Notes for January 15, 2008

Here are some notes and themes from our last class on January 15. I'll try and post one of these for every class. Context

We spoke a lot about context, and how important it is to interpretation of data. Sometimes, entirely different conclusions can be drawn from the same information with a different context. Consider the number of unemployed people in the United States. This statistic is fairly useless to the layperson, which is why unemployment is typically given as a rate. The percentage includes the context of the total amount of people in the United States, making the stat much more useful.

Rules & Constraints

Designing with no boundaries is tough, like attempting to paint on an empty canvas or staring at a blank Word document while trying to write a paper. Freedom equals responsibility. However, there are many ways around this. Often, creating minor artificial rules for yourself either in practice or with a warm-up (i.e., making something out of thirty circles in thirty seconds) stimulates your mind.

Information Axes

Most graphs have two or three axes. For example, the weather map we looked at in class has latitude, longitude, and color. The viewer count for this blog is a line graph that has date and number of visitors. Too many axes can be confusing, but adding an extra one can also draw out previously unnoticed trends from pools of information. Finally, presenting data with a novel axis can make for interesting visualizations: my life can presented in terms of the food that I've eaten, the places I've been, the number of books I've read, or any combination of them.

Subscribing to Blogs

To easily keep up with blog such as this one or those that I mention below in the links section, try using a feed reader (also called an aggregator) such as Google Reader (here's a tour). They're free, and aggregate many blogs into one place.