Lian (Harvard GSD M.Arch.I)

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

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

    By Lian Chikako Chang
    Apr 24, '14 4:10 PM EST

    Hi Archinect!

    From the OpenVis Conference Website:  Andy Kirk is a UK-based freelance data visualisation specialist. Andy in February 2010 and this has grown to become a popular source of information about the data visualisation field. He became a freelance professional in 2011 focusing on providing data visualisation consultancy and training workshops. Since then he has delivered over 80 public and private training events across the globe, including clients such as Walmart, Disney, WHO, Intel, OECD and McKinsey.

    Well, here's an optimist. Andy Kirk starts by talking about how gaps in our data are not just hassles, but something we can learn from and that we should embrace representing.

    Why is there no data where there's no data? You often have to know the context to understand this. For example, seeing a gap for New York's Central Park in a population based map--we know what that blank rectangle means when we see it. On a histogram of Major League Baseball uniform numbers, we understand that the gap for #42 is Jackie Robinson's retired number.

    How do we encode zero? 

    One option is the axis, where zero would happen. Anther option is white, though we should avoid that where there's no true zero (such as unemployment rates by county in the U.S., below).

    Some graph types, like a tree map that's based on area, don't have a way to show zero area. In a Venn diagram we can put a marker on the white space outside of the circles (not shown). 

    The best infographics embrace some emptiness to create breathing room and enhance the message. Kirk refers to the Washington Post's "The Depth of the Problem" infographic to describe this rhetorical blank space. I'm also reminded of Alexandra Lange's "Architecture's Lean In Moment."

    "Pay attention to nothing, care for nothing, because it really is worth something." Kirk ends with the famous Seinfeld scene about the "nothing" show pitch.

    Thanks for reading!


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About this Blog

This blog was most active from 2009-2013. Writing about my experiences and life at Harvard GSD started out as a way for me to process my experiences as an M.Arch.I student, and evolved into a record of the intellectual and cultural life of the Cambridge architecture (and to a lesser extent, design/technology) community, through live-blogs. These days, I work as a data storyteller (and blogger at in San Francisco, and still post here once in a while.

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