Sunday, August 3, 2008

Data Visualisation: Challenges in India

Image: Explorations to understand different types of data visualisations. Classification and Categorisation of data representation types using a bar chart metaphor.

The paper quoted below was prepared in response to an invitiaton from an Indian architectural magazine for commentaries on digital design and their impact in the classrooms at NID. This invitation gave us the opportunity to reflect and share the assignments and approaches that we had developed into a course for Information Design students at NID, first at the Paldi campus and later at the new campus at Gandhinagar for the students of New Media Design (NMD), Software User Interaction Design(SUID) and Information and Digital Design (IDD). Two of these disciplines do not exist now since the Institute has decided to relocate these courses to the newer campus in Bangalore and in the process the normanclature too has undergone a change. The new discipline is now called Information & Interface Design (IID). Bangalore campus also hosts two other disciplines since the last year called Design for Digital Experience (DDE) and Design for Retail Experience (DRE).

This course is discussed at a blog site that was set up by the teachers to be used by faculty and students and it is called Visible Information India. Just like the other blog that is used to document our courses in a contemporaneous manner, the Design Concepts and Concerns, this one too is used to report the class explorations as they happen during the semester. The course in Data Visualisation is inspired by the books and work of Edward Tufee and Richard Saul Wurman and it draws on the work of many web based initiatives that have followed the lead provided by these thought leaders.

Image: Classification and Categorisation of data representation types using a cityscape as metaphor.

Data Visualisation: Exploring Emerging Challenges and Opportinities in India
(Published in the architectural design magazine the “Indian Architect & Builder” in 2007.)

M P Ranjan & Rupesh Vyas
National Institute of Design

The Context and Intention
The area of visualization of data is growing in importance day by day. This phenomenon is impacted with the increasing use of networked data sources and a massive growth in the channels for communication available to all professions. This massive dissemination as well as the growth in bandwidth and increased computing resources being available at the user end terminals is driving growth for such visual representations of data for various useful purposes of planning and decision making. Here the demand for such representations is coming from both the print media and the broadcast media and strategies are ready to explode in the Internet applications as well. We can see the coming of age of the second-generation Internet products which will offered as a result of demand for such representations and due to their affordability. Keeping these emerging opportunities in mind a team of teachers at NID decided to develop and offer a course in Data Visualisation which could address these emerging needs and develop a framework for imparting the knowledge and skills needed to plan, conceive and execute such visual representations across many domains of application. These would include financial data, statistical data, demographic data, remote sensing data

The areas of application will eventually cover all fields of human activity from medical images to scientific data analysis tools and in financial markets that have to support exploding data streams that are difficult to keep track of using traditional modeling and analysis tools. The human mind and our sensory mechanisms are far too overloaded by the bombardment of these data streams that we are compelled to look for new and improved ways to “See the Data” rather than just look at numbers. While plenty of data is now available through real time systems from widespread automated monitoring, making sense of this data is becoming increasingly difficult due to human limitations of perception, cognition and response action.

The fields of application extend from playful ones in the area of game design as well as to life critical applications such a monitoring traffic flows in the sky and trend mapping in financial and medical situations, and the need to make sense of what we can now see and record with our available and emerging technologies. Geographic data from satellites, surveillance data from security cameras, medical data from pathology labs, home monitoring devices and investment needs of individuals through home banking all provide opportunities for new levels of visualization given the tools available to all of us. The media too has its needs for professional data managers and visualisers in mapping and modeling expressive action sequences to make current events both interesting and comprehensible to both experts and public alike. Decision makers will look for coherent presentations with visualisations of management and planning strategies and time-line models in new and complex business settings where an investment decision can make or break a company. Maps, charts, diagrams, models, statistical graphs, are all examples of visualization types that we are familiar with in today’s media and representation systems. We are entering a new area of dynamic data displays with advanced animation and representation systems that will make the reception and delivery of data several notches up the value chain and those who do it well will be at a premium position in the competitive market place of tomorrow.

This course was invented four years ago in response to these anticipated needs of the emerging marketplace and a number of experimental assignments were devised to bring both the students and the teachers up to date about the whole area of data visualization and its emerging opportunities. The course was divided into a series of interlocking and sequential assignments in a group and individual mode to make it truly inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary in approach and delivery. A few of the topics and assignments are described:

Image: Classification and Categorisation of data representation types using a matrix model.

