science | December 12, 2012

Jer Thorp in Mashable: "Data is Becoming a Part of Our Everyday Lives" [VIDEO]

"More and more and more, data is becoming a part of our everyday lives," Jer Thorp says in a new interview in Mashable. "We're producing so much data, we're consuming so much data, but we haven't really, I think, as a culture thought about that transition and what it actually means and what some of the implications are." How does the Data Artist in Residence at the New York Times suggest we do that? By making data look good, and finding a way to design and visualize all the data out there. It comes down to utility, he says, and so far, only the business world has been able to find ways to use the data available to us in meaningful ways. "I think that there's a huge possibility for humans, society as a whole," Thorp argues, "if we could share that data more usefully, for science and for the construction of cities, and for all these kinds of things."

His method for doing this, he says, involves a lot of trial and error. He uses a non-traditional approach to designing the data visualizations he constructs. "I always think about what I would call a 'data first' approach," he tells Mashable, "where I don't have an idea what I want this thing to look like when I start, and then the data sort of informs the design." Drawing from his background in science, art and design, he occupies what he calls a "nebulous region between those things." A divide that he wishes to close, or—at least—narrow.

"For me, I think there really is a division, certainly there's a division between design and art, and certainly there's a division between art and science. Science and design don't touch the way they should be touching, and so that's one of the things that I'm really interested in—using art as an axis to bring those two things together," Thorp says. The way he is able to incorporate all of those disciplines really humanizes his work. Something that, Thorp stresses, is extremely important if we hope to provide a medium by which the masses can truly see the value inherent in the massive collection of data accessible to us. In his work, and in his speeches, Thorp shows us the rewards that lie in discovery—and how making numbers visually beautiful can open our eyes to the wide array of information available all around us.