Archinect

Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

I graduated in 2013, but still live-blog here once in a while.

  • Live Blog - Cole Nussbaumer, "Storytelling with Data"

    Hello Archinect,

    wiggled my way up to the University of San Francisco for the first talk of the season in their Data Visualization Speaker Series, given by Cole Nussbaumer.

    7:05pm: Until two years ago, CN worked in Google's People Operations team, where she told stories using data to help people make decisions. She left Google to work full time on teaching people about storytelling with data.

    In school, we learn about stories and language on the one hand, and about numbers and math on the other--but these disciplines rarely mix.

    Graphs normally don't look so good and aren't that clear. 

    Overview of tonight's talk: 

    1. understand the context
    2. choose the right type of display
    3. eliminate the clutter
    4. focus attention where you want it (how people see)
    5. tell a story

    Here we go! Section 1: Before you visualize the data, understand the context. Once you explore the data and find what you want to say, you move into an explanatory space, where we will focus tonight. 

    First, who is your audience? What motivates them? Is it making money, beating the competition, or something else? The more specific you can be, the better your communication will be. Then, what do you want your audience to do? Change, implement, empower, understand, support, create... Finally, how can data help you make your point?

    Here's an example that we'll return to throughout the talk:

    Assume your audience is the VP of product. What we want them to do is understand how competitors' pricing has changed over time, and accept our recommended price range. We can use data to make our point by showing the average retail price over time for Products A, B, C, D, and E. 

    2. Choose an appropriate visual: CN categorized all the kinds of data visualizations she had made over the past few years, and came up with more than 100 examples. At first she thought the 'long tail' would be relevant, but when she looked closer, most of the work fell into twelve groups.

    For just one number, text is the way to go, for example: 91% of data visualization experts agree.

    Graphs are more visual than tables. Scatterplots can let us group instances. Line graphs are good for time, when the data is continuous. Here, a line graph shows the average as a summary statistic, as well as the max and min, which can give an idea about variance.

    Slopegraphs are less common, and can pack in a lot of data, because the slope visually tells us about the rate of change. Depending on your actual data, a slopegraph might be great or confusing (if there are too many crossing lines, for example).

    Bar charts are great for categorial data (different categories)! Vertical, horizontal, stacked vertical, and stacked horizontal. They're common because they're really effective--our eyes can easily compare the lengths of bars. Stacked bars let you give information about the sub-components about pieces--but one weakness is that it doesn't provide a consistent baseline to compare each subcomponent.

    Stacked bars as a percent of whole somewhat alleviate this problem, because there are two datums to compare to--these are great for survey data.

    Rule: bar charts must have a zero baseline, because we're comparing the difference in bar lengths against their overall length. 

    There is one graph type that CN didn't include: the pie graph. Why? If you have to estimate the size of each component here, it's really hard to tell. 

    Another rule is that we should never put charts in 3D, because it distorts sizes and doesn't add any information. So you can put your pie chart in 2D and label the segments with percents--but really, CN says, consider a horizontal bar chart. They're very easy to read.

    "If you find yourself reaching for a pie chart, pause and ask yourself why." If you have a good reason, fine--but if not, consider using another chart type.

    Let's work on this chart. First, get rid of the color to focus on the trend over time. 

    Then highlight 2010 to the present, to see if there's a trend. There is, and the data is over time, so let's make it a line graph and stack the lines along the same axis.

    3. Identify and eliminate clutter. Strip anything away that isn't adding enough value to justify its presence. Gestalt theory from the early 20th century informs how we visually perceive information. 

    a) proximity - we see horizontal and vertical rows here, simply based on the distance between dots.

    b) similarity - allows us to avoid dividing lines in the table, just by using two colors.

    c) enclosure - we tend to see enclosures, so if we get rid of heavy borders, our data stands out more. 

    d) closure - this has something to do with how we tend to mentally complete partial shapes. Basically, remove pointless outlines.

    e) continuity - I'm not sure what this is about, but maybe you can glean it from the above diagram.

    f) connection - for example, connecting dots in a line graph can be helpful

    Gridlines are OK if you think your audience will really want to check the exact values, but make them light (line weights!) 

