posted by Paolo Ciuccarelli
Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Minerva – Data visualization to support the interpretation of Kant’s work

Following the Food Atlas by Giulia De Amicis, we are glad to continue the series presenting the M.Sc Thesis Project of Valerio Pellegrini – Master in Communication Design at Politecnico di Milano.


Minerva is a web tool for supporting philosophical historiography research, born from a multidisciplinary collaboration between the DensityDesign Research Lab and a team of philosophical historians from the University of Milan. Initially conceived for exploring Immanuel Kant’s corpus, Minerva allows researchers to work on large corpus of texts by bringing together data visualizations and text annotations. Focused on the evolution of one author’s lexicon, the tool provides two main views on the text. The first one is a visual representation of the whole evolution of the lexicon across the different works of the author, showing and comparing terms frequency. The second one is the ability to access and work on the text by searching and highlighting lemmas and creating annotations at different levels of scale, such as words, paragraphs, or chapters.

Beside simplifying and speeding up the research process in the context of philosophical historiography, Minerva aims also at providing new ways of looking at the texts and generating new possible paths of investigation. The possibility to observe the whole evolution of one or more author’s thoughts as well as the ability to easily move across his or their works fosters a new kind of dialog with the texts: the concept itself of reading takes the form of an interactive and dynamic process that moves between the direct and close access to the text and the distant view provided by the visualizations.

The case study: Kant

The tool stems from a collaboration between the DensityDesign Research Lab and a group of researchers from the University of Milan focused on Kantian Studies, based on the exploitation of data visualization as support for the analysis of the text. The usual research work is based on browsing thousands of pages, looking where and how lemmas appear, identifying structures and patterns of evolution and other elements useful to support the reconstruction and the interpretation of one author’s thought. The idea of combining data visualization with text annotation stems from the will of providing, in a single environment, both a synoptic vision of the whole corpus and the ability to collect together hundreds of notes and comments in their specific context.

Data extraction and organization

The research started with the selection of 1000 of the most relevant words in the Kantian corpus that have been searched across the whole Kantian work (58 works, 4500 pages) using the Korpora search engine developed at the Universität Duisburg-Essen. After numerous attempts, characterized by a progressive refinement of the search criteria, a list of all the word occurrences in the respective pages and works has been obtained. From this list a first words/works network has been developed.

Words/works network

The network provided the researchers with a single view of the relationship between the words across the entire corpus, offering them a new perspective from which to look at the text. Despite an initial moment of skepticism by the researchers, mainly due to the high density of elements and relationships in the networks, issues of particular interest emerged. For instance, the Spring Embedded Layout, a type of circular diagram provided by Cytoscape (a network analysis tool), showed at first glance those words that appear only once in the Kantian corpus – called ‘unicum’ by researchers.

Since the purpose of the research was to visualize the evolution of the lexicon, making possible for philosophers to examine the data, validate assumptions and provide new insights for future research, it was therefore necessary to find a visual model capable to show the lemmas evolution at a glance.

The visual model

The streamgraph has been figured out as the most effective visual model, since its ability to show the evolution of lemmas (in quantitative terms) across the works (and the time) and, at the same time, to compare them work by work. A particular version of the streamgraph has been developed to separate the flows and to highlight words’ frequency. Once the data have been structured for this visual model some first drafts of the streamgraph have been realized using Scriptographer (an Adobe Illustrator plugin), aiming also at collecting some first feedbacks from the researchers, about the visual model and its readability. As a first result, the visualization has confirmed already known patterns (as the evolution of key terms in the Kantian corpus, such as ‘Ding an sich’ and ‘Noumenon’). But at the same time, the intricate architecture of Kantian vocabulary, immediately assumed a tangible shape.

The poster: The Atlas of Kant’s Legacy

During the research process, an idea can actually takes shape while exploring texts, playing with it and jumping through pages and concepts. The work of researchers can stem from the evidence of an enigmatic pitch or a word in an unusual context. Starting from these considerations, we decided to provide the researchers with a view showing the relationships between the lemmas evolution at a glance, as a tool to freely explore the streams. A poster, sized 200×100 cm, has been printed to work as an historical atlas of the words, representing a privileged point of view to examine the top 100 most important words of Kant’s production. HQ version here.


While the poster has been received positively by the researchers, it allows to examine the evolution of only 100 selected word and it does not provide a direct access to the text, which is essential for the kind of work carried out by the scholars. Thus, the next step has been the design of an interactive tool to browse and view all the terms and, at the same time, to directly consult the text. Starting from the positive results of the previous visualizations, and in particular the streamgraph view, we had the idea of combining in a single environment the exploration of the words stream, with the ability to work directly on the text. In this way it would be possible to search, trace and study the words in the context they have been used and to add comments and annotations to the text. From these considerations, Minerva has been conceived.

Minerva is a web tool that aims at integrating close and distant readings of a text using data visualizations and text annotations. A streamgraph allows to look at the evolution of an entire corpus’s lexicon, work by work, with the possibility of focusing on specific work or lemmas. An annotation system, instead, makes easy to approach the actual text in an incremental way and to add notes to any part of it.

Selecting one or more streams of words, the researcher can observe in a second moment in which parts of the works they appear, progressively approaching the written text (each square corresponds to a verse). Selecting a square then he can enter the text and read the verse (this step allows to switch from the synoptic view of the presence of the words in the verses to the corresponding verse, fundamental aspect for the researcher). Once in the text, notes can be attached to the verses, which will enable the scholar to build its research process. A structure of this type allows to compare works between them through different reading levels.


