Although some in the past have explored this highly interconnected system, in the last week there were three infographics depicting the interbreeding, intermingling, or cross-pollination (or any other biological metaphor) between the main tech companies shaping the current market.
Since the book is almost out in major bookstores across the globe (I’m told in the next 12 days - Aug 3 for Amazon.com), and considering several requests, here’s the Table of Contents of Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information (click image below for pdf):
The book is divided in seven chapters and I like to think of it almost as a symphony, with the first three chapters providing a foundational opening for the lavish visual burst of chapters 4 and 5 - the sonata’s allegro or vivace - immediately followed by its final cadence, “Complex Beauty” (perhaps my favorite chapter) and “Looking Ahead”. Here’s a bit on the book’s structure, as explained in the Introduction:
01 | The Tree of Life
The book opens with “Tree of Life,” an exploration of the sacred meaning of trees and their widespread use as a classification system over the centuries. It showcases an assortment of ancient representations — as predecessors of modern-day network diagrams — where the tree metaphor is used to visually convey a variety of topics, from theological events to an encyclopedia’s table of contents.
02 | Form Trees to Networks
The second chapter, “From Trees to Networks,” makes the case for a new network-based outlook on the world, one that is based on diversity, decentralization, and nonlinearity. It explores several instances — from the way we envision our cities to the way we organize information and decode our brain — where an alternative network model is replacing the hierarchical tree schema.
03 | Decoding Networks
Chapter three, “Decoding Networks,” delves into the science behind network thinking and network drawing, providing a short introduction to its main precursors and early milestones. It also takes a pragmatic and utilitarian look at network visualization, acknowledging its key functions and proposing a set of guiding principles aimed at improving existing methods and techniques.
04 | Infinite Interconnectedness
Following a series of functional recommendations for network visualization, chapter four, “Infinite Interconnectedness,” presents a large number of examples divided into fourteen popular subjects. From depictions of the blogosphere to representations of terrorist networks, chapter four highlights the truly complex connectedness of modern times.
05 | The Syntax of a New Language
If chapter four looks at the practice primarily through its most common themes, chapter five, “The Syntax of a New Language,” organizes a vast array of projects by their shared visual layouts and configurations. As designers, scientists, and researchers across the globe portray an increasing number of network structures in innovative ways, their collective effort forms the building blocks of a new network-visualization lexicon.
06 | Complex Beauty
After presenting an abundance of network-visualization examples in chapters four and five, chapter six, “Complex Beauty,” examines the alluring nature of networks, responsible for a considerable shift in our culture and society. Alternating between scientific and artistic viewpoints, this chapter explores the divide between order and complexity before culminating in a discussion of an original art movement embracing the newly discovered beauty of the network scheme.
07 | Looking Ahead
Finally, and in the spirit of network diversity and decentralization, “Looking Ahead,” the last chapter, presents different views on the influential growth of visualization, according to renowned experts, active participants, and attentive observers. The featured essays cover an array of trends and technologies shaping the progress of visualization and provide an immensely captivating perspective on what may lie ahead.
Look what just came in my mailbox today. It’s an incredible feeling. Very exciting indeed. It arrived sooner than expected. It will take a bit longer before it reaches bookstores, but here’s a sneak peek.
I first read about the work of Geoffrey West on “superlinear scaling” in Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From. West is a British theoretical physicist, former president and distinguished professor of the Santa Fe Institute. His long-term fascination in scaling phenomena led him to look for universal scaling laws that pervade not only biology, from the molecular genomic scale up to whole organisms and ecosystems, but also social structures, in particular cities and companies.
Just yesterday I was glued to my laptop screen for 52 minutes, listening to West’s fascinating monologue on the underlying principles that govern biological, urban, and business growth. His talk from Edge magazine is truly captivating, delivering a convincing framework for universal scaling. Here are two short passages by West:
I think this is very much science of the 21st century, because it is the kind of problem that scientists have ignored. It is under the umbrella of a complex adaptive system and we need to come to terms with understanding the structure and dynamics and organization of such systems because they’re the ones that determine our lives and our extraordinary phenomenon that we have developed on this planet.
