Adventures in Data Visualizations

Since 2014 the Master of Interaction Design at SUPSI organises intensive summer workshops dedicated to explorations into the field of data visualization by means of computational technologies and design approaches. The workshop is held by the TODO partner Fabio Franchino, and finely organised and coordinated by Serena Cangiano and the others of the SUPSI staff.

I took the time to dive into code (and into the charming lake of Lugano) for the last two years.
The workshop structure is based on design, coding, and making sessions. The participants have no design briefs or media constraints and the output can be screen-based or a site-specific installation or a 3D printed or laser cut structure (by using the nice equipment of the SUPSI Fablab).
Despite the methodology - based on three main activities: ideation, prototyping and design - and the main technology of the workshop - D3.js - have been the same over the two years, the two editions offered a really diverse space for experimentation.

During the 2015 edition, most of the participants worked alone or in really small and spontaneous teams.
Myself I was challenged for the very first time with the D3.js library and the pretty intrigued by the idea of doing something with it. The raw datasets were provided by OASI which releases open data about several environmental conditions, from air pollution, weather, light pollution, to noise and traffic in different areas and cities in Ticino. In the end, I’ve decided to use another dataset, supplied by another workshop participant, and team up with him for the ideation phase of the project.

The 2016 edition was instead charactered by the exploration into the field of Open Data and a strong organisation of the teams. According to Oleg’s Data Expedition, each participant plays the role in which he/she is strongest in. There are five required roles for a data expedition:

  • Storyteller
  • Scout
  • Analyst
  • Engineer
  • Designer

Oleg Lavrovsky, director and leads the School of Data Working Group at, co-held the 2016 workshop and introduced us to the datasets, portals, tools, and general attitude of open data research.

My team decide to explore the data concerning the criminality in Switzerland. I was one of the designers of the team, coding one of the displayed visualisations and working on the narrative of the whole project.

The narration guides the user through the interactive visualizations of data on the typologies of crimes, and the social and geographical aspects related.

The really diverse structure and approach of the two workshops produced diverse results and experiences. Whether the 2015 workshop was characterised by a big exploration of the tool - most of us where beginners - and a huge dive into the Open Data field; the 2016 workshop allowed us to play the role in which we were more confident with, sharing with a well-structured team the challenges and the expectations. The result of the second year workshop are better visually displayed and technological implemented, but to me it felt that we cut off the space for experimentations and errors.
The experience of both workshops opened an ongoing conversation about which could be the ‘best’ formula - if there is any - for these workshops. How to balance the interplay between experimentation and research with the need of delivering a working prototype with a consistent content in such a short amount of time? How to balance the skills and interests of workshops participants who don’t know each other and sometimes even the topic/tools/technologies of the workshop? Happy to chat about this anytime.

Final shout out to this awesomely intense experience and to the wonderful people I’ve met during these two years.

// Additional links //

  • to know more about the impressive results of the 2015 workshop, explore the whole workshop documentation by Serena
  • for a deeper and better-written report for the 2016 workshop, I suggest you to read this blog post by Oleg