Minerva has provided a very interesting opportunity to experiment with data visualization within a context, the philosophical historiography, where the use of visual languages is still poorly investigated. The design process has not been simply limited to the technical implementation of pre-established requirements but has moved across a continuous and dialectical collaboration between the parties involved, generating a fertile and agile research environment. The achievements reached so far by the two actors involved are a promising starting point for further investigations and a confirmation that communication design can play an important role within the development of new humanities research tools, based on digital and visual environments.

Currently, Minerva is still under development, but as soon as the tool will be completed, we plan to furtherly test it and improve it, taking advantage also to feedbacks coming from philosophical conferences and communities, at both national and international level. Moreover, we would like to better understand the contribution that Minerva can bring outside the specific context of Kant’s corpus and philosophical historiography, as a support for the analysis of texts by other authors and within other domains.

If you have any comment, suggestion or if you are interested in the development of Minerva, please contact Valerio Pellegrini ( or DensityDesign Lab (

posted by Paolo Ciuccarelli
Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Food Atlas. Mapping and Visualizing the Food offer in Milano

We are glad to present here the M.Sc Thesis Project of Giulia De Amicis – Master in Communication Design at Politecnico di Milano.

Research and Analysis

This project aims to analyze a complex system such as the urban environment through the observation of the food offer provided by restaurants, according to the type of cuisine, and its specific characteristics. This study is based  on an in-depth Internet analysis of restaurant menus in the city of Milan during the year 2011/2012.

Information gathered in the first step of this analysis on food offer, led to identify key issues in order to recognise means of healthy eating in a growing and international city such as Milan.

The collaboration with a nutrition researcher from IEO (the European Institute of Oncology) was a vital and important asset to establish a thorough and convincing analysis in terms of nutrition and quality of food, ways of cooking and property of the ingredients.

All the informations and observations were shown by a series of thematic tables and infographics that describe through a visual and narrative approach a series of topics ranging from food offer to the geographical distribution of restaurants on the map of the city and the qualities of fish and meat offered every day to customers.

Here’s through Giulia’s words the description of her project.

Results and Visualizations

-The first step of the project concerns the global description of food offer, and answers to various questions such as:

Which different kinds of cuisines are there in Milan? How many Chinese/South American/European/North American restaurants are there? And where are the restaurants located on the city map? Is there a connection between the location of restaurants and specific districts or streets? In the first stages of the project I was able to identify more than 45 different kinds of cuisine, which I then categorized according to their geographical area and country, or culture of origin.

The informations related to each cuisine-category were then displayed in a series of maps, which show the position of the restaurants (displayed with dots), and the area of distribution (displayed with circles).

-In a second stage I carried out an accurate analysis of the ingredients of the meals offered by different cuisines.

From the online study of the menus, I was able to create a database of all foods and ingredients, offered in all restaurants per categories. I was this able to compare the food offer in different culinary cultures and traditions and provide an overview of the kind of food most available in the city, in terms of numbers and percentage (e.g. How often does a specific ingredient appear in menus? How many times is it possible to find “tomato” in a Milanese restaurant? Which is the most-offered vegetable/cheese/type of pasta?).

The partition of all the ingredients into alimentary groups (dairy products, meat, fish & legumes, vegetables, condiments & dressings, sweets & sugar), provided a series of hypothesis on the nutritional value of food and reveal many surprising connections and differences between the various categories.

-In order to identify unhealthy behaviors, a specific attention was dedicated to the presence of meat on menus; the visualization made clear that the most offered type of meat (red and processed) is also the most unhealty, as well as responsible of serious illnesses, while the less harmful type  (white meat) has the lowest presence on menus.

-I undertook the same approach to observe the presence of fish on menus in order to verify the offer of the most common fish sold on the market, and the effects of specific food trends on the consumption of fish (such as the explosion of the sushi-mania in the northen Italy,during the last 10 years).

The analysis of health trends in the Milanese food offer was detailed and all-encompassing although this project leaves open the possibility of further investigations as this is a complex and composite subject.

The thesis has to be intended as a form of visual-support for nutritional and alimentary researchers, providing, at the same time, the tools for developing additional explorations.

All the data collected during the research was entered into a updatable database that could enhance this field of studies.

posted by Giorgia Lupi
Friday, May 31st, 2013

Alberto Cairo: “Designers: Read, Read as much as you can. Inform yourself, see what is around you”

I had the opportunity to interview Alberto Cairo, designer and journalist, and author of  “The functional Art, an introduction to information graphics and visualisation” (Pearson), during a series of presentations he delivered in Milan at the beginning of May. I tried to explore with him some concept he deeply stresses in his book and presentations.

(Find italian version on Doppiozero)

1. Let’s begin with a question about your book. Could you tell us about who needs data-literacy today and who you would like to see reading your book?
Well, I originally wrote the book for journalists and designers. I obviously wrote it for my students, but I also wrote it with journalists and designers in mind. On one side I felt that journalists were not getting proper training in the visual presentation of information in schools so I wanted to write a book that would be friendly enough to be read by anybody who wants to attain a theoretical framework about how to approach infographics from the point of view of functionality and clarity. I wanted to show journalists or writers (when I say journalists, I mean writers), that in general, creating a graphic is not particularly hard at the basic level. If you really want to understand a dataset or a piece of information it is absolutely mandatory to visualize it. It’s a great tool to use when you’re writing a story, not just to write the story itself but to create some sort of graphics that provide readers with the evidence behind what you are saying.

On the other side I also wrote it for designers. The reason I did this is because throughout my career I have seen many designers who only care about creating a cool picture with  good illustrations, and a lot of connecting lines. They don’t care about the information. They obtain a bunch of data, and instead of worrying about clarity, about telling a story, and helping readers understand the story, their first concern is to create something that looks cool. For me this is good if you want to call yourself a data artist, but if you want to call yourself a data visualizer your priority needs to be clarity, and by clarity I don’t necessarily mean simplicity.

