week one reflections

It’s been a really packed and intensive week! I have so much to share, and it’s amazing how much I’ve learned about data visualisation in just these few days alone. Here’s a quick recap of what I’ve learned over the week.

First, we have Stefanie Posavec, who was with us Monday to Thursday. On Monday, we gathered a dataset that represents the spirit of Berlin. I went to a local supermarket to collect some information on the products sold there. We learned how to make a physical visualisation out of the data we collected.

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I made this pie chart out of salami, to represent the different kinds of wursts that can be found in a typical German supermarket.

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I also collected another data set on the number of times I checked in with my family and friends over the week. I was having a cold this week, and the tissues were used as a form of visualisation.

Stefanie’s approach to data visualisation is very hands on: she does not do programming. Instead, she draws everything by hand. Her process is very well documented, and her slides contain many photos of her sketches from her notebook. She encourages us to try this approach on our last day with her, where she gave us a set of data on the weather patterns in a month.


This is my outcome.

Key things we learned with Stefanie: find a pattern in your data, select your focus, and always remember than form follows function. Set up rules. Create hierarchy within your focus helps to make your visualisation even clearer. Always create a scaffolding before inputting your graphical elements.  Think sequentially, incrementally.



On Thursday evening, we had an artist talk by Maral Pourkazemi. Maral is a very passionate designer. She has Iranian roots, which shapes most of her design work. She calls herself a design activist, where she uses her data vis skills to create powerful works to highlight the issues faced by Iran. This is one of the most interesting talks I’ve ever heard, as she shares the potential threats that surround her as a designer, because her work involves politics. Like Stefanie, her master thesis was the work that propel her to the world of data vis, and offered her many opportunities and led her to where she is today. For her masters, she made a work about censorship of Iranian internet.

We ended the week with Nicholas Felton, who shared with us the programming side of data visualisation. I was very interested to hear how he made all his Annual Reports, and everyone was curious about this whole effort of collecting data actively, consciously, for ten years and putting them together in his report. Each year, he challenges himself to make a better report than the last. His last few reports were made with the help of applications, a few that he developed by himself.

This weekend, Nicholas walked us through the program Processing. I’ve gone through a beginner’s tutorial the week before I came, so thankfully I was no stranger to this. Having just a bit of introduction and some background in coding helped me a lot in picking up Processing as I go along.

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The possibilities of what you can do with Processing is limitless. Learning the programming script is akin to learning another foreign language. One of the key things I’ve learn with Nicholas Felton on Processing is actually how to input data into the program. We made spreadsheets on Google Sheets, converted them into a .csv (comma separated values) file, which is readable on Processing, and then using coding, we are able to create visualisations out of it. The above screenshot with the lines is an exercise I am working on right now. The number of lines is generated by the values from my spreadsheet. This is all very sketchy at the moment, and I’m working on adding the graphical elements later on. This is another really important thing I’ve learned this week, and something I probably will not be able to figure out on my own.

So, week one in summary is learning how to create visualisations with the help of coding, or by hand, and I am really glad to be able to learn from Stefanie and Nicholas, who are very, very good at their work.

Something else I’ve picked up this week from them is actually how to present your work. Watching these designers speak about their work is so, so inspiring. They are very confident and clear about what they are trying to say, and this helps a lot particular at this point, when I am simultaneously working on my FYP prep. Everyday I have something new to add to my presentation.

This week is particularly intense, but I hope I will polish up my presentation and be good to go by Tuesday.


learning with stefanie posavec: day one

Photo 2-11-15, 11 55 21 AMThe first week of the program is kicked off with a series of lectures and workshops by Stefanie Posavec. What a wonderful way of begin the program, because it was her work that really pointed me in the direction of my FYP.

An interesting note: she’s my flatmate too. We share the apartment of our host Rachel, and on the first day we went to school together. It was a really ~wow~ moment, and as much as I wanted to, I didn’t ask too much of her work and things like that because I didn’t want to sound too eager and fangirly… I told her a bit about what I am doing, that’s all. Also, the stuff I wanted to ask her was all covered in her presentation in the morning.

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Talking about Dear Data: this project is about quantifying everything around and visualising it in analog form. The result is 52 weeks of 2 different visualisations. This is currently in the midst of being printed into a book so yay… we will get to see this in its full printed glory. Stefanie says it was challenging to do this, it took around 8 hours of her week, and making a conscious effort to take down notes about each week’s theme.

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Stefanie sharing her work Writing Without Words.IMG_8533

Even though this is the first week of the program, I am pretty certain this is quite the highlight already, being able to hear Stefanie share her working process, the ideas that go behind the works that she’s known for. Most artist/designer’s portfolio websites are often pretty straightforward, telling the work like it is, so it’s a real opportunity to hear her own thoughts about the work. She mentions that Writing Without Words was a project that she made almost ten years ago, which really directed her to her current career path as a data illustrator. It got really big on the Internet, and people were really receptive and curious about that work. This is really inspiring to hear, because you might never know that you’re on to something that people would be incredibly supportive of, and might open doors to much more exciting opportunities.Photo 2-11-15, 11 56 54 AM

The first part of her presentation addresses her identity as a designer – Stefanie calls herself a data illustrator, and uses data as a material to create a graphic and to tell a story. She shares her data visualising skills and process from a designer point of view, and she often collaborates with someone who’s trained to do research and statistical analysis, like Miriam Quick, (who will be us next week to share with us how to work with datasets – the technical stuff) and they work in tandem to create a data story using graphics.

Some key takeaways from her presentation about using data as part of art and design:

  • data visualising aims to communicate beyond the data – it is therefore important to make sure the visualisation is effective.
  • as a designer, you can look for patterns within the data and translating them into visual language. Data as an aesthetic output.
  • data gathering can be used as a personal documentary: data is everywhere in the physical world, and it’s not impossible to visualise them.
  • a good dataset is interesting, rigorously researched by you, or from a reliable source. Honesty and integrity is key.
  • dataset can be a souvenir (referring to her work Dear Data with Giogia Lupi)
  • the process of collecting data can be performative, an endurance test, a self-portrait.
  • data can inspire feelings. It’s not all dry facts!
  • data is a scientific and cultural material.
  • data visualisation explains, explore, exhibit.

Next post will be about the visualisation techniques.