Philosophizing Data at Visualized 2016


Our belief, that through data we can empower people to interpret, and improve, the world around them, is couched in the notion that the importance of data is universal across all industries and trades. I was pleased to see this sentiment echoed at this year’s Visualized conference, which brought together practitioners of art, science, and entertainment for a full day of presentations around visualizing and contextualizing any and all forms of data.

All of the speakers offered compelling voices to their respective work, but I was most struck by the mental and design processes of three speakers in particular – insights from which I feel we can learn a great deal as a company.

Ingrid Burrington, author of the infrastructure guide Networks of New York, raised an important question that she was forced to answer while working on that book: “When doing data-driven projects, what kind of commitment or relationship are you willing to build with the users and audience of your product?”. Her decision to write a book in lieu of developing an app was largely influenced by her honest appraisal of the project’s motives.

Another truly insightful talk was given by Moiz Syed, data journalist at The Intercept. He encouraged the vetting of data sources the same way that a journalist would vet a source for a story. Ever-mindful of the various biases present in all data, he offered a critical reminder that “we frame what we share” with respect to how data is “aggregated, sampled and labeled.”

Lupi 1

A slide from Giorgia Lupi’s talk on Data Humanism at Visualized 2016

I was most inspired, however, by the words of Giorgia Lupi, Founder and Design Director of Accurat, as well as one half of the Dear Data project. Describing her own design process, she noted that visualizing data on a “small and human scale can make data more approachable, and reach a broader audience.” This is easily forgotten when working with the global data footprints of large corporations, but it seems even more essential at that scale.

I was fortunate to attend Visualized this year — and honestly didn't expect to leave with so much philosophical inspiration. As a company, we already do a great deal of thinking in these areas. But it’s clear that, in order to fulfill our mission of making data connected, open and actionable, our continued success depends on applying these frames of mind to all aspects of our business. I'm looking forward to sharing even more takeaways from the conference with our team here at Enigma.