There are many graphics that need to be complex because the information is also complex but when I talk about clarity I mean it in the sense that you are trying to transform a complex dataset into something that is easily understandable and accessible. The other aspect is that designers don’t write. This is true for the many newsrooms that I have worked in. A visualization is not just a piece of visual information, it is a combination of visual and text elements, so you need to know how to write a headline, an introduction, and how to label your graphics.

These are the people I had in mind when I wrote the book, but I discovered that among the thousands of people who are reading the book and taking my courses, perhaps only 20-25% are actually journalists and designers. The people who are reading the book are often scientists and statisticians. I have been called to give presentations at statistics conferences and I always say the same thing. In fact, I will be at the US Census Bureau to give a presentation in a couple of weeks and I was very straight forward with them that my knowledge of statistics is limited. I know the basics, but the people in the audience will be high-end statisticians, so I’m afraid I’m going to say something scientifically incorrect, but they say that this is not an issue, we just want you to help us communicate better. So what I’m seeing, is that there is a growing interest in data visualization in many different areas, not only to understand how to use graphics to analyze data in a scientific or business context but also on how to use graphics to communicate your results and message to the public, often in a journalistic way. Data visualization is not just used to sell a product or something, but also to communicate what you are doing.

These are the people who are reading the book. I didn’t write it for them originally, but I’m discovering that the book is helpful for those kinds of people as well. I’m happy because tI’m seeing a growing interest in the area and that’s great.

2. Moving on to one of the key concepts covered in the book, form follows function. Can you talk about this? Is this always the case and, if not, can you give us some examples in the data visualisation or info graphic field?
Well, what I actually say in the book is that the function restricts the form. I absolutely believe that this is true 100% of the time in communication. If you are creating a piece of data visualization, the function (or functions, because there could be more than one), do restrict the form. They restrict the variety of forms that the data can adopt if you want to communicate. If you want to be a data artist then you are completely free to do whatever you wish. If you take the work by Jer thorp for instance, he is a data artist. I would not call him a data visualizer, because his main goal is not to communicate with clarity, it’s to create an aesthetic experience using the data as a source to create pieces of art. I think that this is wonderful, but if your goal is to communicate, the function or functions, restrict the form and I give many examples of this in the book. A data visualizer starts with a whole variety of existing graphic forms and then discards them until she ends up having two or three that are appropriate for the message or tasks that need to be facilitated.

3. Just to be more precise: can you share your definition of “function” when it comes to data-visualisation?
Well you have to think about what you want your readers to do with the data. I mean, it is not very scientific, in many cases, because you have to base your decisions on intuitions of who the public will be, but it’s a rational process. You can decide that you want the graphic to show correlation, allow for comparisons and show the graphical distribution of some variables. This helps narrow the decisions and the varieties down to particular graphic forms. Then you have some freedom in there to choose, but you don’t have complete freedom to choose any graphic form, you simply have a narrower frame from which you can select different graphic forms.

4. Ok, how would you describe function? Could entertainment be included as a purpose? As an example, how would you describe the U.S. Gun deathby Periscopic,? As I see here form not only follows function, but also emotions. In some ways they are dynamically presenting data, and telling a “possible truth”, by putting data in a human context.

Yes, I actually wrote an article about that. I called this “emotional data visualisation because it is not a news story. It’s an opinion piece based on sound data so it is actually appropriate for that purpose. It’s not something they have made up, that data is there. However, when they encoded the data, they didn’t encode the data visually to facilitate comparisons etc., no, they encoded data to show you how many people are dying, so they wanted to create a dramatic experience with the data. I think this is appropriate if your goal is to create an opinion piece but the graphics do not allow you to compare things. They have impact and this is appropriate is some contexts. I would say that this is also a function. The function of the graphic is to create an emotional experience.

(fig. U.S. Gun death, Periscopic)

5. To follow up on this topic, yesterday you presented some cases, such as Chris Harrison’s Visualizing the Bible”, which you defined as “data-art”. Do you have a “definition” of this or can you share some more examples on the distinction between data-visualization and data-art? Is it a matter of goals, or about how data consequently used and understood by the audience?

It is a matter of goals but the distinction is very fuzzy. I would say that the goal of Chris Harrison‘s, piece, as wonderful as it is, is not to communicate with precision. It is not a tool for understanding. It creates an emotional experience and awe when you see it. In this way it is very similar to the Periscopic piece. It’s not particularly useful to gain insights from the data, other than how many people died. Of course it is very effective at this, but it’s not a tool for understanding. So I believe that this is the border between data visualization and data art. A data visualization or an information graphics main goal is to communicate with clarity and efficiency, and then it can be beautiful. In data art, the main goal is not to communicate with efficiency.

(fig. Chris Harrison, Visualizing the bible)

6. Staying with the subject of “art”, I very much like your idea that data visualization and art are linked in the same way literature and journalism .To cite your work: “A journalist can borrow tools and techniques from literature, and be inspired by great fiction writing, but she will never allow her stories to become literature. That notion applies to visualization, which is, above all, a functional art”. So, in what ways can a designer be inspired by art for data-visualisations or infographics?

