List of Physical Visualizations
and Related Artifacts
This is a chronological list of physical visualizations and related artifacts, maintained by Pierre Dragicevic and Yvonne Jansen. Thanks to Fanny Chevalier and our other contributors. Feel free to post a general comment or if you know of another interesting physical visualization, please submit it!

5500 BC – Mesopotamian Clay Tokens

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The earliest data visualizations were likely physical: built by arranging stones or pebbles, and later, clay tokens. According to an eminent archaeologist (Schmandt-Besserat, 1999): "Whereas words consist of immaterial sounds, the tokens were concrete, solid, tangible artifacts, which could be handled, arranged and rearranged at will. For instance, the tokens could be ordered in special columns according to types of merchandise, entries and expenditures; donors […]

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2600 BC – Inca Quipus

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Quipus were complex assemblies of knotted ropes that were used in South America as a data storage device and played an important role in the Inca administration. Only a handful of specialists could use and decipher them. Their meaning mostly remains a mystery but it seems that color, relative position of knots, knot types and rope length were used to encode categorical and quantitative variables. […]

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1862 – Marshall Islands Stick Charts

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These physical visualizations show ocean swell patterns, and were built by native Micronesians from the Marshall Islands to facilitate canoe navigation. They were memorized before trips. The Western world remained unaware of the existence of these artifacts until 1862. The photo above is a stick chart from 1974. Straight sticks represent regular currents and waves, curved sticks represent ocean swells, and seashells represent atolls and […]

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1871 – Thermodynamic Surfaces

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A physical visualization by Scottish physicist James Maxwell (left), constructed over the course of about seven months, from November 1874 to July 1875, based on the descriptions of thermodynamics surfaces described in two 1873 papers by American engineer Willard Gibbs. The molded shape depicts the geometry of the three-dimensional thermodynamic surface of the various states of existence of water: solid, liquid, orgas, shown on Cartesian coordinates of the entropy (x), volume (y), and energy (z) […]

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1898 – Tallies Used as Social Displays on Pacific Islands

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In the 19th century, the Torres Strait Islanders did not have a numeral system and used sticks to keep counts. Sticks were tied to a string, forming a bundle (called kupe) that could be rolled and unrolled when needed. Kupes were typically used by men to keep track of their accomplishments, such as turtles caught in deep water, fishes speared, or adventures with women (as the one above). These physical visualizations were used as social […]

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1898 – Crookes’ Vis Generatrix

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Model of Crookes’ "Vis Generatrix" made in 1898, built by his assistant, Gardiner. From: Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 63, 408. The vertical scale represents the atomic weight of the elements from H = 1 to Ur = 239. Missing elements are represented with a white circle. Similar elements appear underneath each other. With this model, Crookes was trying to visualize the hypothetical relationship between various elements in […]

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1901 – Davenport’s Physical Distributions

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In 1901, biologist Charles Davenport "built" physical visualizations that show the distributions of features of objects and people. These visualizations were made out of the objects and the people themselves. The purpose was to explain the notion of statistical distribution to a lay audience. On the left image, seashells are piled up according to how many ribs they have. On the middle image, students are arranged in bins according to their height. […]

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1907 – Pin Maps

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Left image: residence of Harvard students 6 years after their graduation (1907); made with beads, pins and wires. Middle image: Sources of the 3,000 first letters of appealsent to Mrs. E. H. Harriman (1912); eight different kinds of pins were used to represent different kinds of appeals. Right image: collection of pins and beads made for maps. Sources: Willard Cope Brinton (1914) Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts pp. 227-253. John […]

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1913 – Frankfurt Streetcar Load

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Strips of woods glued on top of each other convey the average number of passengers carried between two stops. Each strip corresponds to 4,000 passengers.  Source: Willard Cope Brinton (1914) Graphic Methods for Presenting Facts pp 224-226.

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1914 – Solid 3D Curves for Engineering

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In his 1914 book, Brinton discusses various techniques for building solid models of three-dimensional charts and functions for the purposes of engineering, and uses the two designs above as examples. Although these don't look like they could be solid models, the text from Brinton's book suggests they are. The first one (left) is made of plaster and shows the characteristics of a light bulb. The […]

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1933 – IBM’s Cosmograph

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The left image above shows a physical flow chart (Sankey diagram) made of 1000 sheets of paper. It was not meant to be directly read, but to be photographed (see right image). The physical apparatus, called Cosmograph, allowed people without graphic skills to easily produce nice-looking Sankey diagrams. It was copyrighted by IBM in 1933 and sold for $50. Sources: Willard Cope Brinton […]

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1935 – 3D Visualizations of Power Consumption

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A large 3D physical visualization made by the Detroit Edison Company showing electricity consumption for the year 1935, with a slice per day and each day split into 30 min intervals. Two other examples from different Edison electricity companies are discussed in Brinton's book. These physical visualizations seem to have been used to better anticipate power demands. Sources: Willard Cope Brinton (1939) Graphic Presentation pp 364-365. Howard […]

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1939 – Map of Great Britain’s Marine Trade

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A physical World map made of copper and glass showing the size of Great Britain's merchant marine and the main trade routes as 9,000 miniature ship models. Exhibited at the New York World Fair in 1939. Sources: Willard Cope Brinton (1939) Graphic Presentation, p. 207. Life Magazine (1939) New York Opens the Gates to the World of Tomorrow. Vol. 6, No. 20, May 15 1939.

