Ben Fry: Computational Information Design

Ben Fry is a designer that specializes in data design, professionally said, computational information design. He uses data and visualizes that data in a way that tells a story or answers a question. He’s worked with marketing teams to display data and he’s worked with scientists and doctors to easily access different information needed for research. Not only does he work to get information out into the world in a way that is easy and visually pleasing, he also works towards designers and processors coming together and be fluent in both fields. He wants to get more designers into processing and more processors into designing, thinking that doing this will improve how people experience information. One of the projects he made that encourages people to start with code and learn it is one that allows people to put a code in and immediately be able to see what they made in a fun way. Even though the program he made is simple, it allows people to see results and how they can learn from their results and relate that to bigger projects.

One of his first projects was working with UI and that started his thirst for helping people work with software and making it easier for people to interact with data and how the design impacts how the data is read and understood. He continued on from there focusing on how people engage with data. He learned that people react well to data they can physically see and interact with, that peaks their interest. Information is better to read through plots, maps, graphs, and graphics. To put data in that type of format though, the design and the data have to work together to create something that shows the relevant points of the data in a way that is best to view it. To him, a lot of people focus on the balance of aesthetics and function, even though those aren’t the most important parts of the design. The most impactful is the audience you’re making the informational design for, the context of its use, and the time you have to implement the project.

One of the main things this designer focuses on is how the process goes for this type of designing. He says that you can’t put it in a rigid box or a timeline of how data is processed and designs are made. Most people start with a large set of data and the computer science and math side of things and then move what they have over to the graphic designers who decide on the visualization of everything. This may also be a reason why he promotes processors and designers to have the same roles sometimes so everything is fluid and nothing is passed on to different teams that have nothing to do with each other. Contrary to this method, he likes to start with the questions ‘what’s the question?’ and ‘what’s the story you can pull from this data?’. After that, he moves on to the iteration part of the interaction and the way the interaction is going to work affects how you do the data-mining.