    CN gets rid of the strangely shaped dots, zeroes after the decimal, and gridlines. She makes the x-axis labels horizontal so that they can be more easily read. Then she puts the labels near (proximity principle) their respective lines and colors them (similarity principle) according to each line.

    4. Focus attention where you want it 

    Iconic memory is shorter than short-term memory--it is momentary, and tuned to pre-attentive attributes. This allows us, for example, to count the number of "fives" on this slide much more quickly, when they are colored differently.

    There are a variety of pre-attentive attributes. We tend to assume some are quantitative (length) and some are categorical (or qualitative) (such as color). We can combine them to format a text, to make it scannable within a few seconds. For example, we can go from this, which just calls out one statement...

    ...to this, which is fully formatted:

    In a presentation, you can show an un-highlighted chart to talk about the data in general, then focus people's attention using color or other pre-attentive attributes, as below.

     

    5. Tell a story. "And here, I mean a full-on children's story." For example, Little Red Riding Hood. CN gets someone in the audience to recap the plot. The story has a few lessons for us:

    • The power of repetition: we know the story because we've encountered it many times.
    • Sequence and plot twists.

    Words are very helpful in data visualization. Some are mandatory, like axes and labels. Annotations are also helpful to make sure people can come away with your key takeaway.

    Here's a good example of how annotations make this data on peak break-up times come alive.

    If there isn't anything interesting about the data, then don't show the data. It sounds basic, but it happens all the time. You risk losing your audience for when you do have something important to say.

    Back to our example: CN runs through a series of slides that she might run through in a few minutes in a presentation, to show the data in our example. Instead of talking through a static graphic, she builds the data over a series of slides and calls out different trends and parts of the data using colors, as she builds her argument.

    End, applause.

    Question: What if you want people to figure out the data on their own, without telling a dominant story? CN: Good question. When you use pre-attentive attributes to highlight one part of data, you're de-emphasizing others, so that people are less likely to see other stories.

    Question: What about infographics? CN: Some are fluffy pictures that have little data. Others are actually informative--for example, the New York Times, National Geographic, or Wall Street Journal. These allow you to sit with the information and see insights for yourself.

    Question: You mentioned that bar charts should always show zero. What about line charts? CN: You can get away with zooming in for line charts, because the main comparison is between points over time. But the risk is over-zooming, which will make small differences seem more significant than they are.

    Question: Can you explain waterfall graphics, which was one of your types? CN: They're good when you have a beginning point, then additions or subtractions, and an end point. For example, in People Operations (i.e. HR), your team starts at a certain size, then grows or shrinks over time as you add or lose people.

    Question: Is there research comparing the takeaways that people get between pie charts or bar charts? CN: I think you're probably right that this is more anecdotal than proven--but maybe someone knows a specific study. Someone else in the audience: There are studies on this, and usually bar charts win in terms of people remembering the numbers. But it's really hard to research the gestalt feeling of a "percent of the whole," where pie charts are actually effective. So is the story about the specific numbers, or the relative amounts, as a percent of the whole? If it's the latter, then pie charts can work. 

    Question: What if you have a ton of data and want to allow your audience to explore it? CN: I find that we often want to do that, when really what we should do is take our analysis a step further. There are different use cases, but it's often dangerous to not present an analysis. 

    Question: As a personal project, I've recorded all my activities in Google Calendar for a year and a half, and I put it in a pie chart, but what would you recommend? CN: I would not choose a pie chart, myself, but it depends on what you want to get out of the data. It's often about playing with the data, to see what works. And put your graphics in front of someone and watch their facial muscles--see how painful it is for them. Ask them to describe their thought process. I also use the optometrists' approach, A/B testing minor changes in the graphic, to iterate through small changes.

