Presentation of IConIC Project

  Dr. Simone Gumtau, School of Art & Design, recently presented design work for the Intelligent condition monitoring with Integrated Communications project (IConIC), which aimed to design a GUI (graphical user interface) to communicate sensor data monitoring ship engine performance.

moohna-in-sheffieldThe design concept is inspired by the theory of embodied metaphors and seeks to integrate a body perspective back into abstract data. The talk, entitled “Between Craft and Code – Exploring Affective Data Expression through Data Materialisation”, was part of the conference “The Politics and Culture of Data Visualisation” at the University of Sheffield on 10th October 2016.

The conference  was one of the first congregations of people interested not just in the technical execution, but in critical reflection on the phenomenon of data visualisation, and to position it within a wider context of society and culture.

The humanities perspective is investigating data visualisation as a new medium that seeks to represent ‘truth’ – but, it could be argued, in reality is far from it.

In her keynote, Catherine D’Ignazio, MIT Center for Civic Media/Emerson Engagement Lab, USA, called for feminist approaches to data visualisation, seeking to re-humanize data, and to include bodies that do not necessarily resonate with the default ‘white, male, middle class’ body. The notion of data biographies and data literacy were important issues of the day.

data_animationConference organisers Professor Helen Kennedy, Dr Annamaria Carusi and Dr Mark Taylor, Department of Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield, have said, “More recently, critical perspectives have begun to emerge, which point to the ways in which visualisations can privilege certain viewpoints, perpetuate existing power relations or create new ones, and play a role in the generation and modification of knowledge, cognition, perceptions of objectivity and opaque forms of governance and control. These critiques exist alongside the apparently contradictory belief that data visualisations are a way of ‘doing good with data’, making data transparent and accessible and so enabling greater inclusion in data-driven conversations and societies.”img_0644

The design work Simone presented for the IConIC project does indeed situate itself well within a feminist approach, as it utilised the theory of embodiment and metaphors to develop the visualisation concept. The idea was very much inspired by the body / figure of the engineer on board a marine vessel, who would have been able to tacitly understand an engine’s condition and might have been able to predict an engine failure through bodily perceptions, such as feeling intense vibrations and hearing clunking sounds. The data visualisation therefore sought to translate information from the sensors into an intuitively understood ‘off-kilter’ motion.

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At the Sheffield conference, it was particularly interesting to see the variety of practices in data visualisation crossing many disciplines, and while it is an emerging field, the question that seems obvious to pose is: what is data visualisation practice? Who are data visualisation practitioners? What skills do they have, and perhaps more importantly, what bodies of knowledge should they be aware of?

These issues and questions are now being explored and discussed in the School of Art and Design’s new MA in Data Visualisation Design, with a view of extending the practice in a critical context.

A full description and programme of abstracts available here.

IConIC work was also exhibited in the Eldon building last year, see here.

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