshop

The visualisation workshop led by BL Labs’ Ben O’Steen on 21 March certainly gave us food for thought. Ben recommended adhering to the basic principles of good graphic design to facilitate successful storytelling using pictures to support words: contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity. He followed with examples of poor design that are best avoided, including swamping the viewer with too much information and making often unconscious but subjective decisions about graphics that misrepresent research.

Clearly, infographics often work best when simplifying large data sets, such as demographics. A useful and accessible tool that shows the potential is the Google Public Data Directory but it is good if all of us can have a go – see Infogram, Visually or Piktochart.

Ben’s slide presentation can be viewed here.

Innovative recent projects which were discussed included ‘Mapping the Republic of Letters‘, which seeks to explore international chains of correspondence between ‘men of letters’, focusing on the Eighteenth Century; and ‘Kindred Britain‘, which maps relationships between 30,000 famous British historical figures. These have a common aspiration of visualising networks by translating text to data to map, timeline or graphic and teasing out perhaps unexpected relationships or connections. Another new and exciting project is ‘Traces through Time‘, which aims to use the potential of Big Data analysis to trace individuals across time. Perhaps the most visually beautiful example of these relationship mapping tools that we reviewed was One Zoom’s ‘Tree of Life‘ explorer,  which allows the viewer to explore the science of Darwin and Evolution.

Developments in timeline technology particularly interested the group, which was already familiar with Simile timeline widgets. One interesting sandbox project which is seeking to represent overlapping or ill-defined events on timelines is called ‘Topotime‘. Useful examples of ‘Do It Yourself’ tools can be found on the Bamboo DIRT site.

Thank you again to Ben for a stimulating talk and I would like to draw attention to BL Labs’ fascinating Mechanical Curator, which combines digitisation, smart algorithms and beautiful pictures, to reveal unexpected treasures.




Ben’s advice was to

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