The Art of Discovery

I don’t design dashboards.  I discover them.  Like clay or a blank canvas, their lines and facets slowly unfold, curves gently leading to arches, colors coming from the barren canvas, and realization coming from the wispy lines that join together.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the arts as a hobby.  Clay, drawing, paint, I’m not picky.  Sometimes, I see the destination in my head, but the forces at hand – gravity, lines that disagree, or an accidental blob of paint – often alter course.  Some rules just can’t be changed.

The vision in my head can be fairly rich, but mostly it’s a fairly low resolution sketch.

How it starts
How it starts

Some detail, but really just a framework, an idea…

How it ends
How it ends

Gravity owns clay every time.  Weight, strength, and balance will always win.  The statue became bulkier to accommodate gravity and more etched in to channel water.

Bridget Winds Cogley copyrighted artwork
How it starts (thank you not sleeping)
Bridget Winds Cogley copyrighted artwork
How it ends (thank you early 2000’s PhotoShop)

The point was a visual echo, something Photoshop let me achieve whereas my dying red pen did not.

Dashboards start out this way for me too.  When I worked on the language viz, I knew I wanted the colors to channel my old yellow globe.  I’m a language nut, having spent over a decade working with interpreters and learning more about languages than I ever imagined.  It was bound to end up as a viz.

The map that started the rabbit hole
Look ma, the map that started the rabbit hole!

As data artists, it’s easy to get locked into a vision.  This chart combo started out at the top and moved its way down as I tried to shape the story.  Now, this looks a bit different than the one that’s live.  I’ll let you in on a little secret: there’s a whole different version of this that never made the cut.

Sometimes, you take parts of a drawing and use it elsewhere.  Sometimes, with PhotoShop, you lift an echo.  Other times, you return the clay back to the water to soften and remold.  You can try to shape something to be what it doesn’t want to be.  You can force clay into forms that fight gravity, only to have it snap in half as it dries.  You can force a viz to tell a story, but then it only ends up feeling like trivia night: sure, you learn stuff, but it feels disjointed and only people who dig odd facts love it.

But, when you let the data drive the story, it goes more like this:

Bridget Cogley artwork
A pencil sketch.

A sketch that I can use on its own or…

Electronic reinterpretation

A PhotoShop version that I had in my office for years.

Happy discovering.


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