Recap: Small Media workshop and VISUALIZEDio

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Small Media workshop – a 2 day event bringing together designers, researchers, and human rights organizations to learn from each other and create data visualizations to affect change. An amazing experience, it was also an emotional one. In my career, I’ve worked on various kinds of editorial projects - from archaeology, to evolutionary science, to climate change, to space exploration – but rarely focused on politics or foreign affairs. So, when I learned about the Small Media workshop, I knew I needed to apply.  I wanted to challenge myself and delve into a completely different kind of research. And boy . . . did I.

On the first day, after a lengthy walk through of the “best practices” regarding design and research, group assignments were made. Each team consisted of a representative(s) from a human rights organization and a combination of researchers, designers, and developers with numerous different backgrounds (web, marketing, editorial, etc). The goal was to create a data visualization from the data and information provided by each human rights group. And this is where the emotional part comes in. In many cases, the “data” focused on the arrest, abuse, and various other human rights violations against women in certain parts of the Middle East. I won’t go into detail here, but let’s just say that the statistics are both unbelievable and heartbreaking.

 Workshop participants listen to one of the group presentations. Photo by Mayra De Ita

Workshop participants listen to one of the group presentations. Photo by Mayra De Ita

By the end of day two, each group presented their proposals for data visualizations, the depth and breadth of which was impressive given the short time frame. For example, one group chose to engage the viewer in an interactive quiz to evoke compassion and empathy, while another allowed visitors to explore and sort data to heighten understanding. Each developed a different approach that best fit the data and message of the human rights organization. The end products weren’t perfect, but they were the beginnings of a roadmap for future projects, the first step in learning how to collect, interpret, design, and communicate sensitive information in a responsible way.

I am very thankful to Small Media, as well as the human rights organizations and designers, developers, and researchers that attended. I feel incredibly humbled to have been counted among such talented and passionate individuals. I certainly hope our paths cross again.

Speaking of talented and passionate people . . .

While in London I also attended VISUALIZEDiO (an independently organized version of the popular VISUALIZED conference) which, to quote their website, explores “the evolution of communication at the intersection of data, storytelling and design.”

 The speakers at VISUALIZEDiO 2014 take a bow. Photo by Amanda Hobbs

The speakers at VISUALIZEDiO 2014 take a bow. Photo by Amanda Hobbs

Over the course of a single day, presenters spoke about their work, methods, struggles, successes, aspirations, and inspirations. Sessions were interspersed with generous breaks to encourage people to ask questions and make connections with both the speakers and their fellow attendees. And there was plenty to talk about. Topics ranged from Kate McLean's urban "smellmaps" to Pascal Raabe's lifelogging to Valentina D'Efilippo discussing her new book, The Infographic History of the World. A personal favorite of mine, however, was the presentation given by Domestic Data Streamers co-founders Pau Garcia and Dani Pearson about their incredible interactive data exhibits.

To say that this crowd was energized would be an understatement. Though there was talk of a “data rave” to follow the conference (unofficially, of course), in my mind, the real “data rave” occurred right there at the conference. Between talks, at lunch, and immediately following the last speaker, ideas and contact information were exchanged, points debated, and approaches discussed. People were literally raving over the power of data. And I loved it.

Thank you to the organizers and volunteers - VISUALIZEDiO was an amazing experience, and one I won't soon forget. To the presenters and my fellow attendees - I hope we can work together soon!

To read more about VISUALIZEDiO and see the line up of speakers, click here.