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1940s – Stedman’s 3D Periodic Table

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Dr. Don Stedman from the National Research Council Canada designed this 3-D periodic table in the 1940s. Stedman considered many factors and characteristics of the elements as he designed his models. While in this model all the usual groups of elements are found, changes from one group to another are also represented, and their origins are more easily understood. Stedman believed that his model gave […]

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1945 – Electron Density Map and Molecular Model of Penicillin

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Electron density map and model of Penicillin created by Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin in 1945 based on her work on X-ray crystallography. The Penicillin molecule was the first molecule whose structure was derived entirely from X-ray data. Dorothy Hodgkin later received the Nobel price for applying the same technique to determine the structure of the B12 molecule. Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-94) was awarded the prestigious and exclusive […]

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1947 – Dorothy Hodgkin’s Electron Density Contours

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Nobel prize winning crystallographer Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin created another physical visualization in the mid 1940's, showing part of the structure of penicillin. An original of this artifact is in the Oxford Museum of the History of Science. This technique recently inspired artist Angela Palmer for her glass portraits. Sources: Lachlan Michael and David Cranswicka (2008) Busting out of crystallography's Sisyphean prison: from pencil and paper to structure […]

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1957 – Proteine Visualizations

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Left image: The very first physical model of a protein (myoglobin) built by crystallographer John Kendrew in 1957 using plasticine. The image is from a 1958 Nature article, for a more recent photo see here. In 1960 Kendrew completed a higher-resolution skeletal model known as the "forest of rods". The model was 2-meter wide, made of brass, and supported with 2,500 vertical rods, making it […]

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1970 – 3D Sankey Diagram

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This physical 3D Sankey diagram shows complex energy flows and was created in the 70s by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). Little information is available about it. It seems to be composed of five layers of transparent sheet, with four additional layers running perpendicularly. Physical size unknown. Source: Energy Education References Wiki. Energy Flow Diagrams 1949-2009.

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1970 – MoMA Poll: Participatory Bar Chart

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German-American artist Hans Haacke created what may be the first participatory physical bar chart as part of a 1970 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The audience expressed his opinion on the question "Would the fact that Governor Rockefeller has not denounced President Nixon's Indochina Policy be a reason for your not voting for him in November?". The left plexiglass box collected "Yes" answers, while the right box collected "No" answers. […]

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1985 – Using the Physical to Explain the Virtual

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In this 1985 video, Rick Becker from AT&T Bell Labs explains the concept of "dynamic graphics". Already in the early 70s, statisticians like John Tukey were starting to experiment with multidimensional data visualization on flat computers screens, including 3D data visualizations that could be interactively rotated to convey depth. This video shows how enthusiastic these people were to transition from the physical to the virtual. Nevertheless, […]

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1987 – All the Submarines of the United States of America

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This installation from American artist Chris Burden shows the 625 submarines of the US fleet from the late 1890s to the late 1980s. The cardboard models have been suspended at different heights to look like a school of fish. For later single-datum physical visualizations see our entries on Michael Marcovici and the Ceramic Poppies to Commemorate Fallen Soldiers in WW1. Sources: Found on Loren Madsen's lecture slides Art as Information – Information […]

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1992 – Tactile Infographics

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In 1994 the American Printing House for the Blind publishes a short guidebook explaining how to convey infographics for the blind using tactile graphics. Part (and maybe all) of it is inspired by a 1992 book by Polly Edman. Sources: APH (American Printing House for the Blind), Inc. (1994) Tactile Graphics Starter Kit. Polly Edman (1992) Tactile Graphics

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1992 – Durrell Bishop’s Marble Answering Machine

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In 1992, Durrell Bishop, then a student at the Royal College of Art, came up with an original answering machine design that is considered as one of the first tangible user interfaces (TUIs). The machine spits out a marble each time an incoming voice message is recorded. The order of the marbles indicates the order in which the messages arrived. Messages can be played back by putting a […]

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1995 – Loren Madsen’s Early Data Sculptures

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Californian artist Loren Madsen has been making data sculptures since 1995 and still continues today. CPI / Cost of Living (left image) is the first of his series: A lamination is one year. Vertical axis is the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food; the horizontal axis is the CPI for gasoline + electricity. The rising center line is the CPI for housing. The 'snout' is the […]

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2002 – Scientific Visualization in Crystal

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Since the early 2000s, artist Bathsheba Grossman has been using 3D printing and subsurface laser engraving to produce 3D physical visualizations of data from astronomy, biology, math and physics. Left image: a piece of DNA molecule. Right image: a 3D map of our nearby stars. Source:  http://www.bathsheba.com (2002 version).

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2003 – Mount Fear: Elevation Map of Crime Rates

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A 3D map of East London where elevation represents the rate of violent crimes between 2002 & 2003. Corrugated cardboard, 145h x 540w x 425d cm. Source: Abigail Reynolds. Mount Fear East London.

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2003 – Solid Terrain Model with Airplane Trajectory

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A real case study involving the use of a physical 3D trajectory visualization on top of a 3D terrain model to analyze the causes of a plane crash. This case study is interesting in terms of cost-benefit analysis, since these models appear to be extremely time-consuming to build. The case study includes an informal comparison with animations: "The mock jurors later related that the physical model […]

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2003 – Time Pieces: Physical Space-Time Cubes

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Artist Marilynn Taylor created seven three-dimensional maps (one for each day of the week) in which time is the z-axis and a copper wire shows how she moved across the city during the day. Source: Maryline Taylor (2003) Time pieces – Mapping the time and space of place (2003 version).

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2004 – Full-Color 3D-Printed Scientific Visualizations

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As early as 2004, the Visualization Research Lab from Brown University printed full-color 3D models of scientific visualizations. They published a poster on the topic where they discuss the technical challenges they faced. The printer used was a Zcorp Z406. Source: http://vis.cs.brown.edu/areas/projects/rapid.html

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2004 – Modern Molecule Models

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Since 2004 the Molecular Graphics Laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute has been making heavy use of 3D-printed full-color physical molecule models, some of which are articulated (left image), flexible (middle image), and even self-assembling (right image, see video). They also publish augmented reality systems that use those physical models. Sources: Web Page: http://mgl.scripps.edu/projects/tangible_models Tommy Toy (2011) How Arthur Olson's Molecular Graphics Lab at Scripps is Using […]

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2004 – Cylinder: Early Sound Sculpture

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Cylinder by Andy Huntington and Drew Allan may be one of the first digitally-fabricated sound sculptures. Also see our entry 2007 – Explosion of sound sculptures. Source: http://extraversion.co.uk/2003/cylinder/

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2004 – Of All the People in All the World: Stats with Rice

