The ‘B’ Project

May 14, 2010

I began project B somewhat cautiously, as both options sounded intriguing yet challenging to produce to the required standard. Eventually, I decided on creating a data visualisation of some educational data my dad’s work gathered in the Solomon Islands. At this point, I was under the impression we would actually be making the visualisation using Flash, so on some level I hoped I would be helping the education battle by revealing astonishing findings. Alas, and thankfully, I discovered that we only needed to come up with the concept, as we lacked the skills to actually build a datavisualisation.

After some initial brainstorming, drama erupted with my discovering that I didn’t have ALL the required data, so I cut my losses and went in search of a new, interesting and complete data set. I thought if I couldn’t help humankind, I could at least come up with some quirky data and funny correlations. I tried searching google for ‘funny statistics’ and ‘quirky data sets’ but nothing usable turned up. I changed track, considered which issues concerned your average Australian and had a search on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website. I decided on a Mental health survey in the end. Mental Health is such an important issue as it concerns a huge number of Australians and also a lot of people I love.

I thought about how I could visualise this data and what the characterising aspects of a data visualisation were as opposed to an infographic and how I would adopt them in my visualisation. I decided that one of the most important aspects of a data visualisation was its potential to be a democratic tool. A data visualisation takes raw, and therefore potentially useless information, and translates it into a form that your average person can understand. Focusing on this concept, I decided that I wanted the viewer to have total control over how they viewed the data and over how much detail they viewed at once. This is closely related to another characteristic which separates a data visualisation from an infographic: it’s interactive.

With all this in mind, I imagined the multifocal glasses in National Treasure where the characters could see different things depending on which lenses they flipped down. That led me to thinking that mental illness changes the way you see the world… and glasses correct your vision. I am in no way suggesting that wearing glasses helps mental illness, but I thought the connection made for a really interesting data visualisation.

And so, my assignment was born.

This is a button. Upon clicking it, an animation follows of a pair of glasses unfolding, turning and coming towards the viewer so that the sequence finishes as if the viewer is looking through the glasses.

The focus is then switched from the animation to looking through the lenses.

Buttons appear, the same for either lens so as to give the viewer total control over what they see.

I designed it this way so that it is easy to compare similar data. For example, in the left lens you might select ‘Lifetime Mental Disorder’ and ‘Health Risk Characteristics’ and in the right you might select ’12 Month Mental Disorder’ and ‘Health Risk Characteristics. Or you could choose completely different data to view in each lens.

Every time a button is selected, the rim goes a darker colour and an animation is triggered of a lens being flipped down from the side. This enables data to be overlaid and potential correlations discovered.

If the viewer started off with very general data and wanted to see a further breakdown, all they’d have to do is double-click on the lens which would take them through it to different pair of glasses and the desired data.

And even further..

To start with, I drew bar graphs by hand then took photos of them and edited them in Photoshop, but this process took so long and the results weren’t fantastic so I searched around for a website that would generate a graph for me. I eventually came across onlinecharttool which is great because it gives you a lot of choice in the appearance of your graph.

A bar graph, while a simple and clear way of showing 2 way information, didn’t look all that great through the glasses, and isn’t the most interesting way of displaying data. Plus I needed a type of graph that could potentially display more than two factors. So I explored onlinecharttool a little more and came across the ‘bubble graph’ which links back really nicely to one of Michael’s lectures. He spoke about particular characteristics that human beings were really good at determining and they include shape, colour and size, all of which are demonstrated more clearly in the bubble graph. This graph is also more abstract and easier to look at in terms of the glasses.

On another level, mental illness is such a varied thing and each person experiences it so differently so I really liked the fact that I was able to use several different shapes, colours and sizes to represent this. The size of the shape corresponds to the percent of people in the categories underneath. This type of graph has the potential to hold much more information as it is possible to choose the position of the shape on the graph.

One last thing I liked about this new graph was that when I saw the different sized shapes I automatically thought of perspective, which is not only something glasses can alter, but mental illness also. And on an abstract level, the triangles could be trees, the squares/rectangles buildings and the circles suns – some appearing further away than others due to perspective.

This assignment really stretched me conceptually. I am a very hands on/visual person, so usually when I design something, I build as I design, see how it looks as a work in progress, then make the necessary changes. In this case, I didn’t have the computer skills to create a real data visualisation, so ironically, I built my networked media assignment out of glue and paper. I designed the glasses, buttons, bits and bobs, cut them out of lovely paper, took photo’s of them, then edited them and put them all together on Photoshop.

Though I felt like ripping this assignment to shreds several times over, I feel a great sense of achievement in handing it in, and can see that it was a very worthwhile way to spend I’m not going to tell you how many hours.

My thanks to Sharon and Michael.

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