At any given moment on any given day, the FAA monitors over 140,000 flights crisscrossing the skies over North America. Can you visualize it? Probably not. Because at a certain point, when numbers become too large it becomes nearly impossible to visualize. That’s why I love this TED talk about data visualization and crowdsourced art. As artist Aaron Koblin says during the talk, “Our lives are being driven by data, and the presentation of that data is an opportunity for us to make some amazing interfaces that tell great stories.”
During the talk, Koblin talks about a crowdsourced tribute video for the Johnny Cash song, “Ain’t No Grave.” At eight frames a second, they allowed individuals to draw a single frame that would get woven into the music video, creating a blend of artistic styles that make the work undulate like a watercolor painting come to life.
Chris Jordan is another artist who uses data as a paintbrush, translating our culture’s habits of mass consumption into pieces of artwork that the staggering numbers into perspective. In this picture, titled Can Seurat, he shows 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds.Or consider this humble infographic from Good Magazine that demonstrates how much fuel it takes to power a single light bulb for an entire year.No matter how much data there is, if you can show it in a single picture or a single slide, it becomes that much easier to understand. Whether we’re planners explaining the strategic idea to clients or creatives or we’re creatives trying to explain the idea to clients and consumers, ultimately our job is to help people visualize the possibilities, because everyone needs to see how the idea can come to life.