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Since around 2004 the British group of artists Stan's Cafe is creating data landscapes all over the world by mapping each grain of rice to a person in order to convey various statistics such as city populations or deaths in the holocaust. The size and theme of the show change depending on the location. The largest one involved 104 tons of rice. Rice is weighted manually in small quantities and manually poured over piles. This labor-intensive process is […]

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2004 – Worry (Prayer) Beads

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One bead = one year. Size of colored beads is proportional to number of terrorist-caused deaths. Black beads = no terrorist deaths. The largest bead is 2001. Also see Loren Madsen's earlier piece Tops (2001) featuring the same dataset, our entry 1995 – Loren Madsen’s Early Data Sculptures, and our interview with the artist. Sources: Loren Madsen  

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2005 – Time-Evolving Scatterplot

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Unemployment rate plotted against inflation for 8 countries over 10 years. Every layer represents a year and each country is a wire of a different color. This physical visualization was built by Tim Dwyer for his PhD dissertation. His goal was to experimentally compare a 3D and a 2D data representation, and he used a physical object to emulate a perfect 3D display. Source: Tim Dwyer […]

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2006 – Inverted Participatory Bar Charts

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Participatory physical visualization where people pick badges from tanks to vote. A lower bar means more votes. Source: Lucy Kimbell (2006). Physical Bar Charts.

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2006 – Nathalie Miebach’s Woven Sculptures

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Artist Nathalie Miebach created a range of beautiful woven sculptures out of weather data. Source: Nathalie Miebach. http://www.nathaliemiebach.com/weather.html (see TED Talk).

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2006 – RoomQuake: Earthquake Visualization for the Classroom

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Styrofoam balls hung from classroom ceiling representing the epicenters (location), magnitudes (diameter and color), and depths (length of the string) of a series of simulated earthquakes in a fifth grade classroom.  Source: Tom Moher (2006) Embedded Phenomena: Supporting Science Learning with Classroom-sized Distributed Simulations.

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2007 – Wable: Web Behavior Shown with a Dynamic Bar Chart

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A dynamic bar chart visualizing one's online activity. From the company's website: The personal feeds from webapplications like Plazes, Flickr, and Last.fm tell much about the activity of an individual on the internet. In this project we aim to explore how you can visualize the changes of your web identity over time and create a physical link between your virtual and real identity. The interface consists of both […]

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2007 – Global Cities: Elevation Maps of City Population

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Large-scale physical density models where plywood forms represent the populations of 12 of the world’s major urban centres. Made by a team of designers and architects led by Professor Richard Burdett. Source: Eliza Williams (2007) Global Cities at Tate Modern. Right photo by Stefan Geens.

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2007 – Explosion of Sound Sculptures

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In 2007-2008, sound became an endless source of inspiration for data sculptors. Examples include (images from left to right): Binaural by Daniel Widrig & Shajay Bhooshan (2007) Sound/Chair by Plummer Fernandez (2008) Sound Memory by Marius Watz (2008) Reflection by Andreas Nicolas Fischer & Benjamin Maus (2008) I Will Never Change by Us by Benga (2012) Microsonic Landscapes by Juan Manuel de J. Escalante (2012) Spectral Density Estimation […]

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2008 – Kids Reconstruct Harry Potter’s Social Network

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At the 2008 science fair (fête de la science), the Aviz group had kids build physical node-link diagrams of Harry Potter's social network using magnets and rubber bands. Source: Aviz. http://www.aviz.fr/old/fetedelascience08/

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2008 – Scientific Visualization in Crystal

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Paul Bourke proposes to use sub-surface laser engraving for communicating about scientific findings at conferences. He also has seminar slides and a poster discussing the use of 3D-printed models. Source: Paul Bourke (2008) Presenting Scientific Visualisation Results as 3D Crystal Engravings.

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2008 – Justin Stewart’s Data Sculptures

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A 3-D graph and a time series visualization. Source: http://thesocietypages.org/graphicsociology/tag/r-justin-stewart/

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2008 – Joshua Callaghan’s Physical Charts

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Joshua Callaghan has created various extruded 2-D charts. Source: http://www.joshuacallaghan.com/Graphs.htm

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2008 – Andreas Fischers’ Data Sculptures

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Andreas Nicolas Fischer is a Berlin-based artist. Above are four of his 3-D data sculptures: Fundament (world GDP and derivatives volume) Indizes (finance data over time) A week in the life (cellphone communications) Reflection (FFT of a music piece). Source: http://anfischer.com via infosthetics.

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2008 – Rearrangeable Wooden Model of Brain Scan

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A selection of MRI data glued on 60 wooden blocks which allow to physically dig into cross sections, by Neil Fraser. More details on infosthetics. Source: infosthetics.com.

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2008 – Activity Logging with LEGO Bricks

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A visualization and logging method for personal work activity. Every tower is a day of the week. A layer is one working hour, horizontally subdivided in four quarters of an hour. Different colors are different projects. The constant availability of this interface makes it easier to log personal activity data on-the-fly, before entering it in a PIM software (an automatic method involving computer vision is […]

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2008 – Bug Tracking with LEGO Bricks

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Takeshi Kakeda explains how to use LEGO bricks for bug tracking. Source: Takeshi Kakeda (2008) Tangible Bug Tracking using LEGO bricks. Agile 2008 conference.

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2008 – Psychogeographical Mapping: Travel Logging with LEGO bricks

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American artist Cory Imig reconstructed the layout of the city of Savannah using LEGO bricks, and over the course of one month she added a colored brick every time she went to a particular place. Each color is a different day of the week. Source: Cory Imig (2008) Psychogeographical Mapping (see the section Documenting of her Web page for more data sculptures).