[Cities] are the origin of the problems, but they are the origin of the solutions. And we need to come to terms with that, and we need to understand how cities work in a more scientific framework, meaning to what extent can we make it into a quantitative predictive, mathematizible kind of science.
It’s been more than a year since I started this long exciting journey, 17 months to be precise, and I’m very happy to announce today that the book is finally available for pre-order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones (amongst others). With a foreword by Lev Manovich, VisualComplexity: Mapping Patterns of Information is a deep dive into two major disciplines that witnessed a meteoric rise in the last decade: network science and information visualization.
The book is far more than a showcase of VisualComplexity.com. In fact, around one third of the estimated 300 featured images have never been showcased on the website. Due to its broader scope, it does actually seem that the website emerged from the book, other than the other way around. The book yields a comprehensive view on the visual representation of networks, delving into historical precedents (with some beautiful medieval imagery), various contemporary subjects and methods, and a range of future prospects. It looks at the depiction of networks from a practical and functional perspective, as a key driver for understanding the complex connectedness of modern society, but also explores the alluring qualities of the network schema, responsible for a considerable shift in contemporary art and culture. Divided in 7 chapters the book is ultimately a testimony to the enthralling power of networks and visualization.
In July 2009 while still working for Nokia I signed a contract with Princeton Architectural Press, for what would be one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I was immediately concerned with the deadline ahead of me, since I knew how much needed to be done. On Saturday, July 25, when riding the train back home from TEDGlobal in Oxford, UK, and after being inspired by every single person and story in that conference, I quickly decided the only possible way I could accomplish the book was to embrace it full-time. The following Monday I communicated my decision to Nokia and in late-August I left the company.
What followed were months of hard, intense work, countless hours, more than 1200 emails, and many ups and downs. I had an idea it wouldn’t be that easy, but I never expected it to be so hard. I guess it doesn’t help when you’re too meticulous, self-critical and demanding. A lot has changed in my life since then. I got married only a few months after, and more recently started a new job, moved to a different city in a different country. Coincidentally I’m now living a few blocks from Princeton Architectural Press, a publisher I came to care and respect like no other. The last couple of months have also been very rewarding, since you finally see all loose pieces of the book come together into a coherent whole with a unique personality.
There’s a lot more to say, and I promise I will keep posting more updates, interesting facts, page samples, final cover design, and related events in the coming months. But in the meantime, if you want to make sure you get the book as soon as it comes out in late summer, you can pre-order it on Amazon. Pre-orders are also a great way to support an author, since it shows advance interest in the book. You can also follow updates on Twitter or Facebook.
When I first started grouping projects in VC by visual method, in June 2007, radial convergence was already the most popular group with roughly eight projects. You can see that early classification in a now-extinct page of VisualComplexity.com, back in the day of June 10, 2007 (thanks to WayBackMachine):
As you can see from the image above, those eight radial convergence projects were amongst the first to be indexed in VC. Interestingly enough, three of them, respectively AS Internet Graph (2002), GNOM (2005), and Circos (2005) are amongst my favorites to this day. Although I had started talking about this method in conferences like MeshForum (San Francisco) and reboot 9.0 (Copenhagen, Denmark) it remained nameless for a while. The label came out from a need to classify this and other layout types within the growing collection of projects. Since the model is essentially defined by a radial ordering of items converging with each other, the title radial convergence became an intuitive fit. However, it was hard to predict the method would take off as much as it did. Within the last three years it has become immensely popular, and it seems that with every batch of new projects added to VC there’s always one exhibiting this favored layout.
There are probably many reasons that can explain this popularity. First, it’s a simple execution. It’s probably one of the easiest and fastest ways to trial or visually convey a relational database. Second, it’s remarkably alluring. Humans have a widely known and documented obsession with the circle and many of its iconographic qualities that have been revered through millennia, such as divinity, perfection, unity, or closure. Third, if we add to the previous reasons the growing availability of data, number of visualization enthusiasts, and easy-to-use software, then we have the perfect conditions for growth, multiplication, and increasing popularity.