Take a look at what happened with journalism in the past. In the past there were many traditions of journalism and one of them was called ‘new journalism’ . This wave of journalism arrived in the 60’s and 70’s and it is characterized by the fact that they maintained the original ideas of journalism (to communicate with accuracy, precision, and tell relevant stories to the public etc) but they then borrowed tools from literature. They used techniques that were seen in literature, and at first this was wonderful because they wrote news that was not as dry as pure news stories, by creating a new layer of high aesthetics, putting style on top of the news story. But then what happened? This tradition went astray in some senses. Some journalists went beyond what was acceptable and started making things up, by writing what a particular person in a story thought. How can you know that, if you are not inside the head of that person? That is the limit. The limit is accuracy and precision. So whenever an aesthetic decision compromises the accuracy of the data, presentation or integrity of the information you are presenting, you are on the wrong path. If you respect accuracy, your graphic is efficient and looks good, you can worry about making it look more beautiful, but you should never trespass that border, because this compromises the quality of the information that you’re presenting.

7. Ok, moving on from the designer point of view, I also like the concept of “intellectual chaos”, a state of being for information designers / visual communicators. You describe this as systematic and exciting. Can you talk about this?

This is quite difficult to understand. The first piece of advice I try to give anybody who wants to work in this business is not learning data script or statistics or whatever, it is to read. That is the first thing. Read non-fiction, and read as much as you can. Read about politics, science, economics. Inform yourself, see what is around you. What I see among my students for instance is that they don’t read anymore other than social media. I’m on social media, as you know, and I’m very active on twitter, but then, besides doing that, I read a couple of books a week and most of them are non fiction. I read a lot of philosophy, statistics, science etc. That helps me understand what surrounds me a little better, and it gives me a lot of ideas for infographics later. So if you want to write and visualize you have to have something to visualize about so you have to inform yourself. The systematic curiosity is to read as much as you can. Get books, and read, read, read! There are people like me who jump from one area to another all the time because we are not that systematic, but if you are interested in a particular area, for example people who are interested in sports, that’s great, focus on that, but then become the absolute expert on sport infographics because you know so much about sport infographics, that nobody will know more. You have to have deep knowledge and be curious about what you do.

8. I saw you with some students quoting XKCD / the popular author of brilliant and sarcastic comics. Quoting one of his famous strips that says “if you really hate someone, then teach them to recognise bad kerning”, do you see any parallel with data-visualisation?
Yes, I teach bad kerning in my classes and my students learn to recognise it.! I don’t know if there is an equivalent for data visualisation. Maybe teach them why pie charts are so misused. They have there uses. In some cases a pie chart would be appropriate but when you actually make people try to read a multi-portioned pie chart they see that it is not very efficient. It is efficient at letting you see the biggest portion but it is totally inefficient at letting you compare the smaller portions. Once you see this, people realise it’s not the most appropriate graphic in many cases. I would say, don’t teach people how to see graphics, teach them how to ‘read’ graphics. When you teach people how to read graphics they start recognising what is wrong with many graphic forms, considering obviously who the audience is and considering what the goals of the graphics were. When I taught the first and second MOOCs I got a lot of emails from people who had never done data visualization before and the main insight they gained from the course is that they will never see graphics in the same way again. That’s great and what I wanted to achieve.

9. During the meeting with students from Politecnico, Paolo Ciuccarelli asked you about data visualization being temporary hype with growing popular interest in the subject. You positively suggested that this is true, but maybe this is a good thing.  Can you expand on that?

It’s very easy to understand. Every new technology that shows up is hyped at the very beginning, so when twitter came out, everybody was talking about it twitter, when Facebook came out, everybody was on Facebook etc..even Google + had a spike at the beginning, so every technology that is thrown to the market has a line going up, but eventually it reaches a point at which it stabilizes. I believe that this will happen with infographics and visualization, or is already happening, so it is hype because it is gaining popularity. It’s not new, because data visualisation is pretty old, but it’s been adopted by the public so everybody wants to get into it and do it. This is great because you will see many good examples, but also many bad examples that will help you learn how to create better examples, so that is a good part of the hype. The key thing is that this hype is not wrong, or useless, it’s just a new technology or something that people are discovering now.

10.To conclude, lots of people say “data is the new oil” / but what is the new gasoline for you? What is the most globally important byproduct of having this kind of access to data? Or, if we want to put it in another way: how is data-visualization going change the world?

Well, if you narrow it down to what we do, I think that the potential of using publicly accessible data, which is not something new, can change your mind about many different things. When you don’t have data all your opinions are based on hunches, but those hunches are only transformed into proper knowledge when you test them, when you compare them with what the information actually says. . Hans Rosling has a perfect example for this which he uses with his students, about fertility rates and populations, when he asks his students: what do you think the fertility rate in a place like Bangladesh is today? All the students say five or six children per woman, but when they see the actual data showing two children per woman they are shocked. This is the effect of data. Data per se doesn’t have any value. The value of data comes when you transform it into something that can provide insights.

(fig. Hans Rosling, Gapminder)

11. Lastly, Thomas Edison said “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”, Alberto Cairo says “Data visualisation is..?”

You could say the same thing about data visualisation! You could say that data visualization is the only way to understand certain stories or pieces of information. Is seems pretty straight forward but it’s something that many people don’t really understand. When you present people with a piece of information, and ask them if they understand it, they think they understand it because they have read it. But when you make them transform that same piece of information into a graphic in which they can see patterns and trends, or when you make them display the data on a map, they see the information from a different perspective. So I think that visualisation, as the proper handling of data, can change our views of the world that surrounds us.

posted by Michele Mauri
Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Behind the scenes: visualizing debates on Wikipedia

How consensus on wikipedia is reached? During the 2013 DensityDesign course, a group of students was analyzing the different positions on the abortion as family planning method.

To identify how persons with different positions interact, part of their work focused on the italian Wikipedia page “Dibattito sull’Aborto” (Abortion Debate). Wikipedia, in fact, is a place where knowledge is built through the collaboration of several contributors that don’t necessarily share the same point of view: the results are neutral contents built with negotiation.

