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visual shock

major project proposal ma graphic branding & identity 2011 london college of communication paulo estriga

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research question

what role should emotion play in data visualisation? aims & objectives The idea for this project came from my experience reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. The book tells how the US government used techniques similar to shock therapy on entire populations to try to force them into an unregulated free market capitalist system as envisioned by Milton Friedman. The first experiment was the coup in Chile in 1973 which put Pinochet in power, and the last one explored in the book is the Iraq invasion, along with the shocks created by hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Sri Lanka, and the profitable opportunities created by the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. The book is quite long and chock-full of data. While reading it, I felt that there was an entire dimension or layer of data inter-relationships across chapters and across time and place that was getting lost in the linear narrative of the book. I felt like “folding” and “overlaying” chapters over chapters so that I could more easily assess those relationships. From that came the idea of turning all the data in the book into visualisations, breaking space and time constraints to bring all those relationships to the forefront. Curiously, information design is something I always ran away from. It was only this year that I came across books like Information is Beautiful or Data Flow and it opened a whole new world of exciting possibilities for me. It’s probably one of my weakest points in design and it would be great to have the opportunity to explore it and improve in this field.

audience The results of my project should be of use to anyone involved in information graphics, as I believe I will have explored and made clearer the extent to which a designer can or should use emotional visual vocabulary to forward

My research question came from the fact that I didn’t want to simply end up with a collection of beautiful visualisations Information is Beautiful-style. If the question was to simply visualise the data, I know I could do it, simply investigating what’s being done and producing something of similar aesthetic value. But I don’t want to just present the data in a pleasing imaginative way. Naomi Klein is not neutral in her analysis – she has a point of view. She “dresses” the presentation of data and the elaboration on it in that point of view through linguistic means. In data visualisation, the linguistic dimension is lost, but the design dimension allows for new, even more persuasive and powerful possibilities. My challenge is to go beyond neutral design that simply uses aesthetics to improve data flow, but instead to use design to tell the story and originate emotions that intentionally influence the data reception, enhancing it with my interpretation and steer the viewer into sharing Naomi Klein’s point of view and mine. What I’m looking for is not just data plus aesthetics, but data plus point of view through design, that point of view being transmitted emotionally, alongside the rational dimension of the data. I will be trying to find clever, fresh, imaginative ways of achieving it, but also ultimately striving to be within the ethical and purposeful boundaries of information design, not allowing emotion to overpower content. I will however test those limits, and also explore the possibilities for manipulation of meaning into different significations than the ones intended, stretching the boundaries within the field to better identify the correct points of balance for the use of emotion in data visualisation.

a subjective and disputable point of view. This includes journalists, designers, statisticians, writers and others. In branding, the obvious connection is with annual reports: visualisations will better deliver an emotional connection between brand values and the viewer, beyond the simple application of brand guidelines. It will also for example make it easier to understand how to “soften” bad financial data, or otherwise enhance how positive it is, as effectively as possible without falling on the wrong side of ethics. 3

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Information graphics professionals should refuse to produce any visual presentation that includes imaginary components designed to make it more “appealing” or “spectacular”. All graphics must stick to available evidence. (2011) It also defends: Infographics are neither illustrations nor “art”. Infographics are visual journalism and must be governed by the same ethical standards that apply to other areas of the profession. (2011) Perhaps when working in a strictly journalistic context these rules should be taken as good reference, and Naomi Klein’s book is not far from it. However, The Shock Doctrine fits the journalistic description only in a similar way in which an opinion piece fits it. It could also be argued that many of the stories published in tabloids, for example, are written in ways that violate these same “ethical standards” that the blog advocates for information graphics, where “imaginary components” (or at least derived from personal interpretation and judgment of the writer and often distilled into the overuse of adjectives) are added to the story and aim to direct the reader into sharing the publication’s point of view. I do not intend to create “tabloid visualisations”, but Data Flow 2, pp.236,237