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2009 – Virtual Gravity: Giving Physical Weight to Data

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Virtual gravity is an interface between digital and analog world. With the aid of analog carriers, virtual terms can be taken up and transported from a loading screen to an analog scale. The importance and popularity of these terms (data base: Google Insights for Search), outputted as a virtual weight, can be weighed physically and compared. Therefore impalpable, digital data get an actual physical […]

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2009 – Pulse: Animated Heart Shows Sentiments

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pulse is a live-visualization of recent emotional expressions, written on private weblog communities like blogger.com. Weblog entries are compared to a list of emotions, which refers to Robert Plutchik’s seminal book Psychoevolutionary Theory of Emotion published in 1980. Plutchik describes eight basic human emotions in his book: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation. He developed a diagram in which these eight emotions, together […]

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2009 – Poly: Physical Bar Chart Showing Online Poll Data

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Poly, a self-actuated bar chart which shows replies to online polls. Sources: Digit, London. Original polling website is down [Oct 2014]; check out an archived version instead.

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2009 – Form Follows Data: Tableware

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This set of tableware by designer Iohanna Pani conveys personal statistical data. Source: designboom

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2009 – In-Formed: More Data-Driven Tableware

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Another data-driven tableware, this time conveying world statistics. The fork on the image shows calories consumption for the US and three other countries. Source: Nadeem Haidary.

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2009 – DataMorphose: Animated Sails

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DataMorphose is an interactive installation which projects various data streams into real space and visualizes it three-dimensionally. Information is represented by spanned and moving sails directly in the room. Source: Christiane Keller (2009). Data Morphose.

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2009 – Centograph: Dynamic Bar Charts Show Keyword Popularity

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Ten actuacted bar charts that show the popularity of keywords of interest in news articles over time, made by the company Tinker from London. A separate search interface is provided on a regular desktop computer and sends queries to the Google News Archive. It is permanently installed in the St Paul's School for Boys Computing Department in London.  Sources: infosthetics Tinker London  

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2009 – Mitchell Whitelaw’s Weather Sculptures

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Weather data is another interesting choice for creating data jewelry. Above to the left is a bracelet created by Mitchell Whitelaw based on one year of weather data from Canberra. The right image shows a measuring cup made by the same artist, where each ring represents monthly average temperatures in Sydney over 150 years. Sources: Mitchell Whitelaw. Weather Bracelet (2009) Mitchell Whitelaw. Measuring Cup (2010)

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2009 – Leithinger’s Interactive Shape Displays

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Daniel Leithinger, PhD student at MIT MediaLab and his colleagues, are studying interaction with shape displays. The team designed two impressive shape displays made of arrays of ultra-fast motorized pins. Relief (2009-2010, first row above) is made of 120 motorized pins on top of which can be added a rubber sheet and a projected image. Each pin can be addressed individually and senses user input like pulling and pushing. […]

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2009 – Single-Datum Physical Visualizations

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Vienna artist Michael Marcovici created two physical visualizations that convey a single numerical value. The first one shows one billion dollar – the most expensive piece of art ever made, according to him (although these were actually miniature bills). The second one called Rolex Time Sand shows an entire lifetime worth of hourglass sand. For another single-datum physical visualization see our entry Ceramic Poppies to Commemorate Fallen Soldiers in […]

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2009 – Windcuts: Wind Travels Captured on Wood

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Windcuts is a physical information visualisation retelling the Helsinki wind's travels over five days, using wind sensor measurements from Helsinki, and wood and a CNC machine to cut it from there too. […] The line's direction shows the wind's direction, the line's width shows the wind's speed – a more intense wind makes a bigger line – and the line's height shows the wind's temperature.  […]

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2010 – Keyboard Frequency Sculpture

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A 3D bar chart on top of a keyboard which shows the frequency of each letter in the alphabet. Source: Michael Knuepfel. Keyboard Frequency Sculpture.

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2010 – Dynamic Bar Chart to Visualize One’s Finances

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A design project by Swedish designer Hampus Edström to help people keeping an overview of their financial situation. Sources: Hampus Edström, project presentation. Yanko Design blog.

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2010 – Relational Ornaments: Networks Shown with Textile

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Textile art based on the network maps of Valdis Krebs.  Gundega Strautmane, a Latvian textile artist and designer, visualizes social and physical networks in a show called Relational Ornaments. The networks are created using various sized pins to depict nodes and threads connecting them to show relationships. Bringing visualization into the tactile world lends it a weight not able to be achieved on a […]

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2010 – Limbique: Brain Slices

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A neuroscientific physical visualization made by an artist and a neuroscientist. Exhibited at the at the VisWeek 2011 art show. Source: David Paulsen and Pinar Yoldas. Photo by Samuel Huron.

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2010 – eCLOUD & airFIELD: Ambient Airport Visualizations

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Left image: eCLOUD is an airport installation at the San Jose International Airport created by Dan Goods, Nik Hafermaas, and Aaron Koblin. It is made of many large LCD pixels laid out in 3D space whose opacity change as a function of weather. Right image: A similar installation called airFIELD was created by the same team two years later. It shows air traffic and is installed at the Hartsfield-Jackson […]

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2010 – Thematic Maps of Germany

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Physical cartographic visualizations built by geographer Wolf-Dieter Rase with a Z650 printer. Left: average prices for building lots in Germany in 2006. Middle: unemployment in Germany in 2006; The surface represent trends, the columns represent local deviations from the trends (magenta means higher, cyan means lower). Right: travel distance to airports. Source: Wolf-Dieter Rase (2012) Creating Physical 3D Maps Using Rapid Prototyping Techniques.