The video below was part of the final keynote to present their project, “Unborn discussion“, and is the animated synthesis of the visual report they’ve produced.

We found really effective the way our students analyzed and presented it, so we asked them to explain the design process they used both to analyse and to visualize it.
The project has been realized by Alberto Barone, Maria Luisa Bertazzoni, Martina Elisa Cecchi, Elisabetta Ghezzi and Alberto Grammatico.

Observation and confusion – First phase

Searching through the page changes in Wikipedia chronology, the whole pool of changes has been obtained and taken in account for the processing phase. The first step consisted in excluding the ones made by wiki-bots, the spelling corrections and the format changes as they did not bring any meaning alteration to the page, thus obtaining 147 relevant changes out of the former 289. These changes were already divided by year, month, day, hour, number of bytes (added or removed) and author. Then the changes with a high number of bytes added or removed and the principal authors of the changes have been investigated. The first striking observation was that these big changes were not characterized by the presence of other related changes in the previous or following days, and that their authors were seldom the same. Furthermore, the different authors of these big changes weren’t contributing from the birth of the page: it become clear soon that focusing the attention on a single author or a single change was not the right strategy to find a way through this maze.

Img. 01 First bar chart of edits in time

Understanding and creating a method – Second phase

Interestingly, in the first three years of the page, from 2006 to 2008, there were more edits and more high bytes changes in comparison to the other years: the focus of the analysis shifted then from the author of the edit, to the discrete number of edits and its size in bytes. The first part of the page analyzed in this way was the page index. Since the page was started, the index has been modified four times: the first three times, only some paragraphs were removed or changed, but the fourth time, instead, it was completely rearranged. The best way to analyze the page changes was then concentrating on single paragraph and comparing through time its edits and orientation. Following this method it was easier for us to compare the edits made in the same paragraph, to see which word or sentences were changed and how it changes the orientation of the page. Page changes orientation had been classified as: pro life, neutral/pro life, neutral, neutral/pro choice, pro choice, accordingly to the meaning the changes gave to the remaining text. After having established the procedure, every paragraph from 2006 to 2012 has been rated and analyzed in this same way. This method revealed that high number of bytes changes, as for example a whole paragraph editing, happened mostly as a result of a debate gathering in the end on a version shared by the community. Concerning small size edits, it was evident a lot of continuos adding and removal of low amount of bytes: these are called “edits’ war”, mirror of the diversity of the points of view. The interesting point was that often this “edits’ war” was made by highly oriented changes, but its result was frequently a neutral final edit: this confirms the nature of negotiated development that we hypothesized as a basis of Wikipedia pages growth.

The last phenomenon that was possible to observe was something beyond the edits and “edits’ war”: the spoiling attitude of some users in adding off-topic comments and insults.

Img. 02 Excel tables of  paragraphs categorizations

Visualizing the wikipedia processing – Third phase

Img. 03 Sketches of the visualizations

The first visualization wants to give general idea about the state of the changes orientation from the origin of the page until nowadays. We compared both the discrete number of changes and the corresponding size of bytes as they add or delete contents. From this comparison it appeared that though the majority of changes was neutral, there was also a consistent number of oriented changes, especially, adding contents in a neutral/pro life and pro life orientation. That led us to the conviction that the negotiation proceeds through the adding of partisan contents imposing a point of view and a further restoration of neutrality.

Img. 04 Numbers and bytes of changes over the years

The second visualization starts with the awareness of the importance of the chronological sequence of the 147 changes: the result was a simple a bar chart composed by time on the x axis and amount of positive or negative bytes on the y axis all with the orientation classification.

More over the time expansion and restriction shows that the negotiation density was higher from 2006 to 2008: with time the discussion faded and the page achieved a certain stability, proposing a more shared and neutral vision of the topic.

The comprehension is guided by a line that goes up and down through the edits and “edits’ war”: this idea comes from the continuos adding and removing of the same bytes as a kind of tennis match.  We also decided to analyze contemporary historical events related to the theme of abortion; interestingly we noticed that the discussion on the Wikipedia page rises in the days following some relevant abortion-related events, as comments on the topic from prominent persons (belonging to the Church or to different organizations) or news.

Img. 05 Changes in time and correspondence with topic-releted events

Then  another visualization has been realized as part of the one described before in order to explain in details what words or sentences in particular were added or removed and their orientation.

Img. 06 Zoom in some interesting edit wars

The last visualization concerns the relationship between the orientation of the changes and the typology of the users undertaking them. The result is a pie chart that shows that the registered members of Wikipedia mostly changes the page in a neutral way. On the other hand, the unregistered  users identified with IP, have proportionally made more pro life or neutral/pro life oriented modifications

Img. 07 Changes by authors

posted by Sara De Donno
Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Visualizing the School of Design


Politecnico di Milano, in order to present the School of Design in its own stand at Salone del Mobile 2013, asked DensityDesign to realize a 4 mt x 2 mt poster showing the structure and the efficiency of the School of Design system at Politecnico. The visualization is a picture of the 2010 / 2011 academic year. We began with the visualization of the figures related to students.
On the left side you can start following the students path from the admission test to their bachelor degree, which is connected to data related to the type of contract one year after graduation (data referred to a 2010 survey).
We decided to integrate the visualization with informations realted to credits distribution. Every circle is a course of study and shows its typology of exams (theorical curses, labs, etc…) with related C.F.U. (university course credits). Inside it is shown the average of earned credits by students every year. In the right side you can see the same data related to master degree.
We also visualized how many teachers each department gives to the school of design.
The poster has been completed with informations about Ph.Ds, technical and research labs and the number of students for each school of Politecnico.
The poster was realized in one week by Gabriele Calvi and Sara De Donno with the supervision of Michele Mauri.

posted by laura varisco
Saturday, April 20th, 2013

Information Visualization on the Move. A Brief and Initial Overview

As new symbionts, tablet devices are part of our life by now. We are researching on data visualization and interaction on these devices and focusing on actual and future perspectives for dataviz.