    Question: What about animation or interaction? CN: There is definitely a place for interactivity on exploratory data. Not everyone will be willing to dig through the data, though, so can you start an interactive graph with an explanatory view that already says something? That is really helpful.

    Audience comment: In defense of pie charts--if you have two categories and want to show a percent of the whole in a relative sense, a pie chart is great! CN: But to play devils' advocate, if you just have two categories, you can also just show the number.

    Question: What about platforms like Tableau that have a specific approach towards graphics? CN: Tableau is fantastic for exploratory analysis, because it has stripped the crap away. They've recently added a "storypoints" feature, because they've recognized that they want to do better at storytelling. For me it's not about the tool--these principles work with any tool.

    Cole ends by plugging her website, Storytelling with Data, where she's got lots of great content, including material from her talks.

    Thanks for reading!

    Lian


  • Live Blog: ACSA 103 Opening Plenary

    Hello Archinect,I'm in downtown Toronto for ACSA's 103rd Annual Meeting, themed "The Expanding Periphery and the Migrating Center." The first plenary session is "the pecha kucha of keynotes." From the program book:MISSION STATEMENTS Many things have changed and many things have remained the same...


  • Live Blog: LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne at UC Berkeley

    Hello Archinect,I'm at UC Berkeley in the beautiful East Bay to hear Christopher Hawthorne speak at the College of Environmental Design. From the UC Berkeley website: Christopher Hawthorne has been the architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times since 2004. Before coming to The Times, he was...

    Gehry on fish



  • Live Blog - San Francisco NERT Training, Class 2

    Hi Archinect,I'm back at San Francisco's Neighborhood Emergency Response Team Training, for our second class. Same disclaimer as last time: this isn't really about architecture, but I AM focusing on aspects that relate to the built environment. 6:40 pm: The dust in the air after 9-11 spread...

    That escalated quickly.



  • Live Blog - San Francisco Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) Training

    Hi Archinect,I'm in a hospital basement auditorium in San Francisco for the first of six sessions to learn how to be part of the city's Neighborhood Emergency Response Team. It's a volunteer team, and the city offers the 20 hour training for free in order to help build the city's resilience in...


  • Ai Weiwei is @Large on Alcatraz

    Hi Archinect,Here are some images from Alcatraz, including Ai Weiwei's new show called @Large, open until April 26 2015. Organized by the For-Site Foundation in partnership with the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, @Large includes seven new installations that...


  • Live Blog: W. Gavin Robb, "Roots Run Deep: A Tomb for Manfredo Tafuri" (M.Arch thesis)

    Hi Archinect!W. Gavin Robb is presenting his M.Arch thesis, “Roots Run Deep: A Tomb for Manfredo Tafuri."The tomb and the sublime are closely linked.Relation between technology and buildings at this scale. Empathy: a tight fit between a body and its space.Instrument: a domestic scale and an...




  • Live Blog: Anya Domlesky, "HOT ROT: A Breakdown Manual" (MLA thesis)

    Hi Archinect,I’m at the GSD for thesis reviews—Anya Domlesky is presenting “HOT ROT: A Breakdown Manual” for her MLA degree.Landscape architects should be not just the apologists or ameliorators for solid waste, but active agents in the procedures of dealing with waste.The site is South...


  • Live Blog - Marian Dörk, "From Bird's-eye Views to Street-Level Data Exploration: Taking Text for a Stroll"

    Hi Archinect!From the OpenVis Conf website:Marian Dörk is a research professor for information visualization at the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences. Motivated by the design opportunities and research challenges arising from growing information spaces, Marian is particularly interested in...



  • Live Blog - Mauricio Giraldo, "NYPL Labs Building Inspector" at Bocoup's OpenVis Conf

    Hi Archinect!The full title of Mauricio's talk is "NYPL Labs Building Inspector: Extracting Data from Historic Maps." From the OpenVis Conf website:Mauricio enjoys playing with code, objects and all things interactive. He is currently an interaction designer at NYPL Labs, The New York Public...


