It’s easy in data visualization to get caught up in charts and graphs. That’s because much of our work relies on cold hard numbers. But really, any imagery that conveys an idea is data visualization, which can be helpful to illustrate concepts, if not the numbers themselves.
In the case of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose research deals heavily in complex sciences, conceptual data visualizations — let’s call them illustrations — are particularly important.
Christine Daniloff is the creative design director at MIT News, the university’s communications arm, and is responsible for illustrating its homepage. These illustrations set the stage for the underlying faculty and student work, instantly introducing visitors to the subject matter at hand — even if that subject matter is beyond them.
Using Photoshop and Illustrator, Daniloff tries to convey the content of an article in a single image. Given the frequent complexity of the subject, it’s not likely an appropriate stock photo even exists, let alone one that would do the concept justice. In order to reach the popular publication’s audience, Daniloff must first get her own head around these difficult scientific concepts. This is a tall order because MIT research runs the intellectual gamut, from aeronautics to anthropology, from physics to urban planning.
“The first thing I do is establish how this research or discovery applies to the broad audience,” Daniloff said. “I try and answer the question ‘why should we care?'”
Some concepts are more difficult to illustrate than others. How would you visualize human language evolving from birdsong or how the US immigration policy affects entrepreneurship (see below) without it seeming hokey?
Here, we’ve included a number of Daniloff’s illustrations, along with links to their attendant articles. How would you would approach each subject?
How human language could have evolved from birdsong
Chips as mini Internets
A safer way to vaccinate
Why innovation thrives in cities
Glasses-free 3-D TV looks nearer
Pruning the power grid
The high value of water
A biplane to break the sound barrier
3 Questions: John Gabrieli on studying traumatic memories
Q&A: U.S. immigration policy and entrepreneurship
All images courtesy Christine Daniloff/MIT News.
Rani Molla has a digital media master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School and is the editorial producer at GigaOM. She’s a journalism reader, writer, photographer, videographer, data visualizer and general doer. Follow her on Twitter.