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2010 – Hans Rosling Adopts Physical Visualizations

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Hans Rosling is famous worldwide for his fascinating speeches about population growth and income inequalities, notably his 2006 TED Talk where he debunks myths about the third world using animated charts. In 2010 he started to tell stories about data using physical visualizations. He started by stacking Ikea boxes, then switched to a variety familiar objects including pebbles, toy construction kits, fruit juice, snow balls and even toilet […]

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2010 – Data Sculptures in Class

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The two data sculptures above have been created by undergraduate students as part of a design class given by Andrew Vande Moere at the University of Sydney. A 2010 article he coauthored with Stephanie Patel (link below) provides many other examples of these. Andrew Vande Moere has published several articles on data sculptures since 2008. Sources: Andrew Vande Moere and Stephanie Patel (2010) The Physical Visualization of Information: […]

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2010 – Dust Serenade: Sound Waves Materialized

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'Dust Serenade' is a reenactment of an acoustic experiment done by German physicist August Kundt. Inspired by the Chladni's famous sand figures visualizing sound waves in solid materials, Kundt devised an experiment for visualizing longitudinal sound waves through fine lycopodium dust; a setup that would allow him to measure the speed of sound in different gases. Kundt was a strong believer in experimental methods over […]

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2010 – Quipu of the Periodic Table

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As a result of bringing together each pair of periods in a single function or binod, the author has found a new regular on the subject, which has been defined as a new quantum number, since the number of orders or regulations binod growth elements in the table, under the appearance of pairs of new types of quantum structures or periods whose organization responds […]

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2010 – Retweet Ripples

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Interpreting tweets as droplets on an imaginary fluid surface, Karsten Schmidt and his colleagues created a 3D printed abstract visualization of tweets and their retweets forming ripple patterns. The visualization is created by first executing a Twitter search (here: "Justin Bieber") to create the initial droplets shown in the center of each ring. For each search result they then recursively executed secondary Twitter searches for retweets […]

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2010 – Cookbook Arranges Ingredients into Physical Visualizations

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In Sweden, IKEA gives away baking books where ingredients are arranged into physical visualizations. The photos are by Karl Kleiner. Reminiscent of Ursus Wehrli's Tidying up art. Sources: Niels-Peter Foppen (2010) Hembakat är Bäst. Via Iohanna Nicenboim's pinterest. Images from notcot.com.

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2011 – LEGO Cartogram: Prism Maps

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Prism maps showing migration patterns between the Americas. Each Lego brick represents 10.000 people. Source: Samuel Granados. Lego Cartograms (via FlowingData and infosthetics).

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2011 – From Over Here: News Trends

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"From Over Here" is a physical representation of articles from the New York Times from 1992-2010. Each card represents a month of articles about, or related to Ireland. The people and topics mentioned in the articles are etched on each card. Sources: Paul May, From Over Here, March 2011. infosthetics. Flickr album by Paul May – paulmay.org.

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2011 – Tōhoku Japanese Earthquake Sculpture

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A data sculpture by Luke Jerram that depicts nine minutes of seismographic readings during the 9.0 earthquake. Source: Gizmodo. Photo by Luke Jerram.

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2011 – United States Electoral Vote Map

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This is a 3D scale replica of the United States, the state height corresponds to the number of electoral votes each state controls in a presidential election. Source: thing 11178 on thingiverse.com

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2011 – Can We Keep Up: Sponges Show Domestic Water Usage

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Can We Keep Up is a a physical data visualisation that investigates the domestic need for water in cities all over the world. Source: infosthetics.com. Image from Hal Watts.

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2011 – DataCoaster: Data-Driven Toys

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DataCoaster is a re-imagining of the classic waiting room toy. But instead of arbitrarily loopy lines, DataCoaster's lines are generated by data, essentially transforming a simple, kinetic toy into a graph of information. If you're interested in getting one of these for your data, have a look at the source for this entry and contact Bobby – he is planning to offer this service. Source: Bobby Genalo. DataCoaster.

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2011 – Laser-Cut Time Series

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Temperature measurements in Helsinki from May 2009 to May 2010. Each row is one week long. Source: Miska Knapek, see flickr photoset.

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2011 – Adrien Segal’s Data Furniture

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Adrien Segal is an artist with a background in furniture design. She takes a data-driven approach where she uses data of natural events and environmental developments and transforms them into beautiful furniture. The choice of forms and materials conveys the origin of the data in an intriguing way. Left image: TRENDS IN WATER USE is a data sculpture that graphs national statistics of […]

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2011 – Warning: Real Time Global Air Quality Display

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Warning – Real Time Global Air Quality Display is an installation of ambient display that receives data from the internet about the air quality in 30 cities in 5 continents. The installation of these data is dynamically displayed on a screen and a physical structure through a lighting system (LED) located in a public space. The motivations for this project are digital aesthetics of climate change […]

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2011 – Stephen Barrass’ Physical Data Sonifications

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Physical representations of data can target other senses than vision or touch. Stephen Barrass, one of the inventors of sonification in the late 90s and now at the University of Canberra, started to explore physical sonifications in 2011. He calls this principle Acoustic Sonification: Acoustic Sonifications are physical objects designed to make sounds that convey useful information about a dataset of some kind. Unlike other sonifications, they do […]

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2011 – Jose Duarte’s Handmade Visualization Toolkit

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Colombian designer Jose Duarte wants to bring the DIY concept to data visualization. Using ordinary materials like balloons, tape and rubber balls, he has experimented with various visualization techniques from area charts to bubble graphs and ven diagrams in diverse scenarios as business, art, street interventions and even astronomy. To help people build physical visualizations he designed a physical toolkit he calls the Handmade visualization toolkit. Sources: Maria Popova (2011) Analog […]

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2011 – Manually Animated Graph of Scientific Data

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Philadelphia-based multi-discipline artist Bradley Litwin built this physical chart that can be animated by turning a crank. It is the only manually-animated physical visualization we know of so far. It was commissionned by a pharmaceutical company, intended as an educational device for distributing to doctors. Bradley was kind enough to send us an image of the insides of the original prototype, "not quite as pretty as the final product", […]

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2012 – General Motors’ 3D LEGO Visualizations

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LEGOs help business executives log and explore data. Sources: Mark Wilson (2012) How GM Is Saving Cash Using Legos As A Data Viz Tool. The Daily Drive (2012) GM Plays with Legos (Video).

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2012 – Emoto: Projection Augmented Heatmaps of Twitter Data

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The core of the install­a­tion is a phys­ical data sculp­ture consisting of 17 objects, each repres­enting all Tweets we have collected during one day of the Olympics. Mapped onto this phys­ical sculp­ture we have then projected indi­vidual heat maps for the most inter­esting themes we have iden­ti­fied while observing emoto during the Games. Users were able to navigate through these themes using an inter­active […]

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2012 – Thesis LEGO Board

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A design exploration of LEGO-based physical visualizations for project management by educational scientist Daniel K. Schneider. Source: Daniel K. Schneider (2012) Lego-compatible thesis project board. Edutech Wiki.