Looking for mobile applications that convey information in a visual way, we found different tools for different purposes:

  • Reference: applications that visualize data as tools for share knowledge about specific topics as well as encyclopedic information.
  • Business: tools that allow users to visualize and control dynamics of data (mainly financial).
  • Entertainment: applications created for show, group, share or collect information about music, sports, movies or social networks.

We noticed that reference and entertainment applications are more experimental than business apps, trying to take advantage from the specific types of interaction allowed by the device.

We present here a first selection of examples of these applications, grouped by the three main purposes. The short description highlights what kind of visualization and interaction are used for each app. Some of the cases already suggest novel forms of interaction and approaches, but certainly there is room for improvement and for opening new research lines.


Storytelling for baseball stats: Pennant by Steve Varga

Pennant is an interactive history of baseball available for the iPad. Pennant’s interface allows fans to browse and view data from over 115,000 games that have taken place from 1950 to 2010. Seasons, games and events are graphically represented and visualised in a manner that takes them beyond the numbers. The app consists of two main parts, the application itself that lives on the ipad, and the data, which exists on external servers.

Augmented reality: Homespotter by Mobile Realty Apps

HomeSpotter uses augmented reality coupled with a smartphone or tablet’s GPS and compass to overlay property information on a device’s live camera feed. As a home hunter points their smartphone or tablet down the street, they see a view of the street and info on all the houses for sale pops up. There’s even a radar display that show the direction and proximity of nearby properties for sale.


Visualize, interact with, and share data: Spotfire by Tibco

The Spotfire App extends the reach of Spotfire analytics to anyone with an iPad. You can visualize, aggregate, filter, and drill into data sets of virtually any size, so you can spot opportunities and risks buried in the data.

Analysis dashboard: Roambi by MeLLmo

Roambi Analytics turns data and business reports in visualizations. The application includes reports for mobile systems that allow to touch a scroll informations on the animated display.


Collecting real time data: AntiMap by Trent Brooks

Using accelerometer and compass sensors, Antimap allows to collect and create own data. The application visualize real time information  about speed, rotation and inclination using a dashboard style infoviz.

Exploration into Open Movie Database: Solyaris by Beat Raess

Solyaris is an “exploration into organic information design to visualise movies, actors, directors and their relationship”. The application for iPad made in Cinder allows you to search the entire Open Movie Database (TMDb) collection for movies, actors or directors. Expand nodes to gather information about their connections. Learn about the cast and filmography.

Explore your music collection: Planetary by Bloom Studio

Created using Cinder framework, allows to navigate dynamically through informations about recording artists. Every star in Planetary represents an artist from your music library. Albums are planets, they orbit around their artist star. The planet surface is derived from the album cover art. No two planets are the same. Tracks are moons, they orbit at a speed based on the length of the track. The size of the moon is based on the play count. Artist are filtered by Letter to create a constellation of highlighted stars.

read more…

posted by Gabriele Calvi
Friday, April 12th, 2013

Whatever the weather

Whatever The Weather

An overview of the weather conditions during the last twenty years of the Design Week in Milan has shown that this has never been a lucky week for the meteorological weather. In 2003, infact, the Design week was even covered with snow and the average of temperature was 9°C: not really the kind of weather expected in April! The best Design week for weather was instead in 2007 when the average of temperature was 19°C: a really good time for an ice-cream. No matter the bad or good weather, we all know we’re gonna do a tour around the city during the Design week as it is one of the most important events for design in Milan.

Infographic made by Martina Elisa Cecchi & Gabriele Calvi

posted by Paolo Ciuccarelli
Monday, February 18th, 2013

Visualizing Controversies on Climate Change Adaptation
and Family Planning / OpenDay 2013

Our society is characterized by a large number of techno-scientific controversies which governments and individuals have to face on legislative, cultural and moral level. For these themes there’s no monolithic truth, but multiple truths, often conflicting.
Each controversy needs to be observed  and described following different points of view, in order to allow different interpretations of the problem and different decisions. That’s what students did in their Final Studio, the last didactical experience in their path at the Communication Design Master Degree.
Reproductive Health and Climate Change Adaptation are the controversial domains explored. Reproductive health is a relevant issue for governments, from a healthcare, social and economic point of view. At the same time it’s part of our private sphere: how can social and individual needs find an agreement? Climate change has been for a long time, and still is, a gigantic controversy, especially for its causes. The scientific community has agreed by now that climate is changing towards a specific direction. Which actions can be undertaken by governments and individuals to adapt to climate change? To what extent are we supposed to drive the adaptation of endangered species?
Students worked on three different communication outcomes:
1) visualization of structured official data in a poster;
2) a research protocol to dig the Internet to extract unstructured data and visualize who is talking about what in the subject domain;
3) motion graphics and tablet applications to share complex contents with some of the main stakeholders.

You’re all invited, come and share the presentations with us!

2013 February 28, 4:00 PM – 8:30 PM
CT61 – Building 8 (ex N)
Bovisa Campus
Politecnico di Milano
via Durando 10, 20158 Milano

posted by Stefania Guerra
Friday, December 21st, 2012

Exhibit your Interactive Data Visualization!

In the framework of our researches, we are focusing on interactive data visualizations, particularly on installations during exhibitions or special events. These sort of artifacts indeed offer a simple but effective way to make complex data understandable to as many people.