The field of study for this project is data visualisation. It has been immersed in heated discourse for some time due to its explosion in recent years. This was due to several factors: the increase in computer storage, the wide accessibility of data at low costs, the rise of social networking, and crossdisciplinary education (Lima, Moere to Schardt, 2010) all contributed to a rapid democratisation of both the ability to generate and to comprehend information design. As Lima (to Schardt, 2010, p.28) said, ‘our ability to generate and acquire data has by far outpaced our ability to make sense of that data’. This widening of the field has led practitioners to frantically try to define good and bad practice to ensure it progresses and evolves in ways that preserve and sustain its ethical and aesthetic integrities. Several discussions (often of a semantic nature) have been started. Lima’s (2009) manifesto states a set of rules for information visualisation, placing all outputs not fitting in them in the likely category of information art. Sauter (to Schardt, 2010) also tries to define what differentiates design work from artwork in information design. He defines design work as having to be understood immediately by as many as possible (therefore in a language everyone understands), and art as using a personal language, therefore not meant to be understood immediately by all, its deciphering being a valuable part of the process of understanding. He goes further in separating information visualisation (emphasis on content) from data visualisation (where data is the formfinding factor and the emphasis is on form). Most of these discussions are about the balance between aesthetics for embellishment’s sake and design for the sake of serving a purpose – to explain, unveil, facilitate discovery and insight into its subject (Lima to Schardt, 2010). My question however focuses on the less

discussed aspect of how design or aesthetics can alter the perceived meaning of the data, how they can influence and somewhat direct the viewer into emotionally perceiving the data in different ways than the data alone would allow for, and consequently leading to a specific alternative rational interpretation. This subject raises many more ethical questions. The Visual Journalism blog created its own set of rules for a good infographic, and perhaps more aligned with the moral compass of journalism, seems to be the most conservative on this issue. It states:

Chad M. Hagen took the concept of information art to the extreme by not using any true data to create the structure of his Nonsensical Infographics.

Data Flow 2, p.65


Minimalist visualisations like these by ART+COM may create distance between the data and the viewer.


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The Sun (6 May 2011), pp.5,17, 74,75

Data Flow 2, p.142

Left: Visual analogies are a powerful tool to create an emotional connection, such as in these visualisations by Simon Mortimer using shooting range targets on the subject of war casualties. Above: Though journalism should stick to facts, newspapers often use emotionally charged words in their headlines and subheads to direct the reader into a specific state of mind or point of view.

I intend to find out and be able to recognize at what point visualisations that tell a story become just that. Duenes (to Schardt, 2010), director of the infographics team of The New York Times, argues that the most successful visualisations are those that tell a story and cautions against visualisations that don’t make a point. There seems to be a place after all for the designer’s interpretation even in a serious newspaper, and the designer’s mediation affecting the message can be acceptable and even desirable, in the same way as we as readers expect journalists to uncover alternative points of view with their work and not just expose the data, leaving the hard work of decoding and creating meaning from it to ourselves. Telling a story with data instead of just exposing it makes the designer more than a simple narrator: it makes him an author (Schardt, 2010), which carries a whole new set of responsibilities to be addressed. As Schardt says: Every visualisation is an interpretation. By selecting the data and choosing how to display it, a message is formed. This might seem trivial but it is quite a shift for graphic designers. Previously, they worked with material which already had a message – texts or pictures. By working with data however, the designer makes the statement. (2010, p.8) Heerden highlighted: The information designer shapes an experience, or view of the data with a specific aim in mind. To clarify, confuse, inspire, redress and connect – all of these are legitimate intents for design, towards which the chosen visual presentation can be directed. (2008, p.6) The use of analogy in data visualisation is probably the most common manifestation of storytelling as an objective. As Richli (2008, p.185) argues, ‘abstract and reduced