Data Categorisation and Modeling
Data Categorization was the task that the whole group was plunged into from the very first day of engagement. The discussions on the taxonomy of data and data visualization were followed up by a quick assignment of collection of interesting and significant examples of data visualization from the various graphics and scientific books in the NID library. Student teams were encouraged to search and supplement images and diagrams, maps and models from Internet based sources as well. Each of the groups was to try and organize the total data collected into a meaningful structure through a process of classification that would follow intuitive categories that made sense to each group respectively. They could coin terms if required and if required leave an empty slot for a missing image type that they predicted or knew existed, but did not have a prototype in hand for the assignment. They were then expected to build a composite model of their classification showing the similarities and differences between that data types that they had discovered and in this assignment they were asked to assign attributes and categories apriori and through a process of brain-storming and debate, and not to follow any one authority to justify their choices and classification.

Image: Field and library research to visual model. Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad as a case study.

Image: Understanding dynamic data using visual representations and models. Mitakhali roundabout in Ahmedabad.

Data Capture: Field to Models
Representing live data from the field was the topic of the next exploration. The students were required to explore different contexts and to conduct field work and visit sites to start capturing data from the field using many techniques of observation and recording. Different milieus and the locations selected included, A shopping mall in Ahmedabad, the major traffic turnabout of six roads in Ahmedabad and the Sabarmati Gandhi Ashram for Tourists and International visitors. The models were developed to suit anticipated future needs as well as match the data captured in the field from observations and recordings.

Image: Modelling village aspirations and development opportunities for use by local population as well as planners. Village Sahpur study proposal.

Last year we gave our students the task if selecting three small villages near the Gandhinagar campus and they were to visit the village, meet the people and try and understand their needs, aspirations and resources through direct field contact. The idea was to give them an advanced assignment in data visualisation which was complex and wicked in its form as well as structure. Based on their field research the team was required to visualise the information that was generated in a collaborative mode in one image map that could be used by the local people as well as the village administration for development oriented activities.
 This is village Shahpur on the banks of the Sabarmati River near Gandhinagar in Gujarat. The village was one of three that the teachers selected by looking at Google Earth and the selection was made based on both proximity to our Gandhinagar campus.

This kind of design assignment gives us many insights that could be used to solve real issues of information management on a massive scale in India which has to deal with real needs of as many as 6,50,000 villages that dot our landscape and not just the cities that are taking up all our attention today. This project was done with the students and teachers using the inspiration offered by Christopher Alexander in his great thesis, "Notes on the Synthesis of Form."

Image: BusinessWeek data on Indo-China industrial competitiveness as reinterpreted by different students. Each used their own point of focus and through contextual research arrived at a unique representation in the process of sense making.

Dynamic Data Visualisation from Statistical sources:
Numerous sources of stastical data provide us an opportunity to explore visual representation across many fields such as sport, economics, weather, transportation, communication and others. Students were requested to use the UNESCO data that is available from their “Institute of Statistics” data centre at their website link and examine and analyse the data from one selected predefined table for a hypothetical decision or design action. Similarly a report from the BusinessWeek on economic parameters of industry in India and China was taken up as an individual task and here the same data was showcased in different styles and intentions by the students which revealed the possibility of variety in interpretation and representation in design. This is critical in design differentiation when competing agencies are showing the same data using different editorial policies which is the case in the real world.

About the authors:
Prof M P Ranjan and Rupesh Vyas are members of the faculty at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar.

M.P. Ranjan
M. P. Ranjan is a senior member of the faculty of the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, India and Chair of the Task Force on GeoVisualization set up by the Government of India. Ranjan is highly respected in the design community as a person who has unique insights about wide range of opportunities and responsibilities that lay before designers. He has deep knowledge of design applications in high tech sector, at the same time he has pursued projects to explore potential of bamboo, and other appropriate materials. Ranjan continually explores cultural, ethical, technological, and social issues that pose intellectual challenges for the design community.

Rupesh Vyas
Rupesh Vyas has ten years of experience in Communication Design education and professional projects. Before joining NID he was teaching at Faculty of Visual Communication, M. S. University of Baroda. He is post graduate in Visualization from the same University.

He has contributed significantly to some of the major consultancy project having National importance. He is taking a lead role in developing Information and Digital Design as emerging discipline at NID. He has represented NID in different national and international forums like ICOGRADA, in Japan and in Expert Forum of traffic guiding systems by International Institute for Information Design (IIID), Vienna, Austria. 
He has special interest in developing innovative ways of information, interactions and interfaces in Public spaces, Location Based Information systems and Dynamic Data Visualization.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I am a Design profesor at UAM Cuajimalpa in México City. I am very interested on data visualization as a way to transfer knowledge. Lets colaborate about possibilities to exchange comments on this topic.

    Nora Morales


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