We’d like to share with you a selection of examples from 2004 on, among which you can find maps, interfaces activated by humans and real-time representations.

Floating.numbers (2004, Art+com studio)

Numbers are commonly seen as quantitative measures of entities. Depending on the context however, they often also have religious, historical, mathematical and philosophical meanings. Floating.numbers attempts to bring back this often forgotten or unknown layer of meaning into their interpretation in the age of digital determinism.

Documenta mobil (2005, ART+COM)

The largest art exhibition in the world went on tour in a 15 meters long truck as part of Kassel’s application to become the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2010 and to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Inside the truck in front of the original posters from the eleven documenta exhibitions so far is an 11 meters long interactive table installation.

Tech Stuff ( 2007, ToDo)

For the launch of the book+DVD Tech Stuff (a documentary made of episodes about techniques, artists and bizarre instruments that made the history of electronic music), ToDo was asked to transform the project into an interactive preview able to convey the identity of QOOB and ISBN Edition and through instant interaction and fun. To build a strong bond with the corporate images of QOOB and ISBN, they developed a concept of interaction based on cubic cardboard and barcode: 9 different types of cubes (one per subject) and an adhesive- barcode on each side of the cube.
Users could then explore the contents of a particular topic, one at a time by placing the 6 faces of the cube on a workstation equipped with a barcode reader, while a second location was possible to ‘tune’ with a simple potentiometer on several samples related audio.

Highly Adaptable (2008, Zum Kuckuck)

At the “Product Experience Center” of the Deutsche Telekom in Darmstadt, Germany, one can experience the productivity of the company’s network infrastructure through the visualization of data streams. Processing analyzes the international data interchange as well as the network traffic in real time, and reproduces it three-dimensionally, creating a cinematic sequence on a large size plasma screen, prominently placed in the room.

mæve (2008, University of Applied Sciences Potsdam)

The interactive installation “mæve” (MACE-Everyville) provides visual and tangible access to the social and intellectual networks behind architectural projects. The installation was part of the 11th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale. mæve connects the entries of the Everyville student competition and puts them into the larger context of MACE content and metadata. By placing physical project cards on an interactive surface, users can explore the presented projects, embedded in an organic network of associated projects, people and media.

Interactive city map of Berlin (2009, ART+COM)

Within the scope of the image campaign “be Berlin”, the Berlin Senate Chancellery commissioned ART+COM to create a central installation for the town hall lobby. ART+COM developed an extensive interactive media table, on which visitors can playfully click through the city. The Berlin-shaped, four-square-metre table surface shows a satellite map of the city that displays information on history, interesting places and Berlin cultural sites. In addition to the sights, one can also find life stories about the ambassadors of the campaign.

Pro Aurum Interactive Lobby (2009, Envis Precisely)

Gold vendor Pro Aurum commissioned this visualization for the opening of the headquarters in Monaco It is a permanent exhibition taking place in their foyer and shows data about gold production, trade and about the company itself in a series of interactive animated graphs. All graphics are composed of little golden particles that flock together in order to form shapes, graphics and text. The user can toggle between various visualizations which are shown on a 3×3 monitor matrix using a touchscreen terminal.

London Design Museum Installation (2009, Chris Boardman)

Chris Boardman installation featured as part of the Super Contemporary exhibition, and illustrated the history of the digital industry across London from 1994 through to 2007.
He developed a dynamically-driven, physically-interactive timeline that allowed to collate agency data and then just drop it into the app as XML at runtime. The public were able to control the timeline using a little round knob attached to the wall underneath a plasma display.

Salt worldwide (2010, ART+COM)

The German Salt Museum in Luneburg updated its exhibition with an interactive installation, entitled “Salt Worldwide”. It vividly tells the story of the salt around the world by simulating a virtual world made out of salt: there are 34 touch sensitive salt crystals spreading over the map highlighting salt concentrated areas in the world. When touched the crystals start to glow and from underneath the crystal grains of salt pour over the table and merge into an information window, which displays details of the chosen salt mine through text, images and movies.

Agenda Italia 2020 (2011, ToDo)

In the framework of Stazione Futuro, ToDo did also Agenda Italia 2020, which showed a flow of data and statistics on the actual italian situation (education, job market, public health, elderly people, internet revolution and energetic strategies) and generated a choreography of LED-texts lightly dancing on dark and elegant steles. Not much interactivity, but still an interesting experimentation.

Stazione Futuro (2011, ToDo)

Stazione Futuro was an exhibition for the 150th anniversary of the Italian state. It celebrated the best in Italian creativity and innovation, focusing on the pivots of change in the next 10 years: energy, environment, recycling, chemistry, textiles, mobility, home, food, communication, work, robotics, space.
ToDo agency made an interactive map of future food, allowing to explore slow-food districts scatterd all over the country, including regional specialties. Also, there were other informative tables and severals graphic to tell the prospects offered by endless small concrete initiatives.

Streamflow (2011, Elvis Precisely)

Streamflow is a permanent installation at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. It represents AMGEN, the world’s largest biotech company, which is a sponsor of the museum.
The installation shows a flow of data about the company, text and images move along a stream of light that spans over four screens. You can interact with the data by accelerating and decelerating the flow; to do so, just move your hands along the surface.

Max Planck Research Network (2011, Moritz Stefaner)

This multi-touch installation reveals how Max Planck Institutes collaborate with each other, and with their international partners. Stefaner analysed data from SciVerse Scopus for over 94,000 publications over the last ten years. A dynamic network provides a high-level map of the Max Planck Institutes and their connections; the size of the institute icons represents the number of scientific publications, and the width of the connecting lines the number of jointly published papers between two institutes.

