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Ben Shneiderman

You Need Beautiful Art to Understand Data. Really, You Do.

Susan Moeller's picture

It’s tempting for those who work with numbers and spreadsheets, for those who live by the bottom line and whose minds run along quantitative paths to think that art exists for its own sake. It’s tempting to think of art as something nice for the wall, pleasant to look at, maybe even restorative or inspiring in its impact, but ultimately not essential to the running of the world.

Yet consider the work of University of Maryland Computer Science Prof. Ben Shneiderman. Shneiderman is the inventor of treemaps — those graphics that chart often vast quantities of hierarchical data, such as electronic health records.  He’s also famous for the eponymous “Shneiderman’s Mantra” of visual data analysis: look at an overview of the data first, then zoom and filter it, then, on demand, consider the details. 

You Know and Use Web 2.0 Tools. What About Those of Science 2.0?

Susan Moeller's picture

Often the best way to communicate information about some distant event, issue or trend is to embed the news in a story that focuses on the experience of an individual.  Human incidents get the public’s attention—audiences identify with and react emotionally to stories about people.

Yet in the development sector, often the real news that needs to be told is not the human anecdotes but the statistics that have been collected.  But how can a non-technical audience understand a bunch of numbers?  How can the public see not only a trend, but a pattern, discover not just scale, but relationships?

The field of data visualization is exploding in importance as new technologies and software help government agencies speak to their constituencies,  multilateral organizations to their member states, NGOs to their donors, media outlets to their viewers and readers.  It now takes seconds to sift through reams of information and identify elusive patterns, locate important outliers, or confirm gut instincts.  The connections that can be made are only limited by the creativity and insights of those who have access to the information.