Adding a Narrative to Data

I really enjoyed watching this documentary and I am finding that multiple things I have encountered, participated in, or watched have focused on how data visualization is changing the way we see everything from news to education. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to participate in the ISSOTL conference this last Wednesday in Raleigh. While we were there we discussed largely how educators are turning to educational tools to try and keep up with the digitization of the humanities. It was really interesting to see how teachers are re-imagining literary works in order to more effectively teach them in their classrooms.  Traditional teaching methods cannot hope to keep up with the technology and because of this, teachers must introduce innovative ways to allow their students a chance at retaining this knowledge.

This documentary focused on how our society has changed and we are finally focusing on catering to the visual side of our minds. Traditional journalism is not as effective as it was before data came along. You cannot simply publish an excel sheet and expect people to take away meaning from it. By visualizing the data and adding interactive elements, readers can begin to take away even more than traditional journalism could hope to express.

Many of the speakers featured in the documentary discussed how their is a constant struggle going on between the artists/designers and the journalists/statisticians to create a cohesive, accurate and appealing visual. One thing that they constantly have to compromise on is how much the users have to actively draw their own conclusion from the visual. Visualizing is not always the easiest way to illustrate a particular relationship between data points. If they are not accompanied by any text, the visualizations can be misleading.

The documentary features works from many talented designers, including Jonathan Jarvis, Amanda Cox, and Nigel Holmes. I had seen some of Amanda Cox’s work in the NY Times and didn’t even realize it. All of these designers do a great job of capturing the readers’ attention and allowing them to interact with the data to start to see new relationships. I think the greatest thing that this documentary teaches (something that I learned at the conference as well) is that people are able to remember data better when they engage with the numbers and form a narrative on their own.


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