Thursday, March 6, 2008

Complex Ways of Seeing

Thanks to Design Observer, I came across this great site, Visual Complexity, which shows many, many, different and beautiful ways to map complex networks. As I looked at the social network ones, primarily based on different web-based networking sites, I began to see how many beautiful, fascinating graphics we could create about the history we know--and as a result, engage many more visitors. Particularly in historic houses, as I work to create new stories, we're always working to create those connections--who lived in the house, who worked in the house, who visited the house, who came to the house for business, who people in the house knew in the community, where their goods came from, where they sold whatever they might have farmed or great would that look!

It might also help address a bit of the self-sufficiency myth that seems to still pervade many historic houses. You still hear tours where guides talk about a family that made everything...while at the same time talking about the general store in the same village which sold oranges and needles and cloth and coffee, among thousands of other items. I don't quite know why the self-sufficiency myth still holds sway, but here's one vote for more complexity! Imagine how much more interesting a visual representation would be rather than one of those long labels.

Some examples:
At the top of the post, DIY Store Receipts, Author: Graham J. Wills
A set of 10 million (no kidding!) receipts from a do-it-yourself store were processed, linking together items that often appeared on the same receipt.

Trace Encounters, Authors: W. Bradford Paley, Jeff Han
A social networking and tracking project--the brighter links mean more encounters.

Travel Time Maps, Authors: Chris Lightfoot and Tom Steinberg
A series of maps that use colors and contour lines to show how long it takes to go from one place to another.

Graphic Visualization of Text Similarities, Authors: Magnus Rebold and Jurgen Spaeth
A graphic piece that shows us, visually, the interactions between a group of essays in a single book on, no surprise, interaction.

Descriptions are taken from  More details on these, and other fascinating projects, are available there.  The materials shown are copyrighted by the authors and/or their respective institutions.

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