Currently there are 33 projects under radial convergence in VC, mapping a variety of subjects, from IP addresses to Facebook friends. Here’s a screenshot of all of them, as of January 24, 2011.
It has been a while since I’ve posted anything on this blog or in VC. Here’s why:
In mid-July my wife and I left London, after 4 great years living in the English capital. Our last days were packed with parties and plenty of drinks. We moved to Portugal together with roughly 580 Kg (35 boxes) of our stuff - with books being the heaviest category at 220 Kg (to my wife’s annoyance).
Portugal (Lisbon, Batalha, Ponta Delgada, Albufeira)
August and September were spent in different areas of Portugal, enjoying the sun with our family and friends. During this period I also finished the second revision of the VC book. After a long recruitment/visa/relocation process, the day of the big move finally arrived.
On October 18th, 2010, I joined Microsoft Bing as a Senior UX Design Lead, and after a few days of orientation in Redmond, we finally moved to New York City where we’re now living in our temporary apartment.
We’re still getting used to the NYC lifestyle and slowly losing our tourist badges. New York City will be our home from now on, so in case you want to meet or reach me in any way, you know where to find me.
Future + Bing
You can certainly expect more regular updates on VC, now that my life is settling again. In regards to the VC book, it’s currently on its 3rd revision and will be available for purchase next year (more information to come soon). After one year of writing, researching, speaking and occasional consulting, it’s quite stimulating to roll up my sleeves once again and join the great design team at Microsoft Bing. I’m very excited with this new challenge and all its future possibilities. Interesting times ahead…
The first time I tweeted about RSA Animate was in July 2010, when I posted about the canny Crisis of Capitalism video. Since then the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) has released a few more videos which are remarkable examples of visual storytelling. If you haven’t seen any of these highly addictive pieces you don’t know what you’re missing.
See all videos here:
This is an original guest post by Ricardo Nuno Silva for VC Blog. Ricardo is a Portuguese applications developer with a longtime curiosity concerning the impact of digital technologies in everyday life. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the last few years many tools and techniques have been developed to help us visualize songs, music and sounds. This post is a showcase of some of these greatest tools. Each one is focused on a particular aspect of this challenging type of visualization.
One of the most common examples of software for sound visualization is the one used in media players. But they usually only translate sound frequencies to shapes and colors on the screen. They’ve been used extensively for leisure, relaxation and dance parties.
The tools in this showcase have a different approach, as they truly “understand” music in its individual notes. Some can be used in real time, while others need to do some number-crunching while analyzing each song.
Below each image there’s the name of the tool or technique, some great video examples, and a link to the author’s site.
If you know other great tools or videos of music visualization, please leave a comment below or via email. Thank you!
Static Visualization of Songs
Similar to Sheet Music
Visualization of Instruments Output
MuSA.RT - Music on the Spiral Array. Real-Time by Elaine Chew e Alex François.
Learning Games through Visualization
Synthesia (for piano) by Nicholas Piegdon.
Animating Virtual Instruments
See other music-related visualizations @ VisualComplexity.com | Music.
flame dragon, by peter blaskovic (created in flame painter)
As I was organizing my RSS feeds in feedly, I stumbled upon Gert K. Nielsen’s piece on Visual Journalism, written in March 22, 2010. The venturesome title of Nielsen’s post was “The next big thing in infographics - five criterias and a solution“. Intriguing and stimulating. I was immediately on board. That is until I started reading his five recommendations and final proposed solution. You should read it and take your own conclusions, but I found Nielsen’s piece absolutely bewildering.
- The first recommendation, on the need for computer generated infographics, reads more like a natural progression of the field rather than a recommendation, and is perhaps the most blunt of the list. The second and third criterias are on the other hand a bit more disconcerting.
- “It must be beautiful”, Nielsen says in the beginning of his second suggestion. Nothing wrong with that, but you would expect some reflection on the benefits of aesthetics to follow that statement. However, Nielsen appears to be infatuated with aesthetics solely for its popularity… As he explains, “right now the interest is on presentation much more than the content”.
