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3D Data Sculpture Prototypes from the Digital Humanities Summer Institute

University of Victoria, June 2015


Aime Knight, PhD
Course Description
The representation of information through images is a powerful and innovative tool
for extending methods of research and dissemination. In this course we will explore
ways to creatively visualize data for research, while rendering information more useful,
engaging and accessible to audiences.
Using a design thinking methodology we will 1) learn how to examine all kinds of data
from boutique data to big data, from fast data to slow data, from low-tech to hi-tech,
from qualitative to quantitative, 2) learn how to extend insights and innovate through
design as we create illustrations, maps, infographics, spark-lines, timelines, data
sculptures, data murals and interactive visual exhibitions using open source data and
*No prior experience with data or artistic talent necessary just a willingness to think
critically and creatively with different materials from pipe cleaners to code.

Goals and objectives

To combine data with sensory forms of knowing and knowledge production
To communicate complex information aesthetically in both form and content
To explore how current interfaces, design tools, and choices in form & content shape
the audiences (or users) experience
To get our hands dirty experimenting with an array of data viz techniques including
infographics, interactive documentary, data murals and 3D data sculptures
To explore methods in Human Centered Design, including how to successfully
ideate, create content and execute creative design solutions
To make this time and this space an inviting collaborative design studio for visual
knowledge production

Major Projects (75%)

There are five major projects in this course, each worth 15% of the total course grade.
Each project is evaluated with a multi-media rubric focusing In the areas of a) design
thinking, b) media aesthetics, c) knowledge integration and d) audience engagement.
A scholarly component is required with each project submission as well as a short
presentation/critique. Project revisions are accepted if there is a substantial re-seeing
of the project. Detailed guidelines for projects will be presented in class.
Data diaries (10%)
For this project we will collect and measure a particular type of data about our
everyday lives and use this data to create hand-rendered visualizations to share each
week during our class meetings (10 total).
Student Panel Presentations (15%)
Once in the semester you will participate in a panel discussion in class based on
course topics. Topics include 1) physical visualization, 2) the Quantified Self, 3) big
data vs. boutique data and 4) *open forum.


Why do we communicate with data?
Data explorers think creatively about data to distill it, draw out its essence and
communicate with it. We will examine an array of data explorers from the 18th 21st
centuries. We will also explore a variety of ways to analyze and critique data
visualizations. Moving into the 21st century we will examine contemporary data
visualizations and ways to analyze their form and content for aesthetic engagement.
We will also become familiar with data visualization experts working within this
creative medium such as Hans Rosling, Kim Crawford, Edward Tufte, Ben Fry, Jer
Thorp, and Kim Rees. We will also collaborate to create our own heuristic for the
critique and production of data displays. We will discuss the concept of a data diary
in which we will we collect and measure a particular type of data about our everyday
lives and use this data to make a small drawing to share each week.
Chimero, Frank. Shape of Design: A Fieldguide for Makers, 2012.
Fry, Ben. Visualizing Data: Exploring and Explaining Data with the Processing
Environment Sebastopol, CA: OReilly Media, 2008. (Excerpt)
Heller, Steven and Rick Landes. Infographic Designers' Sketchbooks. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton Architectural Press, 2014. (Excerpt)
IDEO: The Field Guide to Human Centered Design, 2009.
Week 1
August 30 Introductions; overview; short history of data visualization
September 1 Data Explorers 18th-20th centuries; creating a heuristic
Readings: A Brief History of Data Vizualization (2006); Shape of Design: A Fieldguide
for Makers
Week 2
September 6 Data Explorers 21st century; creating a heuristic
Readings: IDEO: The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design; NYC Cab (Project) ; Ben
Fry, Visualizing Data
September 8 Visualize to analyze; explore online tools (Raw, Datawrapper, Tableau
Public, Google Fusion Tables, Gapminder, Silk)
Readings: Data Journalism Handbook (2012); Dear Data (Data Diary project);
Infographic Designers' Sketchbooks (excerpt)