  • Live Blog - Robert Simmon, "Subtleties of Color" at Bocoup's OpenVis Conf

    Hi Archinect!Back for the second day of this great event. From the OpenVis Conf website:The purpose of data visualization is to illuminate data. To show patterns and relationships that are otherwise hidden in an impenetrable mass of numbers.In many datasets, color is one of the most effective...


  • Live Blog - Andy Kirk, "The Design of Nothing: Null, Zero, Blank" at Bocoup's OpenVis Conf

    Hi Archinect!From the OpenVis Conference Website:  Andy Kirk is a UK-based freelance data visualisation specialist. Andy launchedvisualisingdata.com in February 2010 and this has grown to become a popular source of information about the data visualisation field. He became a freelance...



  • Live Blog - Jen Christiansen, "Visualizing Science," at Bocoup's OpenVis Conf

    Hi Archinect!The full title of Jen Christiansen's talk is "Visualizing Science: Developing Information Graphics for Scientific American Magazine."From the OpenVis Conf website: From its first data-based chart (on the topic of inertia, momentum, and projection) up through to today's web...


  • Live Blog - Kennedy Elliot, "Coding for the News," at Bocoup OpenVis Conf

    Hi Archinect,Kennedy Elliot is up now, talking about using data in journalism.From the OpenVis Conf website: Each week the Washington Post publishes five to ten graphics, many of which are interactive and nearly all of them have a web presence. The reach of the graphics department covers breaking...


  • Live Blog - Mike Bostok from the New York Times, at Bocoup OpenVis Conf

    Hello Archinect!I'm in East Cambridge for the two day OpenVis Conference hosted by Bocoup, an open web technology company based here in Boston.Mike Bostok, graphics editor for The New York Times, is the first speaker. From the conference website: He is also the author of D3.js, a popular...


  • Live Blog - Eric Fischer, "Mapping Billions of Dots" at Bocoup OpenVis Conf

    Hi Archinect!Eric Fischer is up next at Bocoup's OpenVis Conf. From the conference website: Eric Fischer is a data artist and software developer at Mapbox. He was previously an artist in residence at the Exploratorium in San Francisco and before that was on the Android team at Google. His work...


  • Yestermorrow Design/Build for Public Interest

    Hello Archinect,This is a throwback to 2007 for me, when I attended the two week design/build course led by Jersey Devil co-founders Steve Badanes and Jim Adamson, along with New York-based architect Bill Bialosky. I had the pleasure of seeing Steve at our ACSA Annual Conference in Miami a couple...


  • Review - GSD's "Platform 6: A Year of Research through Studio Work, Theses, Lectures, Exhibitions and Events"

    [Image from Pimentel.]“You will be remembered for what you leave out or neglect.”Rosetta Elkin, Editor of Platform 6, includes these words in a short meta-essay entitled “Editing Pedagogy,” in which she retroactively imagines a brief for the project of gathering, selecting, and...

    Flip-through of Platform 6



  • Live Blog - Manuel Castells, "The Space of Autonomy: Cyberspace and Urban Space in Networked Social Movements"

    Hi Archinect,It's a packed house in (half) Piper tonight for Manuel Castells, Professor of Communication Technology and Society, USC Los Angeles. His talk responds to recent movements in Brazil and Turkey, drawing on themes from his book Networks of Outrage and Hope; Social Movements in...


  • Live Blog - Christopher Glaisek and Bruce Kuwabara on Waterfront Toronto

    Hello Archinect,I'm back in Piper to see Christopher Glaisek, vice president of planning and design for WATERFRONToronto, and Bruce Kuwabara, founding partner of Toronto-based KPMB Architects and now Chair of the Board at the Canadian Centre for Architecture. As a...