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2012 – Meshu.io: Order Data Jewelry

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A company lets you enter in cities you've been to and generates a physical mesh to order as a necklace, earrings, or cufflinks. Source: http://meshu.io/

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2012 – PARM: Static Terrain Models with Projection

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The PARM system is part of an ongoing research project at the University of Nottingham. A static physical relief model is augmented with top projection to display landscape details and to overlay with additional data visualizations. Sources: James Goulding's project page. Pristnall et al (2012). Projection Augmented Relief Models (PARM): Tangible Displays for Geographic Information.

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2012 – Matthijs Klip’s Data Sculptures

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Left image: data sculpture by Dutch designer Matthijs Klip showing life expectancy of the Netherlands population. Each bar maps to an age; the bar's height represents life expectancy while its length represents the amount of people having that age. Right image: other designs by Matthijs Klip. Source: Matthijs Klip (2012) Physical Information Design.

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2012 – Putting Physical Visualizations to the Test

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These physical bar charts, showing the evolution of country indicators over time, were used to conduct the first empirical study showing that physical visualizations can outperform their on-screen counterparts for data retrieval tasks. Sources: Yvonne Jansen, Pierre Dragicevic and Jean-Daniel Fekete (2013) Evaluating the Efficiency of Physical Visualizations. Also see Yvonne Jansen's PhD dissertation on Physical and Tangible Information Visualization (2014).

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2012 – Rearrangeable 3D Bar Chart

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A modular physical visualization like this rearrangeable 3D bar chart allows people to sort, filter, compare and examine data by direct physical manipulation. Sources: Yvonne Jansen and Pierre Dragicevic (2013) An Interaction Model for Visualizations Beyond the Desktop. Also see Yvonne Jansen's PhD dissertation on Physical and Tangible Information Visualization (2014)

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2012 – Dynamic Network Sculpture

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A physical space-time cube representation of cultural heritage data. Source: Florian Windhager, Eva Mayr. Cultural Heritage Cube: A conceptual framework for visual exhibition exploration. IV '12.

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2012 – Chaotic Flow: Abstract Flow Visualization of Copenhagen Bike Traffic

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Biking is the transport form of choice in Copenhagen, Denmark. The city is equipped with generous bike lanes and the municipality put up counters at some check points to get a better estimate of the thousands of cyclists coming through every hour. Tobias Lukassen, Halfdan Hauch Jensen and Johan Bichel Lindegaard from Illutron Collaborative Interactive Art Studio used this data to create the above […]

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2012 – Data Cuisine

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The left image is a map that shows the differences in alcohol consumption across Finland, as well as typical local food. The right image shows the number of immigrants in Finland by nationality (rice for the Chinese, salmon for the Swedish). Many other examples of edible physical visualizations can be found on the Data Cuisine web site.  Data Cuisine is a series of workshops organized by Moritz Stefaner and […]

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2012 – Grand Old Party: Political Satire

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American designer Matthew Epler shows how to build physical visualizations out of silicone using 3D printing and mold casting. He also shows how to use them to make political statements. Source: Matthew Epler (2012) Grand Old Party (video here).

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2012 – Google Eye: Radial Visualization of Page Visits

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During the Generator.x 3.0 workshop, interaction designer Andrej Boleslavský created a radial visualization of page visits where each day spans a specific angle of the ring, and the entire ring spans one year. Source: Andrej Boleslavský (2012) Google Eye.

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2012 – Pulse: Tangible Line Graph

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Pulse is a tangible line graph. It is composed of a string whose position is changed with six servo motors. By tilting the device, one can change between three information feeds. Pulse was created by designers Jon McTaggert and Christian Ferrara. Source: Christian Ferrara and Jon McTaggert, cargocollective.com/Pulse

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2012 – Poland Budget Presented with LEGO Bricks

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An area chart created with LEGO bricks. Each colour presents a single domain in the 2011 Polish budget. Source: Przemyslaw Biecek (2012) SmarterPoland.  

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2013 – Solid Statistics

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Left image: A 3D printed version of the "Forbes 2000" list showing the 240 largest companies, by Volker Schweisfurth. Market value is mapped to surface area, sales volume is mapped to volume, and the continent from which the company originates is mapped to color (America (blue), Europe (green), Asia (yellow)). The picture illustrates how a physical model of this 3D visualization gives a better […]

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2013 – NYC High School Dropouts

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Ben Kauffman and Sam Brenner created this visualization as part of the ITP program at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. It is a combination of a 3D-printed relief map of New York City with beads where each bead represents one school location. Each bead on top of the relief map is connected to a string below whose length indicates the number of students who dropped […]

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2013 – Layered 2D Plots

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A series of stacked 2D plots showing changes in energy sources for different countries by PhD student Simon Stusak from University of Munich. All plots are cut from acrylic and hold together in one corner to facilitate alignment of the layers. The y-axis is mapped to countries, the x-axis to different energy sources, and the z-axis to time. Sources: Simon Stusak (2013) Physical Visualizations: An Exploration. […]

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2013 – Season in Review: iPad + Physical Charts Show Baseball Stats

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Baseball stats for an entire season created by Teehan+Lax labs as a combination of an interactive ipad app with an overlay of physical charts cut from acrylic. Depending on the current choice in the app, the edges of different charts get highlighted by the ipad. Source: Teehan+Lax labs & vimeo.

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2013 – Network of the German Civil Code

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A room-filling visualization by Oliver Bieh-Zimmert (Visual Telling) that illustrates the patterns of references within the German civil code. Each red thread stands for a reference to another paragraph. Source: you can find more info and images on the visual telling website.

