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Sketching with Data Opens the Minds Eye

Sketching with Data Opens the Minds Eye

 

The first storyboards for Close Encounters of the Third Kind were drawn by Steven Spielberg, who used stick figures. Artist Edward Carlson penciled his vision for Seattle’s Space Needle on a napkin in a coffee house. The inventors of Super Mario Brothers designed their video game, square by square, on graph paper.

When does drawing become design? When does design become a story?

The art of information display is every bit as artful as any other type of design or illustrationSteven Heller and Rick Landers

Complex ideas begin as simple drawings. And data-visualization—the use of visual tools to analyze and present information— is no exception. Readers often imagine the creators of infographics as master programmers and number crunchers. But, many times, their primary design tools are pen and paper.

This creative process is laid bare in the Infographic Designers’ Sketchbooks, a fascinating collection of preliminary drawings, unfinished mock-ups and intermediate prototypes that culminate with the finished illustrations.

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Steven Heller and Rick Landers, the book authors, add, infographic designers must take their work a step further, sculpting static images into complex, yet reader-friendly, linear narratives.

In creating data visualizations, a common approach among designers is to begin the process by using familiar tools and concepts. While this allows them to work within their comfort zone, it can also lead them to adopt the easiest, and maybe not the best, solution to represent important aspects of the information.

As opposite, to sketching to explore the dimensions of a dataset, there is no access to the actual data with pen and paper, but only to it’s logical organizations, and this is an invaluable asset to focus on the meaning of information, and not on numbers out of context. Many times this self-imposed limit triggers new questions on the data itself; instead of being overwhelmed by the size of a dataset and by millions of numbers we only focus on its nature, and this often opens new possibilities and opportunities that origin from this vantage point of view.

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Once satisfied with the basic structure, the focus is turned toward the microelements—specific data points—to figure out which forms, colors and features we might adopt or invent to better represent them.

At this stage, drawing with data also can help raise new questions about the data itself: the emerging sketch sometimes reveals new opportunities for analysis that weren’t apparent when we were looking only at the numbers.

Lastly, a prototype is created of the visualization, either on paper or digitally, which brings all the elements together. This facilitates communication among the designers, researchers, and clients, allowing for final changes before producing the finished product.



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