INDUSTRY NEWS: Geneticist + Artist = Human Centred Data Visualizations
- 28 March 2012 by laila 2 Comments
Spotlight on Jer Thorpe
Like the DNA complex helix that wraps around itself to create our genetic code, Jer Thorpe codes software to create human-centred data visualizations. A former geneticist, Thorpe discovers places where science and humanity intersect and creates beautiful data visualizations from this sweet spot.
Thorpe refers to his work as a “generative art practice” where he creates systems of algorithms that are processed to provide data rendering.
This infographic by Thorpe, entitled Good Morning!, was created using a Twitter visualization tool and shows tweets that say “good morning” over the course of one day all over the globe. There are approximately 11,000 tweets colour-coded by time.
The graphic succeeds in beautifully displaying one of the unique qualities of good infographics — showing vast amounts of data from a non-biased perspective but infused with human interaction. Nothing is as universal, emotionally sweet, as a simple morning greeting. In fact, even when it isn’t vocalized, it is understood. We all sleep. We all wake up. We all see each other again. Social media has made our personal messages global broadcasts and Thorpe shows us what that looks like in this data representation.
By using data sets created by algorithms, Thorpe ensures that the lens he is looking through is fair. The data speaks, the journalist does not. And yes, Thorpe does consider himself part-Journalist — a visual journalist — and his current position as the Data Artist in Residence at The New York Times can prove that he isn’t the only one who considers visual journalism an integral part of our future of information sharing.
Read the full story on Thorpe’s data-collection and creation process for Good Morning! here.
In fact, understanding “sharing” in social media is one of Thorpe’s consistent topics. Project Cascade (below) was built using a constantly-updated database of content from the New York Times and how it is shared by social media users. The system Thorpe built to represent sharing includes cascades that update in near real-time and in a 3-D computer interface. Click on the image below to view interactive elements.
Programming lay at the heart of Thorpe’s unique data-collection process. Using online databases, he creates gateways to collect data and then builds constructs for the data to flow through. But it is the artistry in creating the visualization that drives Thorpe the most.
“As an artist, I’m really lucky, because I can push things to the limits,” he says. The conceptual framework frees him: “I’m not necessarily as interested in data visualization as I am in the aesthetics of data representation.” In many of his renderings, in fact, his goal hasn’t been to simplify the news, making it comprehensible and accessible, in the manner of the typical visual journalist. On the contrary: It’s been “to reveal some of the confusion that’s inherent in our media.” niemanlab.org
When interviewed for User Preferences: Tech Q & A with Jer Thorpe on thecreatorsproject.com, Thorpe admitted to tracing his creative path back to HyperCard -- an Apple hypermedia application using databases and graphic interfaces. Although now defunct, HyperCard came pre-installed on Macs in 1987.
HyperCard spurred many creative minds to imagine information and sharing in new ways. In fact, Ward Cunningham, Wiki-inventor, credits Wiki invention on HyperCard. He wrote the concept on a HyperCard stack in the late 1980s.
Thorpe's recent TED talk in Vancouver had some really interesting and exciting insights into thinking about data visualization in a human context. On his blog, Thorpe describes the summation of his talk as "a call-to-arms for artists, poets, writers and other creatives to join the discourse around data." Watch it for yourself below.
Jer Thorpe is an artist and educator from Vancouver, Canada, currently living in New York. Coming from a background in genetics, his digital art practice explores the many-folded boundaries between science and art. Recently, his work has been featured by The New York Times, The Guardian, Scientific American, The New Yorker, and the CBC.
Thorp’s award-winning software-based work has been exhibited in Europe, Asia, North America, South America, and Australia and all over the web.
Jer has over a decade of teaching experience, in Langara College’s Electronic Media Design Program, at the Vancouver Film school, and as an artist-in-residence at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Most recently, he has presented at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Art, at Eyebeam in New York City, and at IBM’s Center for Social Software in Cambridge.
He is currently Data Artist in Residence at the New York Times, and is an adjunct Professor in New York University’s ITP program.