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2013 – SweatAtoms: Physical Activity Sculptures

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Rohit Ashok Khot is a PhD student at the Exertion Games Lab at RMIT University in Melbourne who studies how physical visualizations of self-logged physical activity data can enhance the experience of exercising and perhaps provide an incentive for exercising more. Sources: Khot et al (2013) SweatAtoms project page Khot et al (2014) Understanding Physical Activity through 3D Printed Material Artifacts  

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2013 – Line Charts of Cortisol Levels

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This data sculpture created by Nilam Ram from the Studio|Lab team at Penn State University shows the evolution of cortisol levels for 34 people after they experienced a stressful situation. Source: Nilam Ram (2013) Cortisol Data Sculpture.  

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2013 – Behavioral Landscapes

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A mixed team of artists and scientists at Pennsylvania State University devised a method to visualize human behavior, personality and emotions as 3D probability density functions. They then produced solid models using CNC milling. Sources: Studio|Lab (2013) Behavioral Landscapes. Nilam Ram, Michael Coccia, David Conroy, Amy Lorek, Brian Orland, Aaron Pincus, Martin Sliwinski, and Denis Gerstorf (2013) Behavioral Landscapes and Change in Behavioral Landscapes: A Multiple Time-Scale Density […]

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2013 – Robot Arranges 8,000 Nails Into a Data Sculpture of the Wind

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Student and interaction designer Charles Aweida used a foam board, a robot and lots of nails to build a physical visualization of a wind simulation. Sources: Charles Aweida (2013) An exploration in art + robotics representing wind through digital fabrication and the tangible. Via The Creator Project (2013) Data Sculpture Of The Wind Created Using A Robot And Lots Of Nails.

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2013 – Very Pointy Elevation Map

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Toronto-based startup DataAppeal, which develops Web apps for 3D geo-spatial data visualization, created this very pointy stalagmite-looking elevation map of GTA Transit volume in Toronto. Sources: Andy Kirk (2013) 3D Printing Capabilility via DataAppeal Maps. Candice So (2013) Data visualizations go from flat to 3D.

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2013 – Pneumatic Charts

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The Hive Big Data Think Tank at Palo Alto created a device for visualizing city data (power, waste, demographic, transportation) using blowers, microcontrollers and ping pongs balls. Sources: Lance Riedel, Christophe Briguet, Srinivas Doddi, Daniel Schwartz, Pashu Christensen, The Hive @City Camp Palo Alto for the National Day of Civic Hacking! Svetlana Sicular (2013) Now Open.

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2013 – Data Sculpture of Chicken Inbreeding

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Ryo Sakai and Jan Aerts from the Bioinformatics/Data Visualization Lab at KULeuven created a data-driven sculpture representing inbreeding in a particular chicken. Each loop in the sculpture represents a chromosome. On the outside is a histogram of the heterozygosity of the DNA; the inside a histogram of the homozygosity in that region. These sculptures are part of the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, and have been presented at the Art […]

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2013 – 3D Social Networks

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Jeff Hemsley from Syracuse University explains how to create solid models of social networks using the statistical package R and a 3D printer. 3D node-link diagrams have been explored for a while due to their potential benefits. One is that any node-link diagram can be laid out in 3D without any link crossing. Some studies have also shown that in some cases 3D node-link diagrams are […]

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2013 – A Snow Chart of Mobility in Science

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A barchar made out of snow. Each bar is a percent of scientist after PhD that changed their university after thesis defence. Source: Przemyslaw Biecek (2013) SmarterPoland.  

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2013 – Turning Facebook Connections into Data Sculptures

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An application created by SOFTlab and The Creators Project lets you turn your facebook social network into a beautiful crystal-like data sculpture. Sources: Kree8tiv via iohannan's pinterest. See the page on shapeways.

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2013 – Loci: 3D Printed Sculptures of Your Flights

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Loci by Andrew Spitz lets you easily create physical 3d arc diagrams based on your past flights, and may be soon be available through an iphone app. Source: Andrew Spitz (2013) Loci – 3D Printed Sculptures of Your Flights.

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2013 – Examined Life: Giving Shape to Activities

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Designer Alex Getty logged his daily activities for 40 days and turned them into data sculptures that look like colored paper origami. Source: Alex Getty (2013) The Examined Life

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2013 – Punchcard Economy: Data Knitting

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Punchcard Economy is a machine-knitted tapestry inspired by a 1856 banner advertising the Eight-hour day movement. The layer of visual noise shows today's departure from the eight-hour day philosophy. Working hours were collected from 116 participants, and each hour of work outside normal working hours was encoded as a color-inverted knit. A smaller version was made for the 2014 Data as Culture exhibition. Sources: Sam Meech (2013) Punchcard Economy. Explanation of the […]

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2013 – Population Density Emerging from Walls

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Two Yale architects created a room-sized physical visualization of world population density folded into itself: Hsiang and Mendis then turned that spatial visualization into a physical installation at the 2011 Chengdu Biennale in China. They modeled the population distribution of the entire world in a kind of inverted map that visitors could walk into, inside a 10-by-10-by-10 foot room, with North America on the ceiling, […]

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2013 – Walkable Age Pyramid

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A walkable age pyramid of the German population. It was part of an exhibition on demographics by Atelier Brückner. The sculpture gives an impression how the distribution of age groups shifted over the last 50 years. For example, it shows how two world wars took out certain age groups and the lasting effect of the "Pillenknick" (the drop of birth rates due to the wide availability of […]

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2014 – People Wood: Data Sculpture of Questionnaire Data

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Manor House Development Trust, a charitable social enterprise centred in Hackney, commissioned Something & Son to create a sculpture to take pride of place in the new Redmond Community Centre at Woodbury Down in North-East Hackney. Something & Son approached Inition for help creating a crowd-sourced data sculpture featuring a forest of over 400 3D-printed trees, each corresponding to an individual’s answers to an online […]

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2014 – Water Works: Maps of the San Francisco Water Infrastructure

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“Water Works” is a 3D data visualization and mapping of the water infrastructure of San Francisco. These consist of three large-scale 3D-printed sculptures, each generated by custom C++ code. The concept behind the project is to make visible a small portion of an invisible network of pipes underneath our feet.  The three physical data visualizations are: "San Francisco Cisterns", “Imaginary Drinking Hydrants” and "Sewer Works". "Sewer Works" uses […]

