Decrypting and Demystifying Data

Communication Design Studio — Project 3

Week 11 — Understanding Data

The Business of Understanding by Wurman

LATCH - Ways of classifying information is based on location, alphabet, time, category and hierarchy.

Each mode of organisation brings in a new point of view, a new way of weaving a tale. These different types of classifications render a new meaning while organised and help decode data in a unique manner.

Analysing Data Sets

What data is introduced?
The information portrayed is on meditation, the intent or goal of the activity, the types of meditation, the path or methods to attain focus, the origin of the specific posture or type of meditation, its benefits and its effects on specific parts of the human body. The piece also unfolds common hindrances, the relation between the mind and the five elements of nature, i.e earth, sky, water, fire and air. The data is finally mapped to specific benefits (cognitive, physical, emotional and social) based on the type of element with which it is associated.

How would you characterize the steps in the story?

The information is introduced in a step by step sequential categorisation of what, how, why and when style. It begins with the summary or objective of the information being represented as to why people choose to meditate. It transitions into the how aspect or the types of meditation and the medium (body, breath, heart, mantra, mind). This data uses mnemonics to show how long a specific exercise in meditation takes, it describes the intent of the goal of that exercise or posture and mentions the origin of the meditation technique.

The next chunk of data represented is a more vital and complex one that covers the why feature. It maps out the beneficial results that reflect of meditation with the help of associations and categories pertaining to nature.

What relationships emerge from the visualization?

The evident relationships that emerge from the data represented are the effects of different postures on parts of the body and its overall effect on cognitive, physical, social and emotional health. Each element in nature depicts a specific connotation and emotion based on its nature or behaviour. The Air is formless and omnipresent and hence it is clear and agile, stretching itself far and beyond. It is light and quick-witted synonymous with its speed and as it is clear, it is described as sharp and perceptive.

There is also an apparent relationship, not too exaggerated or stressed on in the second section, the Types of Meditation between the object of concentration and the time involved in finishing the exercise. The origin of the techniques also plays a role in categorising the intent of the practice.

An interesting use of hierarchy is through typography in representing the scientific validation of some of the benefits.

A quick look at the relationships

What do you believe the maker wants you to see?

The author intends to establish the what, why, where and how of meditation in a brief manner with pronounced focus on the benefits of meditation. There is a clear relationship between the elements, the ideals they stand for, their association with the postures and meditation exercises and finally the benefits they offer. The realms of these categories map out the benefits based on intercategorical classifications and categorial classifications. There is an emphasis on the benefits with respect to the illness and medical conditions with focus on particular areas of change.

Why is their stance important?

Their stance is important in introducing and reinforcing the beneficial effects of meditation in establishing holistic wellbeing. It also highlights the role of this age-old practice followed by multiple civilizations/regions/religions in enhancing specific skills, reducing and nullifying disorders and medical conditions and boosting one’s overall wellbeing. The information shown has been further mapped to represent the role of science in validating these theories.

What other relationships might be inherent in the data and of value to highlight?

The important questions the data displayed raises revolves around the nature and method of data collection, the percentage of people on whom it has had a beneficial result or a negative effect (if any) and the ease of practising the technique.

The other evident relationships are between the origin, the type of practice and time taken to master the technique apart from the time it takes to practice it. Another interesting feature to pursue would be if there is any effect on the object of concentration, the qualities of mind developed, the elements of nature and the benefits. The colour-coded mnemonic has a certain storyline with respect to the colours and the attributes as it transitions from the how to the why segment, however, the change of colour from light blue to grey seems disconnected.

Visualization Components by Nathan Yau

The ingredients of visualization can be broken down into four components visual cues, coordinate system, scale and context.

Visual Cues
The key components that constitute this category are position, length, angle, direction, area, volume, colour — hue and saturation.

Coordinate System
The coordinate systems can be categorised as cartesian, polar and geographical.

Scales can be selected on the basis of numeric, categorical and time-based.