Interactive map at the Hamburg History Museum (2012, ART+COM)

The touch-sensitive installation is the central element of the section The Harbour – A Key Stimulus at Hamburg History Museum. It’s a 3.5 metre square table interactive table that allows visitors to undertake an interactive journey through time and space, exploring the development of the city from the Middle Ages through to the present day. Visitors use a mechanical time wheel to navigate their way through eleven epochs and discover how the structure of the city and the landscape were transformed over time. In each period the most important urban changes and incisive historical events are highlighted.

Prism (2012, Keiichi Matsuda)

Inside the cupola of the Victoria & Albert museum for the London Design Festival, data streams from all over the city were visualised on the faceted surfaces of Japanese/British designer Keiichi Matsuda’s installation. The Prism installation took live information including wind speed, air pollution levels, traffic updates, the number of cycle-hire bicycles currently in use and even the energy consumption of the prime minister’s residence, then represented it with graphic patterns to create a “live patchwork of London”.

Emoto (2012, Nand Studio)

Based on approx. 12.5 million Twitter messages which were aggreg­ated in real-time, Emoto captured trending topics and how they were discussed online in an inter­active visu­al­isa­tion which was running live in parallel to the Olympic Games in July and August 2012. Each Tweet was annot­ated with a senti­ment score by the project’s infrastruc­ture using soft­ware provided by Lexalytics. This data formed the basis for an extensive profiling of London2012 which was finally docu­mented in this inter­active install­a­tion and phys­ical data sculp­ture at the WE PLAY closing exhib­i­tion of the Cultural Olympiad in the Northwest.

Porto Maravilha exhibition (2012, Super Uber)

As part of the interventions surrounding the renovation of Rio de Janeiro’s Port area, SuperUber was invited to create the interactive multimedia exhibition allowing the public to explore the new urban project of the Port area. Called “My Porto Maravilha”, the exhibition is divided into three moments: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, with installations integrating the architecture, technology, design, and content created in partnership with Concessionária Porto Novo, Comunicação Mais, Arte 3 e Tecnopop.

posted by Carlo Alessandro De Gaetano
Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Visualizing right-wing populism in Europe

This week in Amsterdam we attended a one-week workshop on the topic of online mapping of the right-wing movements in Europe.

Analytical undertaking
The mapping commences with the collection of the URLs of populist right-wing and right-wing extremist websites in the following countries: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Greece. The lists of websites are made following a particular method, referred to as the ‘associative query-snowballing technique.’ Queries are formulated and made in the local domain Googles (,, etc.), largely in this style: [populist right parties] and [right-wing extremist groups]. When the names of parties and/or groups are found, they are entered as lists (each in quotation marks) into the engine. This process is repeated, until no new groups are found. Once the web list is finished, it is compared with expert lists. To find expert lists, queries are made in Google Scholar, first in the home language, and subsequently in Google Scholar in English. The queries are similar to those that were entered into local domain Googles, through the web list-building technique. Any new group on expert lists is searched online, and if they have a web presence, they are added. Thus the expert lists add to the web lists. Each of these lists of right-wing groups are described, in terms of whether they are on the ballot or on the fringe, and their organizational (and network) form, e.g., centralized, local chapter or franchise model, cell-like structure, isolated nodes, lonely bloggers, etc.

The URLs of the populist right, the extreme right and the populist and extreme right together are crawled. Co-link analysis is performed (with privileged starting points), whereby those websites which receive at least one link are retained in the network. Each of the networks is visualized as a cluster graph (according to measures of inlink centrality), and the findings are described. First, are there other (heretofore) undiscovered groups found through the link analysis? Second, where are the sites registered and hosted? Is the network more local, national, regional or international? Third, what types of websites are there, such as home pages, blogs, social media, etc.? Do they have Facebook groups (with how many members) and pages (with how many likes and talk-abouts)? If they use Twitter, do they use it to broadcast (only to their followers), or do they use it as a two-way communications medium? Are the websites fresh and are they particularly active?  Apart from the ‘technical’ characteristics of the websites in the networks, we are interested in the groups’ activities, especially in their outreach, forms of communication as well as recruitment. Do they have radio stations? Is there an active music scene? Where does one go in order to participate in the scene?

Finally, we are also interested in the counter measures, the initiatives that seek to address the rise of the populist right and the activities of the extreme right. While this analysis is less extensive than that of the right itself, we are particularly interested in the ‘match’ between the right’s activities and those of the counter-measures.

Visualizing the process
To visualize the output we followed the logic of the process.

For each country are held on a horizontal line of a single poster all the main points of the research, from initial queries and lists building, to networks and social media analysis. In this way we tried to emphasize the process by which every “expert” of each country developed its own research, allowing them to discuss about the points of greatest interest simply going through it.

For networks, we have chosen to work side by side with the ‘”expert” of each country, letting him indicate which aspects of the network to emphasize and what to leave out. Depending on the specific needs, we have chosen to highlight the most relevant cluster or individual nodes through the use of font rather than color, which instead was used to differentiate the domains of individual sites.
The spherical nodes correspond to starting points, while square ones to new links discovered with the issue crawler. Different letters denote nodes of different reference categories (political party, organization, web-shop, blog, etc.).

We visualized the presence of each party or organization in the social media sphere (twitter, facebook, youtube), giving more importance to the quality of their use of it through the use of icons in a descriptive summary for each group. (what kind of facebook page? is it a single group or there are many regional dedicated pages? and what kind of twitter channel do they use?)

Generally, it has given space to add descriptions and additional notes directly on the poster, which could be helpful to the expert in each country discussing about the phenomenon of right-wing populist and extremist groups in Europe.