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2014 – Blaue Blumen: Handcrafted Offline Data Visualization of Population Density

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Physical visualization of the population density of the world. Handcrafted with toothpicks and a styrofoam ball. Based on data taken from this map. Source: Ewa Tuteja, (http://tuteja.info/blaueblumen/) 

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2014 – Building Visualizations with Tokens

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Samuel Huron and his collaborators show how anyone can build their own visualizations by assembling physical tokens. Sources: Samuel Huron, Sheelagh Carpendale, Alice Thudt, Anthony Tang, Michael Mauerer (2014) Constructive Visualization (Web Page) Samuel Huron, Yvonne Jansen and Sheelagh Carpendale (2014) Constructing Visual Representations: Investigating the Use of Tangible Tokens (Web page)

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2014 – 888,246 Ceramic Poppies to Commemorate Fallen Soldiers in WW1

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Don't miss the major art installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London, marking one hundred years since the first full day of Britain's involvement in the First World War. Created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, with setting by stage designer Tom Piper, 888,246 ceramic poppies will progressively fill the Tower's famous moat over the summer. Each poppy represents a […]

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2014 – Data Crystals: Conglomerated World Stats

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During his residency at Autodesk, artist Scott Kildall created crystal-looking data sculptures by turning world data such as city populations into small cubes laid out on an Earth globe, then running a force-directed algorithm that conglomerates them into a monolithic structure that can be 3D-printed. The image above shows the 2500 nuclear detonations in recorded history, two of which (the black dots) are the bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only […]

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2014 – Dynamic Physical Charts Display Community Data

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David Sweeney from Microsoft Research designed these beautiful, mechanically driven, physical charts to communicate data to people living or working on Tenison Road in Cambridge, UK. The charts are part of a research project to explore what is the general public’s understanding of data and how it can be used to improve the life at street level – be that, better access to services, improving social relationships, […]

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2014 – Cosmos: Carbon Exchange Captured in a Wooden Ball

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Artist duo Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt created this two-meter spherical wooden sculpture located in a forest in England, and representing the take up and loss of carbon dioxide from the forest trees across one year. Watching the video, I was somehow expecting this sphere to roll at some point, but it did not happen. Source: Semiconductor (2014) Cosmos.

Added by Pierre Dragicevic, sent by Mathieu Le Goc. Category: Passive physical visualization. Tags: , , , , ,
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2014 – Data Clothing: Dresses Show Air Pollution

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Laura Perovich explored the concept of data-driven clothes as part of her Master thesis at the MIT Media Lab. The fashion dresses above show the concentrations of 100 chemical contaminants measured in the air of a particular household (left image). Chemicals are mapped to small squares and relative concentration is mapped to square size. Squares are repeated to create lace patterns (right image shows the concentration of several factory-related pollutants). […]

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2014 – Data Strings: Physical Parallel Coordinates

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During the SWAB International Contemporary Art Fair, the group of developers Domestic Data Streamers had the audience create a physical parallel coordinates visualization based on their demographic profile (social status, weight, etc.) and by answering a meaningless question on whether they choose a spoon or a fork. Source: Domestic Data Streamers. They have a range of other interesting physical visualization projects on their Web […]

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2014 – Drip-By-Tweet: Each Vote is a Drop

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Team of developers Domestic Data Streamers created a real-time physical visualization of votes for a graphic design contest. A person can vote for a specific piece by sending a tweet, after which the machine releases a drop of yellow liquid and sends it to the corresponding test tube. Source: Domestic Data Streamers.

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2014 – Physical Visual Sedimentation

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This visualization created by Jennifer Payne and inspired by Samuel Huron's visual sedimentation was created from gumballs, an acrylic (plexiglass) box and adjustable foamcore bin dividers. Huron's work is inspired by the physical process of sedimentation. The above figures illustrate a participatory representation of hours of sleep for a university population, with different colours of gumballs representing different groups present on a university campus (i.e. blue gumballs for graduate students, violet […]

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2014 – DIY Bertin Matrix

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This wooden matrix is a large-scale replica of Jacques Bertin's reorderable physical matrices. It shows a subset of the World Value Survey, a series of questionnaires that assess people's moral values across countries and years. This physical visualization is interactive as row and columns can be manipulated, promoting engagement and collaboration. This 18×20 matrix was built by Mathieu Le Goc in the Fablab Digscope with Charles Perin and Romain Di Vozzo, on the […]

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2014 – District 5: Tube Charts Reveal Decline in Violence

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California-based artist Loren Madsen, a long-time data sculptor (see our 1995 entry and our interview with him), created an outdoor sculpture where steel tubes show falling crime rates across eight crime categories over 30 years. The sculpture stands in front of a police station and jail in Chicago City. Sources: ​Healther Schultz (2015) California Sculptor Completes Commissioned Piece. Image courtesy of Loren Madsen. Also see Steven Pinker's TED Talk on the topic.

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2015 – Physical Customer Satisfaction Survey

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Participatory physical bar charts at the exit of the Antell cafeteria at the University of Helsinki. White beads represent statisfied customers, red beads are unsatisfied ones. Also see similar contraptions by Hans Haacke (1970), Lucy Kimbell (2006), and Jennifer Payne (2014). Source: Antell. Photo by Luana Micallef.

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2015 – Data Necklace of Good Night SMS

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Paul Heinicker, a master student in interaction design at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam, created a data-driven necklace representing a long-distance relationship by sent "good night"-messages from him to his girlfriend. While visualising two years of message history, two diagonal opposing points of the rectangle constitute the starting points for both years. The ongoing sides in each case are coded to the days with and without […]

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2015 – Touching Air: Necklace Shows Air Pollution

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This necklace made by Stefanie Posavec and Miriam Quick shows one week of air quality data measured in the city of Sheffield. Each segment is a period of 6 hours, and its appearance conveys the concentration of particulate matter during that period of time. A low concentration yields a small, round, green segment. A high concentration yields a large, spiky, red segment. Also see our entry 2014 […]

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