- But the third criteria is even more baffling. “It has to be somewhat ambiguous”, states Nielsen. Yes, take a deep breath and read it again. And perhaps like me, you’ll wonder, what? But wait, Nielsen immediately comes to our rescue, fundamenting his view with a remarkable argument. “Describing things in black and white and sharp vector lines is too fanatic. Blends are much better suited to describe a complex situation”. Yes, let’s reconsider this fanaticism for objectivity, clarity and content. The future of infographics is ambiguousness!
- (I didn’t quite understand this point, so if someone does please explain.)
- Moving on to his fifth criteria, since I couldn’t grasp the fourth, Nielsen asserts “It needs to work in online presentations too”. This could be an interesting starting point to an analysis on the different contexts of use of infographics and the variety of platforms it could explore, but Nielsen falls short in his explanation, merely stating that infograthics could be integrated in online presentations “perhaps by moving or evolving over time”. A very light investigation, to say the least.
But perhaps the most disquieting part of the post was the solution proposed by Nielsen for the future of the field. As he explains: “The solution I came up with is particles in 3D-programs“. Brilliant! According to Nielsen, there’s no particular downside to 3D particles (think about clarity and legibility), apart from its demanding learning curve, or in other words, the time it takes to learn these “really tough concepts”. In his pursuit for ambiguousness it’s not entirely surprising that Nielsen fails to consider any other drawback to his formula. His proposed solution becomes slightly more tangible, when he presents an example of this vision: Flame. As he explains “the ability to paint with ‘flames’ fits right into my expectation of seeing graphics with an appearance that fits the current times”.
I will not expand too much on how I find this view seriously distressing, since I’ve done it before and again. But this leads to the growing confusion that Robert Kosara alludes in his latest post, The Visualization Cargo Cult. Gert Nielsen’s post, as puzzling as it might seem, is a reflection of a seriously disturbing view, that sees objective infographics as a thing of the past, and appealing ambiguousness as a much better fit for the “current times”. I just hope it doesn’t become a contagious meme.
NYT - Obama’s 2011 Budget Proposal: How It’s Spent
Most VC readers must already be familiar with Data Flow 2, the most recent number of the growing Data Flow family, published in February 2010. Featuring several interviews with New York Times Graphics Editor Steve Duenes, Art+Com Director Joachim Sauter, and one with Andrew Vande Moere and myself, the book is an inspirational compendium of hundreds of projects. The work presents itself as a portfolio book, featuring an array of innovative approaches (many featured in VC), which are incredibly provocative and inspiring. Due to its coffee-table nature, the title doesn’t aim at an in-depth analysis or theoretical reflection on the displayed projects and defined categories, but acts primarily as a stimulating showcase of ideas.
As Andrew Vande Moere eloquently states in his review, the foreword doesn’t quite align with the book’s content, since most of its assertions for insightfulness are not necessarily substantiated in the variety of executions showcased throughout the book. Nonetheless, Data Flow 2 is a great source of inspiration for anyone working in the domain of data visualization.
A very appealing spline based 3D form in Processing that represents the bass frequency and puts it into motion.As Christian Bannister explains:
What would the bass look like? What would it be like to touch it and manipulate it directly and visually in real-time? These are some of the things I am trying to get at in this sketch.
Unfortunately the Call for Participants is now closed, but nonetheless this initiative should be interesting to follow. Synthetic Aesthetics aims to bring creative practitioners and those who are expert at studying, analyzing and designing the synthetic/natural interface together with the existing synthetic biology community to help with the work of designing, understanding and building the living world.
From this thought-provoking premise:
Biology has become a new material for engineering. From the design of biological circuits made from DNA to the design of entire systems, synthetic biology is very much interested in making biology something that can be designed.
The project asks:
Can collaborations between synthetic biology and design inform and shape the developing field of synthetic biology—the engineering of new and existing biological entities for useful means? What insights can design offer in designing microscopic entities for a human-scale world? Can design learn from synthetic biology?