Better living through data visualizations? A new web app called “Spark” claims to improve your body through data viz. And art. And a gizmo called a fitbit. Whatever you call it, it’s both interesting and scary. If you have the time to spare (and, presumably, the calories), you can purchase the fitbit gizmo to track your every physical movement to help you get a very, very detailed sense of your physical activity throughout the seconds and minutes of your life. Really. People do this.
Okay, enough of that. What’s interesting is the use of data visualization to emotionally inspire people to keep moving, walking, jogging, or whatever people do who don’t have enough sense to ride a bike.
Upload your fitbit data (remember that’s the gizmo you have to purchase and presumably wetwire into the back of your skull) to your computer or tablet, log into “Spark” and you’ll be rewarded with piles of visualizations reflecting your activity level. In real time (using the fitbit API, Raphael and HTML5 Canvas). Please ignore the fact that Spark is hosted on a website with a url that begins with “QuantifiedSelf.com.” Apparently data vis is headed for greener pastures.
Sarcasm aside, Spark provides an interesting example of how data visualization can extend into nontraditional paths. More power to ’em, I say.
Stumbled across Bob LeDrew’s post on bad, bad infographics (the extra “bad” is mine). Point well-taken. Bad infographics, Bob writes, follow the same cycle as most technologies or skills that begin with a small group of people with specialized knowledge, then become corrupted by the great unwashed masses who insert their own opinions and tawdry styles (in the case of infographics and data viz, this would be opinions on colors, typography, composition and–egads–data). Okay, Bob was not being nearly as cheeky as I am–he was making a good point. Good infograpics have gone bad.
I suppose it’s tempting for eager designers to vomit up some large fonts, colors and a few rows of Excel and call it a day.
Heck, I’ve done it. It’s fun. I also remember learning Photoshop back in 1995 or so and using the hell out of the “Clouds” filter for a few weeks. And the day I discovered Myriad and didn’t stop using it for two years (still do).
So, where was I going with all of this? Oh, right. Bad infographics. My point–Bob’s right, sort of. But I also think that it is really, really cool that there are so many people out there that are actually interested in information. Bob links to Doug Haslam’s hysterical Pinterest board “Infographic Crimes Against Humanity.” I laughed until I cried, and then I cried some more. And then I posted some of them as my favorites. On Facebook, even. Really, I did. Sorry Doug. But the beer ones were pretty good. And then there’s PhD in Facial Hair. Made. My. Day. My beloved partner’s assessment of these two infographics, by the way? “I kind of like it, but I don’t know anything.”