Talk: “Datavisualisation: age-old, brand new” (Potsdam)

The great team over at University of Applied Sciences runs an interface design course for Bachelor and MA students which is buzzing with ideas, relevant research and a great spirit. At the end of the summer semester, students of the larger design and architecture programme put up a “Werkschau”, a presentation of all projects that have been conceived and created during the past weeks.

The show was accompanied by a series of lectures and talks, and I was invited for a short talk about the history of data visualisation – a topic which I had taught at the school earlier already.

Detail from the famous Ebstorf World Map, created ca. 1300 in a Northern German monastery

Detail from the famous Ebstorf World Map, created ca. 1300 in a Northern German monastery

I presented a few examples from the history of information visualisation from cartography, anatomy and statistics. There is a long history of presenting information in a visual form which dates back into the middle ages.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-07-19 um 21.40.03

And in many fields as in statistics, cartography or anatomy we are now building upon the work of scientists who have lived long time ago. In the Q&A after the talk, Marian Dörk (Professor of Information Visualisation in Potsdam) asked what design students today could take away from studying the “old masters”.

This is a really important point – and my first shot at an answer is: Looking at the work that has been done earlier we can understand how classical formats and conventions have once been conceived. And that they are always constructed in one way or other. Some conventions are so ubiquitous and well established today that they almost seem to be natural – which they aren’t.

Here are the slides from the talk, for those who would like to look at the old stuff!