Ben Fry at Columbia

Last night in the architecture school at Columbia University, data visualization expert Ben Fry addressed about a hundred architects and guests who, presumably, want to make data look good.

As I want to make data look good (and live only blocks away), I was among them.

The image above is a tiny slice of All Streets, a piece that traces the continental US only by plotting its roads. Fry showed the piece last night, highlighting how the geography of the Appalachians stands out, even though no geographical data is explicitly included. 

He used All Streets and a number of other examples in an attempt to define "data visualization," by contrast with information graphics. Information graphics, in Fry's paradigm, are constructed by hand and contain tens to hundreds of data points. Data visualization, however, represents thousands or millions of points — far more than a designer can do by hand. Data visualization, therefore, depends on code.

Fry said he did All Streets, with its droves of data points, in an afternoon. He does have a Ph.D. from the Aesthetics + Computation group in MIT's Media Laboratory, though. Still, Fry said he harbors a dream of turning every designer into a programmer. To that end, he is working on his free data visualization software, Processing, to keep making it more appealing to designers. 

As an outsider who's approaching this field from the programming side, however, I won't need to wait.

About this site

    Katie Peek is a science writer and astronomer who is figuring out how to give voice to information and data. This web site is a log of her voyage.