  • Review - "If You Build It," directed by Patrick Creadon

    Hi Archinect!Okayyyyyy, I'm back at the GSD to watch "If You Build It," directed by Patrick Creadon (2012), a film about the origins of Studio H's design/build education taught by Emily Pilloton and her team of teachers (including GSD grad Hallie Chen!).Studio H now hails from...

    If You Build It Official Trailer



  • Live Blog - Kyle Bergman and John Connell in conversation

    Hi Archinect,After the screening of If You Build It, film festival director Kyle Bergman and John Connell, the founder of Yestermorrow Design Build School, had a short conversation and I wanted to share it with you here. I was interested to see Connell live, as I had been to Yestermorrow for...


  • Live Blog - Futures Past: Design and the Machine (Mindell, Steenson, Theodore, Galison)

    Hi Archinect!Drew Harry and I are here at MIT’s Media Lab for Futures Past: Design and the Machine, a conference organized by Duks Koschitz (Pratt/MIT), Olga Touloumi (Harvard GSD), and Theodora Vardouli (MIT). (Don’t worry, Kanye is not in the house though if you haven't been sated yet, you...


  • Update - GSD African American Student Union and Dean Mohsen comment on Kanye West Visit

    Hi Archinect, Over the past few days there have been over 30,000 views of this blog's Archinect post on Kanye, and many times that number of reposts and articles about the event at other media outlets (including Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, USA Today, and Buzzfeed). It seems as if...


  • VIDEO - Kanye stops by studio to talk about architecture with students

    Hi Archinect, Yeezy surprised students tonight with a short visit to Harvard GSD's design studio. I REALLY like Kanye--Late Registration, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and Watch the Throne basically got me through studio, from first year to thesis--so I'm bummed that I wasn't there. He...

    Kanye speaks with architecture students at Harvard Graduate School of Design (Video by and courtesy of Flavio Sciaraffia.)



  • Live Blog - Mohsen Mostafavi in Conversation with Nicholas Negroponte

    Hi Archinect! Co-live-blogging tonight with Drew Harry from MIT Media Lab. Full house in (half) Piper! From the GSD website: Mohsen Mostafavi, architect and educator, is the dean and the Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design at the Harvard GSD. His work focuses on modes and...


  • Live Blog - Walid Raad and Theaster Gates in Conversation, with Mohsen Mostafavi, "On Art and Cities"

    Hi Archinect! I'm co-live-blogging tonight with Allison Green, a first-year student in the GSD's Master of Urban Planning program who is also starting to blog at Archinect. From the GSD website: Theaster Gates, an artist trained as an urban planner and sculptor, has developed a practice that...


  • Live Blog - Robert Wilson, Sensory Media Platform

    Hi Archinect! Full-ish house in Piper tonight. From the GSD's website: Robert Wilson is among the world's foremost theater and visual artists, acclaimed for stage works that integrate dance, movement, lighting, sculpture, music, and text in striking, emotionally charged images. His productions...


  • Live Blog - Craig Edward Dykers, The Psychology of Space and the Moving Body

    Hi Archinect! I'm at the Boston Society of Architect's BSA Space for a lecture from Craig Edward Dykers, Founding Partner at Snøhetta. It's the opening event for the Association of Architecture Organizations' conference "Making and Measuring IMPACT: The Value of Architecture and...


  • Live Blog - Panel Discussion: Frontiers of Design Criticism

    Hi Archinect! I'm back at the GSD for a panel moderated by Shantel Blakely of Harvard GSD Public Programs called "Frontiers of Design Criticism." From the GSD website:  Today the feedback, spin, and other acts of interpretation that were once the preserve of historians and other experts are...


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About this Blog

Lectures and exhibitions, news and events, now primarily from the Bay Area! Please note that all live blogs are abridged and approximate. If you want to see exactly what happened, in many cases a video of the event is posted online by the event's hosts.

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  • Lian Chikako Chang

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