Turning Cryptic Data Into Beautiful Digital Mosaics

See everything from tweets in China to neuron data in vibrant, hypnotic color.

Biofilm Imaging Project

Since technology is responsible for growth in the world’s collective knowledge, it also shares the responsibility of categorizing that knowledge into easily digestible bites. Because what’s the use of this glut if it can’t easily be understood? And in order for data to have the largest possible impact, doesn’t it make sense for it to be understandable by researchers and blog-readers alike?

Computational Embryo Model

This conflict is one of the main issues breathing life into the Advanced Data Visualization Project (ADVP), a data analyzation project now in its second year at Columbia University. Birthed from a collaboration between international newswire Thomson Reuters and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), the ADVP is looking to make intricate systems--like neurons, international port logistics and library catalogues--both easily readable and stunningly beautiful.

Hair Physics Simulation

“To me, the project goes two ways,” says Laura Kurgan, a co-founder of the ADVP and director of the Spatial Information Design Lab at the GSAPP. “On one hand, it aims to communicate science to a broader public by using the design skills of architects. It also aims to communicate that knowledge in a [new] way, instead of just bringing ideas from science into architecture.”

Hair Physics Simulation

Laura Kurgan is leading the project along with David Benjamin, director of the GSAPP’s Living Architecture Lab. Since January 2013, the two have worked with researchers and scientists across the university to help illuminate complex data sets that pour out from academia’s labs and libraries.

Biofilm Imaging

The above image is the visual component to David Benjamin’s Biofilm Imaging project, a partnership with the university’s Lars Dietrich Lab, which aims to manipulate measurements of biological elements into visualizations--making new terrains of scientific research more cohesive.

Jumping The Great Firewall

This graph is part of Jumping The Great Firewall, a project led by Kurgan in partial collaboration with the university’s graduate school of journalism, that graphs thwarted attempts at testing internet censorship in China. Originating from micro-blogger site Weibo, these graphs show the number of posts deleted by China’s censorship regime during two weeks in May 2013.

Port to Port

Here the continents are connected by ghostly tracers, delineating the many routes between international seaports. Port to Portas its called, is expected to go live within the next week, along with a more in-depth look at the data and specs giving this visual its x-ray aesthetic.

Serendipity Search

“We want the data to come up with other logics for algorithms that may generate a surprising way of browsing digital data, in a serendipity kind of a way which you only usually associate with physical space,” says Kurgan, in reference to the Serendipity Search library project shown above.

It’s a pursuit of replicating our experiences at real-life libraries within the digital sphere, bypassing the Amazon-ficiation of book buying. As for the feeling of wandering down an aisle and pulling books out at random in search of a new literary treasure, Kurgan wants to know: “How can that be done in a digital space?”

“It brings a different level of realism,” she says. And as the project enters its second year, that level becomes more and more apparent. With the birth of data journalism last decade and the trending virality of eye-catching infographics, the need for accessible (and memorable) data graphics is becoming more and more real. It inspires the question: if access to the internet is now considered a human right, then why shouldn’t we allow the rest of the world to become fluent in its information-based language?

All images courtesy of the ADVP.

Follow Johnny Magdaleno on Twitter: @johnny_mgdlno