Why do we need to reimagine data?
This week begins with a discussion of Dear Data entries and the new human-centered
heuristic we created last week to evaluate data visualizations. We will apply this
heuristic to a gallery of data visualizations and make any adjustments, as needed. We
will then move on to a discussion of methods as we examine the periodic table of data
visualization methods to discuss various ways of representing data including
information, concept, strategy, metaphor and compound visualization.
In Week 4, we will get creative (and possible messy) as we build data sculptures.
Playing around with data can be liberating, especially for those of us who can get
stuck in our ways. This hand-made data activity builds capacity in translating words
and numbers into structural forms (called physical visualization). Physical visualization
allows us gain new insights from data and see it new ways.
Borner, Kate and David Polley. Visual Insights: A Practical Guide to Making Sense of
Data. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014. (Excerpt)
Cairo, Alberto. The Functional Art: An introduction to Information Graphics and
Visualization. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2012. (Excerpt)
Meirelles, Isabel. Design for Information: An Introduction to the Histories, Theories,
and Best Practices Behind Effective Information Visualization. Rockport, 2013.
Week 3
September 13
Overview of Periodic Table; critique of available open source tools
Readings: The Functional Art: An introduction to information graphics and visualization
(excerpt); Periodic Table of Data Visualization Methods
September 15
Student panel discussion: Physical visualization examples
Readings; Design for Information: An Introduction to the Histories, Theories, and Best
Practices Behind Effective Information Visualization (excerpt); 13 pt; Data Recipes;
Timeline of Physical Visualizations
Week 4
September 19
Data sculpture activity
Readings: Physical vs Virtual Prototyping; How to Build a Prototype in One Hour
September 21 3-D Data Sculpture Presentation


How can we visualize data in time?
In Week 5, handson activities help us find, trace and tell the story of our data. After
sharing our data diaries we will transform text into images, first by creating sparklines,
then by analyzing + illustrating a talk in teams.
We will then turn to examining the intersections of time and data. Tufte says that this is
a balance between the representation of mechanism and motion, of process and
dynamics, of causes and effects, of explanation and narrative. We will apply this
thinking to draw out the telling details of a story/history as we create timelines with
open source tools.
Duarte, Nancy. Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences. Hoboken,
NJ: Wiley, 2010. (Excerpt)
Murray, Scott. Interactive Data Visualization for the Web. Sebastapol, CA: OReilly
Media, 2013. (Excerpt)
Rosenberg, Daniel. "A Timeline of Timelines." CABINET. Issue 13 (2004).
Yau, Nathan. Visualize This: The Flowing Data Guide to Design, Visualization, and
Statistics. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley, 2011. (Excerpt)
Week 5
September 27
Sparklines; Sparkline Generator; Text analysis and visualization with online tools;
Nancy Duarte on Sparklines
Readings: Interactive Data Visualization for the Web (excerpt); A Timeline of Timelines;
Edward Tufte on Sparklines; Nancy Duarte: Sparklines
September 29
Discussion; Activity with Timeline JS [javascript]; Finding a Story worksheets
Readings: Visualize This (Chapter 4); Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead
(bloodlines); NYT Timeline
Week 6
October 4
Critique of open source tools, continued.
October 6
Timeline Presentation
Week 7 October 11 & 13 Fall Break


How can we visualize data in space?
As we delve into ways to represent data we will investigate a variety of maps including
symbol maps, cluster maps, chart maps and 3D map projections. We will also discuss
the use of legends, keys, symbols and colors before we roll up our sleeves and
attempt making our own maps with open source software.
Bodenhammer, David. Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives. Bloomington, IN: Indiana
University Press, 2015. (Excerpt)
Fry, Ben. Visualizing Data: Exploring and Explaining Data with the Processing
Environment (Scatterplot Maps). Sebastapol, CA: OReilly Media, 2008. (Excerpt)
Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps and Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. Verso,
2007. (Excerpt)
Tufte, Edward. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire, CT: Graphics
Press, 2001. (Excerpt)
Yau, Nathan. Data Points: Visualizations that Mean Something. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley,
2013. (Excerpt)
Week 8
October 18
Discussion: Tufte on Maps; Ben Frys maps; collaborative mapmaking activity
Readings: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (excerpt) ; Ben Fry Chapter 6
Scatterplot Maps
October 20
Exploring mapmaking tools Mapsdata; StoryMap JS; CartoDB; Kartograph
Readings: Graphs, Maps and Trees (excerpt); Writing with Maps; Joni Seager on Maps;
Data Map Tip Sheet
Week 9
October 25
Critique of open source tools, continued.
Reading:Data Points: Visualizations that Mean Something (excerpt); Deep Maps and
Spatial Narratives (excerpt)
October 27
Map Presentation