Setting a context to the representation

Interactive Sensory Patterns by Stacie Rohrbach

Design strategies to facilitate learning are
- Pattern and Detection
- Representation using visual, temporal and aural channels
- Interaction and Experience

Pattern and Detection
The types of patterns used to represent data can incorporate visual, temporal and aural channels and number and hierarchy plays a vital role in sequencing and representing data effectively. The temporal building or the layering of information in a sequence can often help clarify and depict specific information in many ways highlighting the relationships between categories.

Categorization and Appropriateness are factors that can be driven by graphically, temporally and aurally represent data based on what is apt for the nature of information being represented. Some of the other factors that constitute a good representation style include the use of abstract and literal representations, pacing and simultaneity to decode information, Narrative and Indexical Structures based on the method of storytelling and the viewer’s expectation and perception of information.

Interaction and Experience
The interaction strategy comprises of customization as a means of navigation of information and a means of mimicking real-world or know behaviour as a way of helping people relate to the affordances and constraints of a design system.

Experience is determined by the recall and the engagement factor of a design system. The discovery of data that enables critical thinking helps shape up the holistic experience and perception of the represented information.

Sifting Through Fine Data

The task at hand was to go through the data sets we received and establish links and connections between the parameters and entities.

Week 12 and 13 — Weaving a Data Tale

Planning the Data Tale using Techniques and Strategies Based on the Readings

Determining the LATCH Attributes

Location — Parts of the Body
Time — Duration of Practice
Categories — 5 Elements, Origin, Four Realms of Wellbeing
Hierarchy — Object of Concentration to Parts of the Body, Four Realms to Disorders/ Parts of the Body to Scientific Evidence-based Benefits

Brainstorming Ideas

The narrative storyline begins with the goal of meditation established with the help of statistics. The aim involves mindfulness and social, emotional, cognitive and physical wellbeing. The statistics would help people understand what they would like to take away from a specific meditation technique.

The next sequence is a journey in an indexical format that the onlooker can travel through, determining the object of concentration and the quality it nurtures. The object of concentration on the x-axis forms the broad category which further unravels another layer, i.e the parts of the body which acts as the medium of practice. Some other layers and filters that can be enabled to view additional information are the time duration label and the origin label.

The actors or the categories in the storyline predominantly follow the ordinal scale as put forward by Yau and are categorised into specific hierarchies.

The next sequence traces the qualities of the mind that can be inferred based on the object of concentration. These qualities, based on their key characteristics are classified on the basis of the elements of nature as water, air, fire, space and earth. The qualities of the mind and the five elements of nature share a common attribute that is explored and enhanced by these various meditation practices. The story takes a narrative approach in translating the elements of nature to their corresponding realms of benefits i.e social, cognitive, physical and emotional. The representation technique here takes an indexical approach with the viewer having an option to further zoom into the specific ailments and benefits pertaining to each of these realms. An additional filter depicts the measure of scientific evidence that is available for each of these benefits.

The entire sequence can be seen as a path that one may choose to explore beginning with a specific kind of technique and following the benefits the practise may offer. Viewers have the freedom to disable or hide the tags and glance at all the other variables listed at every stage of the storyboard. The intent of the exercise is to help a user understand the complete information about a specific practice that he/she/they may choose.

The key assumption made based on research and the style of representation using colour as a connecting thread in the source site — information is beautiful was the relationship between the object of concentration and the elements of nature corresponding to each of the objects. While research proves that there could be an eminent link between the two variables, I found myself struggling to validate the fluid concept using substantial data.

Way Ahead
The only logical deduction from this process of iteration was to exclude the link and depict the opening sequence portraying the techniques with filters for origin, the duration to practice these techniques and the object of concentration. The storyline shown next would depict the benefits on specific parts of the body, particular benefits and relief from diseases and would further validate each of the benefits based on scientific evidence.

Week 14 — Finding my Feet In the Delusion of Data

The task for the mid-project review was to assign the coordinate system, decide on the scales & ranges and decode the pathway and structures.

