After several flights to New York City were canceled from Chicago due to heavy east coast rain, I hopped in a rental car and made it to my Manhattan hotel over 13 hours after it all started. Exhausted? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.
The first Workshops Are Beautiful event took place on April 21, 2015 and didn’t start with over-the-top loud music or a standing ovation. David McCandless walked in, greeted us, told us that the workshop would begin in a few minutes, and assumed we were all anxiously awaiting the Wi-Fi information in the signal-free lower level of the Crosby Street Hotel. The coder-turned-journalist-turned-visualization-guru is a soft-spoken, understated presenter, regardless of the messages of his work, which loudly scream his interpretations of complex data.
McCandless is down-to-earth with an equally unassuming sense of humor (e.g., How many of you work in research? Ok, about 17%). But scattered throughout his not-too-serious, but entirely captivating talk are honest glimpses of someone who is passionate about his work with data visualization. He explains that he stumbled upon this career when he began creating visualizations as a data journalist, mainly to understand data with which he was working. This data could surround the number of dollars spent on military defense or the size of a country’s military program, to use his examples. What he discovered was that data alone could not tell the entire story so began looking for ways to turn numbers into pictures.
The workshop mainly focused on the purpose of data visualization and the process that one takes to get to those visualizations. McCandless also delved into what makes good data visualization and showed several examples from his latest book, Knowledge Is Beautiful. He also recapped some of the things he discussed in his TED Talk.
However, I was hoping to learn a little bit more about his process. Also, I was expecting to get more information about which available tools McCandless uses to create his many ornate, elaborate, and interactive data visualizations. Instead, he very briefly mentioned his company’s data visualization package, VIZsweet, but appeared to downplay it’s potential for public consumption. At one point, he posted a slide that listed a variety of both free and paid information visualization applications, many of which I had seen before.
In all, the workshop was a great place to get me started thinking about different ways to create information visualization and which techniques to incorporate into my work. I really would have liked to see more about his thought process and the tools he prefers, but since this was his first workshop, one cannot help but realize that it was rather beautiful.