visualisations can easily put distance between the viewer and the subject’. With the use of analogies, information is presented in the context of its subject, which facilitates a more ready connection with the viewer’s emotions and feelings. This is especially useful when trying to inform on issues connected to health, social or environmental problems (Schardt, 2010), which fits with the subject of The Shock Doctrine. Pettersen (2006, p.7) seems to disagree with Richli in that he defends that in most cases, the clarity of the storytelling is better served by simple, abstract diagrams. But even so, he agrees that ‘when the opportunity arises to successfully elaborate with creative ideas, the medium can be elevated to visual poetry’. I would say that in visualising the data in The Shock Doctrine, what I intend to do is to explore not just analogy, but also other “figures of speech”, adapting them to the visual medium to generate visual prose. Such visualisations will therefore rely on my subjective interpretation and on that of the viewer. This creates an entirely new set of possibilities and dangers. As Hagy states: Designers are translators, and they can inflect content in ways no one else can. Since even something as simple as a choice of fonts can change the connotations of a word, designers are able to spin statistics in ways that even the best orator on earth could never dream of. (2008, p.165) Schardt (2010, p.9) concurs: ‘The ability to misinform or even tell straight lies by the means of visualisations entails a huge responsibility.’ I intend to experiment with the possibilities of design as a tool to spin and misinform in order to gain better knowledge of the limits within the practice, but I do not intend to carry those negative examples into my final outcome, where I mostly aim to reinforce and enhance the point of view already present within the book. 5

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methodology For the purpose of this proposal I tested my methodology using the movie that was made from the book, which is a very condensed and incomplete version of it. I believe my methodology will therefore replicate the way in which I have been working so far. There will be several stages to this project. annotation I will have to start by re-reading the book and annotating all its data. This phase is as important as the visual ones, for as Duenes (to Schardt, 2010) explains, when working in an infographic team, “it is often the same people doing research, fact checking and executing the visualisation”. extraction I will search for interesting data with potential to be visualised and isolate it from the initial notes through additional sketching.

concept I will create the basic structures for the visualisations. design I will design the visualisations in basic form. experimentation This is the key part of my research, where I will experiment with mediation, interpretation and emotional design treatments. What research will inform this experimentation is not yet clear to me. A lot of it will be driven by the interiorisation of the book’s point of view and by the data itself. So far I’ve been doing web and book research to inform myself on the state of the field and what’s being done. I will also investigate the more classic and foundational writings on the subject, such as Edward R. Tufte’s. I started organising visualisations from books into typologies to improve my knowledge of the possibilities within the subject. I intend to contact people with relevance in the field such as Manuel Lima and David McCandless and ask for their help and suggestions on resources to investigate. From this experimentation I hope to define how my final outcome will look and feel.

First of the total of five pages of annotations from the movie The Shock Doctrine.


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Example of the data extraction phase, where I spot something interesting in the notes and try to sketch it separately.

In the concept phase, I for the first time draw the basic structure the visualisation will have.


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Above an example of the design phase, where I create the first basic design of the visualisations. Below an example of experimentation, showing how something as simple as colouring the photos red alters the emotional content of the design.


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A more extreme example of emotional content being added. This example is quite illustrative as it uses the obvious connection between the killed and blood drops. If however the bubbles referred to (for example) profits made by US corporations in different conflicts, the use of blood would be making a bolder, more personal and controversial point.


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“milTon is The embodimenT of The TruTh ThaT

ideas have conseQuences.” donald rumsfeld

“milTon is The embodimenT of The TruTh ThaT

ideas have conseQuences.” donald rumsfeld

I’ve also extracted some important quotes from the movie and experimented with them on how design and imagery can alter their emotional perception. This is similar to what I will be testing with visualisations and I may also carry these experiments with quotes all the way to the final outcome.


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“To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase,

the ‘U-turn’, I have only one thing to say: “You turn if you want to.

The lady’s not for turning.” Margaret thatcher

“To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase,

the ‘U-turn’, I have only one thing to say: “You turn if you want to.

The lady’s not for turning.” Margaret thatcher


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schedule june 24 25



26 27


28 29

august 30 31


32 33 34


research and experimentation into emotion in data visualisation


35 36 37 38

october 39


40 41






printer contacts, print, finish



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As this is quite a subjective field, I’m also not clear on how I can evaluate success. I suppose good feedback from respected designers in the field and their confirmation that my research helped clarify opportunities and possibilities within good practice in data visualisation would be a good indicator. Feedback from viewers interested in the book’s subjects would also be important. Not quite clear however on the possibilities for quantitative evaluation of success.

I will have a collection of visualisations as result at the end of this project. An outcome, depending on size and quantity, could be in form of a book, posters, a website allowing for interactivity or even an animated video. I can only produce a book or posters by myself.


