Unit 3: Designing with the database

Designing contemporary projects often means working within the constraints and possibilities of a relational database. Altough a database requires content to be stored in a very rigid way, it does not need to be delivered in the same way. This unit asks you to design an interface for the 85,000 artworks in the RISD Museum collection without forgetting what makes the originals worth visiting.



We’ll tour the RISD Museum with Deborah Wilde. After lunch, take the remaining three hours of class to find two works that strike you, but are different in form. Observe the works closely and be prepared to describe the works in as much detail as possible. At minimum, address these two questions: what struck you about the artwork and what about its physical presence is important to retain in a digital format? In addition to a narrative description, make a list of the attributes that you would like to see listed in the database. For example: country of origin, colors used, location in the museum, etc. Think imaginatively and precisely. Because the RISD Museum is closed next week, also take in the space and the way the materials are organized and mounted. What characteristics define the Museum? You will present your observations orally on Monday.

AM: John will present contemporary projects that show database collections. The list of projects is on delicious:

Presentation of observations from Friday.

PM: Watch the movie The Gleaners and I

AM: Review database and assets from Museum. Discuss methodology for a design work. Broad to specific. Jason Fried. Simple first. What’s the idea?

Create sketches

AM: In progress review

Working from Design Center

AM: In progress review

PM: Visit New Bedford Whaling Museum to see Lagoda Interactive from Second Story and to talk with Michael Lapides about their digital archive.

Revise projects and present at 2pm

T F m
July 30, 2011

Unit 2: Data-Dependent Systems

We’ll see how traditional graphic design forms (logotypes, book covers) and digital forms are using data to shape their look and feel. Assignment: redesign an existing identity so that it is data-dependent. Below are lecture notes for unit 2.


Identity Programs

Check out Brand New for contemporary identity redesigns.


T F m
July 26, 2011

Unit 1: Quantitative Data

Lecture notes for unit one on the visualization of quantitative data.


Older charts
Radical Cartography
– French Atlas book
– National Geographic Energy printed piece

Richard Saul Wurman
– Understanding USA book
– LATCH Five Ways of organizing information. See article

– Clarity as the goal. Dislike of “chartjunk”.
Tuftue’s website
Napolean’s march to Moscow
Tufte’s dislike of pie charts


Computational Density

Introduction of code
Maeda’s work. Computational allowed what human hand couldn’t. (data was random)

Seductive by way of complexity. Do these most effectively communicate?
Design and the Elastic Mind
Mapping Internet
Annual Report | WNET
NYTimes Strausfeld illo
NYT through Twitter
Ryoji Ikeda


Information Design and Communication

Pattern forming. Simplification of complex information.
Point of view. Chart summarizes what the maker understands to be interesting. Complexity in service of idea and understanding.

Wattenberg Music at 19:40
Wattenberg and Viegas

Media/Mainstream visualizations are even more practical. Hyper-real and accurate. Purposeful. Today much of it is interactive.
David McCandless lecture
Journalism in the age of data Part IV
NYTimes (Amanda Cox)
Nicholas Felton
http://datajournalism.stanford.edu/# Chapter V.
Fathom (Processing)
GE Visualizations


Tools to create visualizations

Google Finance

jQuery libraries
Vadim Ogievetsky Protovis
Metamarkets Realtime
See more


Non-digital/physical Visualizations

Non-digital ink may be most interesting

Can visualize data in alterative ways:
Tom Friedman
Cardboard representation of the Times
Nikki Chung
Adjustable Pie-Chart stencil

Ocean data over time
When we were here tides diagram
Coffee By Week, 2009
Wattenberg Fleshmap at 36:56 and http://hint.fm/projects/listen/


Humanized Visualizations

Accuracy of a chart, but with something that offers an human touch. Not a cyber, digital representation, but correct all the same. Not having the appearance of the computer talking back to us. Can we create visualizations that are not just abstract vehicles for data?

Marc Lombardi
They Rule
– Ben Schott
– 2006 Calendar – Making fun of charting

Mix of quantitative and expressive:
– Bernard Rudofsky’s Buttons and Pockets (pdf)

See all links for unit 1

T F m
July 25, 2011


Data-Driven Design (WKSHP-1795-01)
Summer 2011
Rhode Island School of Design
– – –
20 Washington Place, Rm 21a
July 25–Aug 5, 9a.m.-4p.m
– – –
Instructor: John Caserta



Data can be created, stored, and shared more easily today than in any time in history. Besides there being a lot of data, it also takes on many forms. A vast majority of it is quantitative, or can be organized as such. Data may also be non-empirical — an artifact of something real — like scanned documents, digital photographs of places, or an artist’s oral description of a painting.

Data by itself doesn’t tell us much. It is a discrete bit that may be meaningful if chosen, aggregated and displayed effectively. The designer must push to find that meaning before taking action. “If you are only a reflector of information,” writes technologist Jaron Lanier, “are you really there?”1

Lewis Mumford, 50 years earlier, takes the humanist perspective further, “salvation lies, not in the pragmatic adaptation of the human personality to the machine, but in the readaptation of the machine, itself a product of life’s needs for order and organization, to the human personality.”2

1. Kahn, Jennifer. “The Visionary,” The New Yorker. July 11 & 18, 2011. p.47

2. Mumford, Lewis. Art and Technics. New York:
Columbia Unv. Press, 1952. p.14


Objectives and Expectations

* to recognize, conceive and apply data-driven solutions to design problems
* to become familiar with contemporary visualization forms and software


Course Schedule

The ten-day course will run as follows:

Unit 1: Quantitative Data (2 days)

There is a long history of effective charting techniques in print and onscreen. Although hand-made printed charts are still made, we’ll be looking at the surge in Javascript-based libraries, typefaces and custom scripts that aid designers in making interactive on-screen charts. With presentations of automated charting systems by Hanaan Rosenthal of Custom Flow Solutions and Spiros Eliopoulos of Tracelytics.

Unit 2: Data-dependent Systems (2 days)

We’ll see how traditional graphic design forms (logotypes, book covers) and digital forms are using data to shape their look and feel.

Unit 3: Visualizing the database (6 days)

A common design challenge is to organize the complete contents of a database archive — whether an artist’s portfolio, an online store or a museum collection. Deciding how to use the database to represent the ‘real’ is a big part of the challenge. Equally as challenging is creating a design that accommodates the data not yet gathered. We’ll look at artworks in the RISD Museum of Art and use their database to form a digital collection of the museum.



Grades from A to F will be assigned. The following criteria are used for assessment:
* Attendance
* Participation
* Motivation/Attitude
* Craftsmanship
* Depth of investigation
* Risk taking
* End products: success in meeting objective, both formally and conceptually
* Individual growth

T F m
July 24, 2011