Playlist: 6 beautiful talks by data artists

Posted by: Elizabeth Jacobs

In the information age we have access to more data and knowledge than at any previous point in human history. But more accessible data doesn’t necessarily mean more processable data — tax returns, court cases and newspaper archives may be available to the public, but they are often hard to interpret and understand. Data artists process this mess of information for us and break it down into comprehensible pieces, often enhancing it by placing it in deeper contexts and by finding surprising patterns. The designers and artists below are on the cutting edge of this work, experimenting with new technologies to take numbers and facts and turn them into beautiful multimedia works of art and knowledge.

Nathalie Miebach: Art made of storms
Nathalie Miebach’s art is both beautiful and informative: she sculpts colorful models using weather data, and then converts this information into musical scores. Thus she makes weather patterns — something inherently invisible to the naked eye — “visible, tactile and audible.” In this short talk from TEDGlobal 2011, she describes her nuanced ways of translating information into different mediums, blurring the lines between art and science.

Aaron Koblin: Artfully visualizing our humanity
Numbers can humanize us. Artist Aaron Koblin uses data to discover the patterns we make as a collective whole, so that we can better understand society and ourselves. Koblin’s groundbreaking work harnesses modern technology to produce art that is sometimes crowdsourced and collectively produced, and sometimes hyper individualized. Here, he describes his work at TED2011.

Hans Rosling: Stats that reshape your world-view
This is the first of many great things to come from data whiz Hans Rosling. In this seminal talk from TED2006, Rosling beautifully and energetically illustrates fascinating trends about global health and wealth distribution.

David McCandless: The beauty of data visualization
Graphic designer and “data detective” David McCandless is trying to make sense of the world by compressing and overlapping information, he says at TEDGlobal 2010. His gorgeous data visualizations squeeze an enormous amount of knowledge into digestible tidbits, throwing the data into new light as he contextualizes it. By making information beautiful, he makes it make sense. (Check out McCandless’ latest work, an interactive visual that lets you calculate the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy.)

Jer Thorp: Make data more human
Information artist Jer Thorp traverses the “terrain of data” to tell narratives of human experiences. These elegant data-driven stories are based on information collected from smartphones or newspapers, but breathe life back into the lives we live. In this talk from TEDxVancouver, Thorp explains how this human-centered approach to data analysis is the best route to take as technology becomes more and more central to our daily lives.

Hans Rosling: Religions and babies
Data master Rosling takes us through the effect of religion on birth rates across the globe in his most recent talk from TEDxSummit. Intersecting separate data sets enable Rosling to deeply explain human patterns of population growth and reach surprising and fascinating conclusions about how we are born and how humanity will continue to grow. (Rosling has a lot to say and a lot to show us. Check out his prolific library of talks about data visualizations.)

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