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bibliography Bestley, R., Noble, I. (2005) Visual research: an introduction to research methodologies in graphic design. Switzerland: AVA Bourquin, N., Ehman, S., Klanten, R., Tissot, T. (eds.) (2008) Data flow: visualising information in graphic design. Berlin: Gestalten Bourquin, N., Ehman, S., Klanten, R., Tissot, T. (eds.) (2010) Data flow 2: visualizing information in graphic design. Berlin: Gestalten Duenes, S. (2010) Interview with Schardt, J. In: Bourquin, N., Ehman, S., Klanten, R., Tissot, T. (eds.) Data flow 2: visualizing information in graphic design. Berlin: Gestalten Evans, H., Taylor, E. (1997) Pictures on a page: photojournalism, graphics and picture editing. London: Pimlico Freakonomics: the movie (2010) Directed by Heidi Ewing, Alex Gibney, Seth Gordon, Rachel Grady, Eugene Jarecki, Morgan Spurlock . Chad Troutwine Films, Cold Fusion Media Group, Green Film Company, Jigsaw Productions: UK [Video: DVD] Glaser, J., Knight, C. (2009) Diagrams: innovative solutions for graphic designers. Switzerland: RotoVision

McCandless, D. (2009) Information is Beautiful. London: Collins Poynor, R. (2007): Obey the giant : life in the image world. Basel: Birkh채user Richli, C. (2008) Interview. In: Bourquin, N., Ehman, S., Klanten, R., Tissot, T. (eds.) Data flow: visualising information in graphic design. Berlin: Gestalten Sauter, J. (2010) Interview with Schardt, J. In: Bourquin, N., Ehman, S., Klanten, R., Tissot, T. (eds.) Data flow 2: visualizing information in graphic design. Berlin: Gestalten Schardt, J. (2010) Datalogy. In: Bourquin, N., Ehman, S., Klanten, R., Tissot, T. (eds.) Data flow 2: visualizing information in graphic design. Berlin: Gestalten Schardt, J. (2010) Foreword. In: Bourquin, N., Ehman, S., Klanten, R., Tissot, T. (eds.) Data flow 2: visualizing information in graphic design. Berlin: Gestalten Tor Pettersen (2006) Tor Pettersen. In: Kondo, H. (ed.) World diagram collection. Japan: Pie Books [Internet] <> [Accessed 30 May 2011] [Internet] <> [Accessed 30 May 2011]

Hagy, J. (2008) Interview. In: Bourquin, N., Ehman, S., Klanten, R., Tissot, T. (eds.) Data flow: visualising information in graphic design. Berlin: Gestalten

Enough with the non-factual breaking news graphics. (2011) [Internet] Available from: <http://visualjournalism. com/enough-with-the-non-factual-breaking-newsgraphics/2011/05/09/> [Accessed 30 May 2011]

Heerden, F. V. (2008) Foreword. In: Bourquin, N., Ehman, S., Klanten, R., Tissot, T. (eds.) Data flow: visualising information in graphic design. Berlin: Gestalten

The shock doctrine (2009) Directed by Mat Whitecross, Michael Winterbottom. Revolution Films, Renegade Pictures: UK [Video: stream]

[Internet] <> [Accessed 30 May 2011] Klein, N. (2008) The shock doctrine. London: Penguin Books Kondo, H. (ed.) (2006) World diagram collection. Japan: Pie Books Lima, M. (2009) Information vizualisation manifesto. [Internet] Available from: <http://www.visualcomplexity. com/vc/blog/?p=644> [Accessed 30 May 2011]

In addition to continuing consulting and using these resources, I intend to consult Understanding USA and other works by Richard Saul Wurman, the classic writings on information graphics by Edward R. Tufte, Visualizing Data by Ben Fry, Design by Design and other works by Jan van Toorn, several texts by Rick Poynor and Graphis Diagrams.

Lima, M., Moere, A. V. (2010) Interview with Schardt, J. In: Bourquin, N., Ehman, S., Klanten, R., Tissot, T. (eds.) Data flow 2: visualizing information in graphic design. Berlin: Gestalten Levitt, S. D., Dubner, S. J. (2006) Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything. London: Penguin


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Visual Shock – Major Project Proposal Report  

MA Graphic Branding & Identity 2011 (London College of Communication, University of the Arts London) – Final Major Project Proposal Report

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