Review of the Visualizing Marathon Berlin 2011

Students from the greater Berlin area gathered together on Saturday morning around 10am prepared to design and code away for the next 24 hours. The team behind didn’t leave any wishes open and prepared excellent working conditions at the selected event location Urania. After a brief welcome message from GE the students learned about the data set they will try to make sense of. The data consisted of German demographics and health care statistics. The teams were assigned with the creation of a visualization that reveals true insights from the data and communicates them in an accessible, innovative and elegant way.

The Presentations

Before the student started working, they had the chance to listen to two of Germany’s best visualizers Moritz Stefaner and Gregor Aisch. With their presentations, they shed some light on the craft, process and peril from their daily work.

Moritz had prepared a packed deck of things that would have been helpful to know beforehand. It truly was a collection of golden tipps for newcomers and also some useful reminders for more experienced practitioners. He talked about how position is on of the strongest encoding techniques, what the difficulties are when working with colors and why we should not neclect uderused attributes like texture or hatching. As always he inspired many thoughts and provoked even more laughs with his content and delivery.

Gregor followed with the presentation of his daily routine as a freelance information visualizer. He introduced a process framework inspired by the highly recommended book Visualizing Data by William Cleveland. His iterative process consists of the following three phases:

  1. Visualize the data using tools like R, Tableau or any other spreadsheet software to create sketches of what’s important, interesting or hidden in the data.
  2. Learn from your results by noting down all your insights from the previous phase and explain your thoughts with the according charts. The duty of articulating your findings helps you to hone the vision for the ultimate/final solution.
  3. Transform the data to achieve a more precise and more accessible visualization and therefore to draw clearer picture on the core message.

The Works

Soon after the presentations, the venue was filled with sketches on paper and whiteboards, laptops running calculations and enthusiastic people bouncing ideas off each other. The creative working athmosphere was truly stimulating and so Moritz, Gregor and myself couldn’t resist to start discussing and hacking as well. After an intense night, the teams handed in 11 visualizations that ranged from static information graphics to interactive visualizations. As I am involved in judging the works, I can’t comment on the works just yet, but Moritz sums it up nicely when he tweets: “I am really impressed by some of the works from the Visualizing Marathon Berlin 2011 #goodjob #toughtimesforjudges“. I recommend you have a look and judge for yourself here.

The Berlin chapter closes the 2011 series of the Visualizing Marathons. Charlene Manuel, of had nothing but admiring words for the students works, efforts and enthusiasm. I assume nothing stands in the way of Visualizing Marathon 2012.

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