I stopped in at the Eyeo Festival last week. Unfortunately, I had only a few hours to spend, but managed to take in some great talks including Stephanie Posavec, Wes Grubbs, Zach Lieberman, and also participated in the Data Visualization and Social Justice panel.

Posavec markup
The hardest working person in data visualization is, hands down, Stephanie Posavec. She calls herself a “Data Illustrator who doesn’t code,” and she spent 3 weeks marking up a copy of Kerouac’s “On the Road” to prove it. Rather than using Excel or a database, Stephanie used different colored markers and special annotation to gather the data. She hand sketches all of her concepts and hand designs each final piece. She describes this as “Obsession as a Design Solution” and I definitely think it draws her closer to her subject matter than most other practitioners in the field. She’s able to create a very personal relationship with the data and the subject. As she talked about her process, it was almost like she was figuring out what she does and how she does it while giving her talk. Regarding algorithms to do the same tasks, she remarked that what she does is unique and has no algorithms – “nobody’s figured out how to do that yet with computers, so maybe human is a good way” she quipped.

Wes of Pitch Interactive and one of the event organizers, unveiled some lovely new work for the McKnight Foundation. Somewhere along the line he turned us all on to the Open Worm. I cannot remember why, but it made sense at the time. His new work is not public yet, but it is an interesting look at the professional lives of a small set of artists. Wes dubbed the work “Data Art” but emphasized that it’s Data Art that is statistically justifiable, meaning that while the piece is aesthetic, each visual element is representative of the underlying data.

Next, I experienced most of Zach Lieberman‘s talk before I had to make a dash for my plane. He did a couple impromptu fun performances before delving into his talk. While he noted having a rough year professionally, he ran through a litany of fantastic projects. I have a feeling that a “rough” year for Zach is equal to about 5 good years for anyone else. While describing his year, he noted that we should love the unexpected, and that a professional career is like sailing. You tack left, tack right, and follow the wind. He presented a whirlwind of people who are using EyeWriter or OpenFrameworks (two of his projects) to do amazing things like SketchSynth and EyeWriter laser tag. He also has a forthcoming project for the London games that involves 73 miles of very large balloons. Think Patrick McGoohan without the weird island of political prisoners.

Last year Eyeo put the presentations online, and perhaps they will again this year. Look at their website or their twitter.

Kim Rees is a partner at Periscopic, a socially-responsible data visualization firm.