Decoding Patterns and Relationships

Some key insights that I obtained from the evidently qualitative dataset are patterns and relationships established between all the variable categories. The patterns are described in detail below -

  1. The techniques dedicated to the breath as the object of concentration is most commonly used. The exercises involve the breath originating from the lower torso, be it the abdomen or the spine as part of inhalation and moving on to the nasal cavity in order to exhale only to repeat this cyclic process. The abdomen in the human body occupies pride of a place as the point of initiation of practice in most meditational exercises. The breath plays a vital role in describing techniques that originate from Yoga and promote physical well being
  2. Another noteworthy relationship that emerges from this dataset is the nature of the techniques by virtue of their origins. Buddhism adheres to the values of compassion, wisdom, kindness and patience and these are portrayed in the techniques such as Mindfulness, Attending, Loving Kindness for Self, Loving Kindness for Others, Silent Gratitude, Zen, Analytical and Walking where there is reverence and adherence to introspection on a person’s thoughts, words, deeds and actions. Yoga, on the other hand, aims to establish wellbeing through the medium of asanas or postures with breath as the guiding principle. A clear contrast in the intent of these exercises is seen
  3. Most Buddhist exercises of meditation are slightly more rigorous as they involve the mind and the heart as tools of reflection and thus the time taken to complete these techniques spans over fifteen minutes to forty-five minutes per session
  4. As one explores the filters of the object of concentration, the schools of origin and the duration, there is a vivid and distinct correlation between the intent of the technique, the aid it uses to achieve a specific realm of mindfulness, the ideal propagated by the spiritual school and the time taken to complete the technique. An example of this is illustrated by the technique ‘Silent Gratitude’ that helps a person ruminate on all aspects of life that fills them with gratitude. This technique is patronized by Buddhism that revolves around the values of kindness and thankfulness and leverages the heart as the object of concentration to banish all the negative thoughts that might creep in and focus solely on the core purpose at hand. This practice takes about fifteen minutes of focused and impactful meditation
  5. This dataset has a slightly ambiguous way of defining a specific category ‘Many’ and ‘Unknown’ under the schools of origin. Through the course of crafting my data visualisation, the assumption made about the category ‘many’ is that it encompasses not just all the listed schools of origin namely Buddhism, Yoga, Taoism and Sufism but many more and is represented as a unique category
  6. Meditation benefits the Physical realm of wellbeing the most, followed by the cognitive, emotional and social
  7. The social realm of well being is a subset of the emotional realm of well being. Thus if meditation boosts and nurtures one emotionally, it also improves a person’s social skills
  8. The benefits based on the strength of science outlines that most benefits are validated as inconclusive research. Only a few are promising or strong based on their research outcome

The feedback given was to prototype my idea and play around with a visual style that suits the theme of meditation.

Week 15 — Painting a Picture with the Data

Post the mid-project review, I started creating bits and pieces of my narrative. I was unsure of how the entire piece would fit in seamlessly and a major consideration was to avoid cognitive load and at the same time help users explore meditation techniques through various channels.

I created a rough wireframe to see how the sequence plays in and also used the series of wireframes to get feedback from my peers.

The review sessions helped me understand specific areas that warranted change. The catch-22 situation for me was whether to just have dots symbolise the techniques or was it imperative to show the names of the techniques alongside. Representing just dots would generate a cleaner layout while incorporating the names along with the dots would help people skim through the techniques at a glance. The peer-review session was helpful in solving the dilemma. A unanimous take on the name+dots approach helped me nail the decision easily. Another important point raised was to find a method to distinguish between the two parts of the piece, i.e how does one meditate and what are the benefits in a distinct manner.

My next steps involved looking at reference images and creating a mood board of sorts to put a visual language in place for the sequence and converting the wireframes into final screens.


Here are a few snapshots from my final presentation along with my prototype video.

Final Data Visualization

Information is Beautiful
1. Deep Breath — Tiefes Einatmen Ausatmen SOUNDS
2. Buddhist Chant — Om Mani Padme Hum by Meditative Mind

Interaction and Service Designer | Graduate Student at the School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

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