Week Eight: Visualising to Make Visible

This week’s lecture brought about the idea of the Information Graphic, which is  a visual representation of data. The graphics intentions is to transform large amounts of data into a visual register or manifestation, making a invisible visible.

For example, the map produced by John Snow, during the 19th Century in England, aimed to visualise the spread of Cholera in the area of Soho (Rogers, 2013).  At this time, it was believed Cholera was an airborne disease, however Snow disproved this (Rogers, 2013). Through first mapping out the area, Snow provided an accurate canvas in which he may place his results. Then through noting the Cholera victims in the streets of Soho, Snow began to see various correlations between a high concentration of Cholera victims and a water pump situated on Broad Street (Rogers, 2013). This visualisation confidently assured Snow and others of the time, that Cholera was not airborne, yet had been carried through a central water pump with Cholera contaminated water (Rogers, 2013). Therefore, this visualisation shows the benefits of information graphics and the ability in which they draw out a clearer demographic or idea.


Photo: ‘Cholera Map’ taken from Flickr under Creative Commons Licensing, 2013; <http://www.flickr.com/photos/designbyfront/3428749953/>

Thus, information graphic is considerable in research and publishing;  it allows for a form of abstraction,  which enables a greater reach of potentially dense and confusing content. Sites which adopt this visualised, transparent approach enable complex information to be readily understood by the public, sites such as Infosthetics (http://infosthetics.com/) and Flight Patterns UCLA (http://users.design.ucla.edu/~akoblin/work/faa/index.html).

Then we progress further from Snow’s Cholera map and look towards interactive visualisations such as the iPhone (Debord, 1967). Thus we are creating tools which visually entice us but at what cost? How does the way information graphics alter our experiences and changes us? I suppose, we have become relatively visually reliant, using visual aid as a passive crutch (Debord, 1967). Many would prefer a documentary over a non-fiction book, purely because of the level of involvement necessary (Debord, 1967). However, I believe such negative connotations do not eradicate the initial importance of information graphics. If John Snow hadn’t visually mapped out the Cholera spread in Soho, many more would have potentially died. Thus information graphics may aid our understanding of the world, but it also impairs our experience with it.


Debord, Guy (1967) Unity and Division Within Appearances’, The Society of the Spectacle , Accessed 23rd of April 2013 <http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/3.htm>

Rogers, Simon (2013) ‘John Snow’s Data Journalism: The Cholera Map that Changed the World’ The Guardian UK, Accessed 23rd of April 2013 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2013/mar/15/john-snow-cholera-map>

Photo: ‘Cholera Map’ taken from Flickr under Creative Commons Licensing, 2013; <http://www.flickr.com/photos/designbyfront/3428749953/>


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