How can data make real change in the world?
Rather than merely visually enhancing our research (or making it pretty), the act of
data visualization can bring completely new insights and unexpected findings. We will
examine how data displays themselves can become (more than just beautiful
information but) useful, real-world deliverables. I call these examples data(a)ctors
data visualizations that do things in the world. We will discuss variety of dat(a)ctors
(including matrices, metrics and networks ). To conclude this unit, we will create a
project that brings together explorations in data and design.
Chambliss, Daniel and Russell Schutt. Making Sense of the Social World: Methods of
Investigation. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2015. (Excerpt)
Kanter, Beth. Measuring the Networked Nonprofit: Using Data to Change the World.
Indianapolis, IN:Wiley, 2012. (Excerpt)
Neff, Gina and Dawn Nafus. The Quantified Self. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016.
Miles, Matthew, Michael Huberman and Johnny Saldana. Qualitative Data Analysis: A
Methods Sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2013. (Excerpt)
Week 10
November 1
Discussion: dat(a)ctorsvisualizations that do things in the world; data murals
Reading: Data murals
November 3
Data Matrices; qualitative data activities; networked visualization
Reading: Qualitative Data Analysis: A Methods Sourcebook; Network Visualization
Week 11
November 8
Student panel discussion: The Quantified Self
Reading: Elementary quantitative data analysis; Approaches to Quantitative Data
Analysis; The Quantified Self
November 10
Metrics: social media metrics and demonstrating engagement; social network analysis
Readings: Beth Kanter, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit
Week 12
November 15 Student panel discussion: Big data vs boutique data
November 17 Student panel discussion:Open forum= *you propose the topic.

Week 13
November 22 Dat(a)ctor Presentation
November 24 Thanksgiving Break


How do we tell meaningful stories with data?
We live in a world that is shaped by our interaction with data, which is increasingly
complex, large and accessible to few. In the final weeks of this course we will be
creating stories from datasets. For the final project, students assemble into teams to
brainstorm and prototype an interactive narrative experience that tells a story with
data, around data, or about data. It could be a data visualization on the web, a physical
installation using hardware and human bodies, or an interactive documentary
Kearney, Richard. On Stories: Thinking in Action. New York, NY: Routledge, 2001.
Pomerantz, Jeffery. Metadata. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 2015. (Excerpt)

Week 14
November 29
Data-driven storytelling; Inspiration: Datalore
Readings:Why You Need Data Storytellers; Finding the Stories Hidden Within Data;
On Stories: Thinking in Action (excerpt)
December 1
Crafting Stories from Data
Readings: Data Storytelling: Using Visualizations
Week 15 and 16
December 6 Group work
December 8 Group work
TBD Exhibition/Presentations

I expect you to come to class on time, fully prepared to engage in the exchange of
ideas. Please prepare at least one question or artifact about/from/in response to the
days reading to bring to class. If you have an idea about how to enhance the class in
any way, please share this with us during class-time (Please do not wait until the end of
the semester!).
We will often work on projects, watch videos, conduct group work, and other activities
during class time. As we are all part of learning community, there is no substitute for
your presence during class.
Office hours and after hours
I hope you will take advantage of my office hours. I am available to offer extended
feedback on your projects (beyond the written feedback you formally receive). You
dont need to have a problem to come visit, but if you do find yourself having some
difficulty (technical or otherwise), then I certainly want to see you sooner rather than
later. If you cannot make scheduled office hours, arrange to see me at another time.