Archives for category: Design

I’ve been taking John Stasko’s Information Visualization class this semester, and it already proved to be extremely valuable.  Prof. Stasko is a fantastic teacher, and his discussion and examples are always providing me with new concepts and fostering new ideas for my thesis.  The following occurred to me during a recent lecture.

Stasko was discussing how his views might vary somewhat from Tufte’s, who’s focus on minimalist design may sometimes interfere with analysis.  Stasko summed this up as a difference between “representational primacy” (Tufte) and “analytical primacy” (Stasko, et al), where the Tufte camp is focusing on representing the abstract data with the least amount of distortion or noise and the Stasko camp is concerned more with the allowing for clear analysis.  I feel this assumes there is something of a trade-off – that sometimes the “noise” is actually helpful for clear analysis.

Why stop with these two camps?  Where does Ben Fry and a more design-central form fall within this?  In my readings of and brief conversation with Ben Fry, I felt his goals were more rhetorical in nature.  His work focuses on leveraging graphic design principles to tell a story – all data is collected for a reason.

Is this this rhetorical focus is another “camp” to be included next to representation and analysis.   Perhaps “rhetorical primacy” could be added.  Where do the rhetorical choices occur in an info viz, a medium which is primarily concerned with exploration?  My feeling, at the moment, is that rhetoric is embedded into each step of the process: data collection, data transformation, interface design, graphic design, and even the platform on which it’s available (accessibility issues come to mind on this point).

I will further explore this in later posts.   I’m particularly interested about how these rhetorical choices have to be accounted for in journalistic endeavors.   How do data journalists maintain a level of transparency and guide their reader towards veracity and synthesis, an underlying problem of the CCPs construction.


I’ve been having a hell of a time deciding on a final topic or central question for my visualization.  Originally I planned on working on the estate tax, but ultimately, I’m afraid this topic is a little too narrow.  Also, while there may have been some debate about the estate tax at the end of last year, the topic will likely be of little importance until real tax reform takes place, something that will likely occur after the Obama tax compromise expires in 2012 (I also don’t expect it to happen w/ such a strongly divided gov’t).

This has left me with a few options:

  • No Central Topic – Some would argue that visualizations are best used for exploratory data analysis, which serves the generation of hypotheses.  Perhaps the best focus would be no focus at all.
  • Prison Reform & Drug Policy – This has long been an interest of mine.  The US incarcerates over 25% of the total world prison population, many of them non-violent drug offenders.  I’d love to shed light on the injustice of our current drug and prison policy and how congressional reps relate to these issue.  I’m particularly interested in the number of incarcerated people each rep presides over.
  • Military-Industrial Complex – Another long-held interest.  Ever since listening to Eisenhower’s speech on the topic, I’ve been amazed by the lack of progress on tackling this behemoth.  It’s such a complex issue with such highly-charged data points (military deaths, job creation, financial contributions) – fertile ground for a more rhetorical exploration.
  • Environment – A huge, broad topic, but I would likely focus on how “dirty” or “green” various members of congress are.  Because it’s so broad but still policy heavy, it might prove to have the best balance of exploratory and rhetorical opportunities.

I’ll be posting some scans of some early sketches and “brainstorms” (is this a word? it should be) for each of these formats later this week.

Here’s my proposal, in all its PDF’d glory.  In the proposal, I state I will focus on the estate tax, but I expect that the focus will change as I progress with the development of my system and I get a better sense of which policy topic will lend itself to my system’s design and data sources.

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